Friday, December 29, 2023

"Art" at Guthrie Theater

What inspires someone to spend $200,000 (or francs) on a piece of art, especially one that to others looks like a plain white canvas with some marks in a slightly different shade of white? This question is at the crux of the play 'Art' by French playwright Yasmina Reza, most famous for the play God of Carnage (which played at the Guthrie 12 years ago, and a few other theaters since). Both plays won the Tony, and both plays are of the talky variety (my favorite kind). Not much happens and the play is pretty much just people sitting around a room talking. But that talking is some pretty deep and intense conversation and confrontation, in this case ostensibly about the nature of art, but in reality more about the nature of friendship.* The Guthrie's new production features a fantastic trio of actors (two of them local favorites), crisp and clear direction, and a stunning "modern" design. This is often a quiet time in #TCTheater, after the holiday show rush and before things get moving again in mid to late January, but thankfully we have some great 'Art' to fill in that gap. See it in the Guthrie's proscenium theater now through January 28.

Monday, December 25, 2023

"Some Enchanted Evening" at Artistry

From Oklahoma! to The Sound of Musiccomposer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated on nine musicals written for the stage, plus one for TV and one for film. A few of them were forgettable flops, but among them are some of the most enduring musicals of the 20th Century. In their less than 20 years of writing musicals together, they reinvented the form. This holiday* season, Artistry is paying tribute to their work with the lovely musical revue show Some Enchanted Evening. With no spoken dialogue, five talented performers tell the story of a group of people stranded at a cozy bar during a snowstorm, entertaining each other (and us) by singing songs. It is, indeed, an enchanting 70 minutes or so, and a great way to close out 2023, with five final performances this Thursday through Sunday.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

"All I Want for Christmas is You... to Elf Off!" by Brave New Workshop at the Dudley Riggs Theatre

Brave New Workshop's holiday* comedy sketch show is a favorite. And not just of mine; there were tons of groups, families, and people decked out in their best (or worst) holiday sweaters in the audience last night. The cast began the show by saying that this is the 65th holiday show (give or take) for one of the longest running comedy troupes in the nation. But despite the joke of that first sketch that every idea (even the most absurd) has been done before, they still managed to come up with some new, fresh sketches, along with some tried and true favorites. As you may guess from the title, All I Want for Christmas is You... to Elf Off, the show is an irreverent look at holidays and traditions, poking loving fun at the sometimes ridiculousness of this time of the year. But it stays true to the real meaning of the season - togetherness, community, and laughter. The show plays through January 27 so you have plenty of time to go celebrate with some holiday humor, by yourself or with a group of your favorite people (but I would not recommend bringing the children - spring for a babysitter or leave them with the grandparents, whom you also may not want to bring, depending on their sense of humor).

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

"Happy Holi-Dane" at the History Theatre

In addition to fully staged (and usually original) plays and musicals, and readings of new works (that eventually become the former), the History Theatre is presenting a series of concerts this season. I attended the first of four last night, an old-fashioned holiday* variety show called Happy Holi-Dane. Amiable host Dane Stauffer (star of History Theatre's smash hit original musical Glensheen) has been doing this show for several years. I hadn't seen it since 2019, and this year's show was similar but different, with a slightly different cast of special guests. A great time was had by all, but if you missed it, don't worry. You still have an opportunity to see concerts headlined by Thomasina Petrus, Lori Dokken, and the History Theatre's own Buddy Holly - Nicholas Freeman (click here for details, dates, and tickets). And get ready for readings of five new works in Raw Stages 2024 in January.

Monday, December 18, 2023

"The Gift of the Magi" by Skylark Opera Theatre at the Lowry Lab Theater

Last weekend, Skylark Opera Theatre presented an opera based on the classic O. Henry story The Gift of the Magi. It's a simple story of love and sacrifice, but one that's stood the test of time and receives a beautiful musical treatment in this opera adaptation by David Conte (music) and Nicholas Giardini (libretto). Unfortunately it was a short run that has now concluded, but with any luck they'll bring it back next holiday* season. And mark your calendars for next June when Skylark will be presenting the Sondheim revue show Marry Me a Little, featuring songs cut from some of his musicals

Sunday, December 17, 2023

"Holiday Office Party" at Strike Theater

There's a new long-form holiday* improv show in town, and much like Family Dinner (playing at HUGE Theater in Uptown through December 30), Holiday Office Party at Strike Theater in Northeast Minneapolis spoofs a familiar event in many people's lives - the office party. That semi-mandatory party with people who are sort of your friends but not really. I'm going into the office this week (for the first time in six months) to experience the real thing (planned funtivities: trivia and a cookie exchange), but I'm certain that it won't be nearly as fun as the Strike Office Party. A large cast pulled from a troupe of talented improvisers makes awkward small talk, drinks too much, and sings inappropriate karaoke. What's not to love?! There are three more shows this weekend, for the very reasonable price of $12, so check out the fun at your Northeast home for sketch comedy, improv, and storytelling.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

"Peter Pan" at the Ordway Center

A brand new production of the classic musical Peter Pan is touring across the country, and it flies into St. Paul first! This charming musical about childhood, telling stories, family, and the necessary pain of growing up has gotten new life with an updated book by Indigenous playwright Larissa FastHorse, who also co-wrote the world premiere new comedy For the People at the Guthrie earlier this fall. Gone are the uncomfortable stereotypes and gender biases, but what's still there are the beloved songs, fantastic acrobatic dancing, and a prevailing sense of magic. The Ordway Center is decked out for the holidays to be the first host for this new touring production, for a night of all-around magic, wonder, and joy. Peter Pan plays once (or twice) every day (except Mondays) through New Year's Eve - click here for info and tickets.

Friday, December 15, 2023

"Every Christmas Story Ever Told" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre has a long tradition of doing silly holiday* comedies, beginning with their first season. When the rights to the show they were planning to do were pulled, co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson wrote a play about a theater whose rights to the show they were planning to do were pulled. Miracle on Christmas Lake was born, spawning a sequel and other holiday comedies in the silly but heart-warming vein. Now in their 16th season and under new leadership, the tradition continues with Every Christmas Story Ever Told, a madcap ride through, if not every, then most Christmas stories ever told. It's a clever conceit and a super fun mash-up for those of us who grew up with these stories. In the hands of three talented and very funny performers, it's an enjoyable evening for all. If you don't have time to see every Christmas show, head up to charming downtown Osseo before the end of the year to see all of them at once.

Monday, December 11, 2023

"Dinner for One" at Jungle Theater

Jungle Theater's original piece Dinner for One, based on a 12-minute comedy sketch written in the '20s, is sheer delight. Artistic Director Christina Baldwin came up with the idea for the show, and co-created it with Sun Mee Chomet and Jim Lichtsheidl, with the former directing and the latter two performing. Featuring an odd ritual of a dinner party for Miss Sophie's 90th birthday and her imaginary guests, personified by her loyal servant, it's the perfect vehicle to show off the strength of the creators. And although I would like to say it's the rare show I wish were longer (it's a scant 60 minutes), it's perfection and I wouldn't change a thing. Somehow those 60 minutes are fuller and more satisfying than many shows two and three times its length. Dinner for One plays Tuesdays through Sundays until New Years Eve; I recommend you get your tickets to this one sooner rather than later.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

"Family Dinner" and "The Mess" at HUGE Theater

Have you heard the news? HUGE Theater has moved into a new space, and not only that - they own it! For more about the significance of an artist-led organization owning their own performance space, listen to Episode 2.7 of the Twin Cities Theater Chat podcast, in which we interview Executive Director Butch Roy. For a virtual tour of the new space, including classrooms and behind the scenes, watch this YouTube video in which John Gebretatose, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, shows bloggers Kendra from Artfully Engaging and Rob from The Stages of MN around the space. Or better yet - go visit HUGE in person! They've moved just a few blocks north on Lyndale and across the street (tip: plenty of free street parking on Aldrich, one block west of Lyndale). The new HUGE feels more spacious - from the lobby to the performance space, with more improvements coming soon, including a bar and risers to improve sightlines in the audience. HUGE currently has shows Wednesdays through Saturdays, with three-show line-ups on Fridays and Saturdays. I made my first visit to the new HUGE last night to see my all-time favorite improv show Family Dinner, which continues every Saturday through the end of the year. See the full schedule here and make your plans to see some improv this holiday* season.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

"A Very Good Christmas Carol" by Jeffrey Nolan and Hawken Paul at the Black Forest Inn

Another Christmas Carol, you ask? Yes, but this one's different from the Guthrie's 49th annual production, or even the bawdy English Music Hall version at Open Eye Theatre. Just a few blocks away from the latter, a two-man version of the holiday* classic that relies heavily on audience participation can be seen in the charming event hall at The Black Forest Inn for three more nights, with a few other shows happening around the state. Independently produced by two #TCTheater artists (originally produced and developed by the Northern Light Opera Company in Park Rapids) who wrote, directed, and star in the show, A Very Good Christmas Carol is a fun and interactive retelling of Charles Dickens' familiar story that mostly brings out the comedy and silliness, but not without a bit of the lovely message of community and redemption filtering in. As they say in the beginning of the show, it's not stodgy traditional theater, with a looser and more casual tone to the evening (which is not to say it's unprofessional). The audience (decidedly younger than those at traditional theaters) was having a great time, and it really felt like we were all participating in the storytelling in a convivial way that, despite the seemingly unconventional nature, really is in the spirit of the holiday. You can get your tickets to the remaining Black Forest dates here (and yes, you can get a Bier and bring it into the show), and follow them on Instagram at @verygoodchristmascarol for information on other performances.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Broadway tour of "Aladdin" at the Orpheum Theatre

The 1992 animated Disney movie Aladdin was adapted into a stage musical and opened on Broadway in 2014, where it's still running. The second national tour has made it to Minneapolis this week, and since I skipped it the first time around, I decided to check it out this time. It is, in the tradition of Disney musicals, a funny, sweet, entertaining spectacle of a show. Fabulous dancing, recognizable music, and some great performances (the real star of this show - Genie - does not disappoint) make for a fun and not too long show (under two and a half hours including intermission). I have some concerns about the casting choices, which you can read about at the end of this post. But first I'll share a few things I enjoyed about the show. Aladdin is in town through Sunday only - remember to only buy your tickets from the official site here, NOT from any of the third-party vendors that pop up first in a Google search.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

"A Very Electric Christmas" by nimbus theatre at The Crane Theater

nimbus theatre's first holiday* show last year, A Count Up to Christmas - a spoof of the Hallmark holiday movie, was such a success that they're doing another one this year. Last year, the show featured commercials for other "movies" in the network's line-up, and they took one of those and turned it into this year's show. While I didn't enjoy it as much as last year's show, it's still full of fun cliches, bad puns, and double entendres, with a festive design and entertaining performances. See A Very Electric Christmas at The Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis through December 17.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

"She Loves Me" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

The 1963 Bock and Harnick creation She Loves Me is a delicious musical that stands the test of time. Based on a 1937 Hungarian play, the basic story has been told in multiple iterations, including the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie The Shop Around the Corner, and the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake You've Got Mail.* The 2016 Broadway revival featured a starry cast including Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel, and Jane Krakowski and was broadcast live on Broadway HD (and is still available to watch). After its success, there were three #TCTheater productions within a year. But the last one was almost four years ago, so I'm definitely ready to revisit this gem. Lakeshore Players Theatre's new production is well done, with charming performances and beautiful design, and reminded me once again how much I love this musical. See it now through December 20 in lovely lakeside White Bear Lake.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

"All About Jane: The Eras of Austen" by Buzz Music Theater at The Hive Collaborative

There's a new theater space in town, and it's hosting its first theatrical event this weekend. But The Hive Collaborative (in the space formerly known as Dreamland Arts in St. Paul's Hamline-Midway neighborhood) has plans to be more than just a theater space. New owners Laura Rudolph Morris and Eric Morris want it to be a community hub, a place for theater as well as classes, celebrations, game nights, and even sound baths. I interviewed the couple on episode 2.10 of "Twin Cities Theater Chat" (listen here or wherever you get your podcasts, and get a discount code for the show), and their excitement for and passion about this project is contagious. They also have a theater company called Buzz Music Theater, which is producing All About Jane: The Eras of Austen, a concept album by local singer-songwriter Monica Livorsi. She's planning to release the album next spring, but this weekend only you can hear her perform it live in the new Hive space, that's been transformed into a cozy Regency Era sitting room. It's a fantastic collection of songs in various modern pop styles, each of which features a heroine from Austen's work - a must see for Jane Austen fans. But quick - only three performances remain!

Friday, December 1, 2023

"Scrooge in Rouge" at Open Eye Theatre

Leave it to Open Eye Theatre to bring us a holiday* show that's a little off-kilter, in the best possible way. The three-person musical Scrooge in Rouge reimagines the classic A Christmas Carol in the style of English Music Hall entertainment, meaning "witty lyrics, bad puns, and naughty double-entendres." The fabulous three-person cast portrays all of the characters in this story that hews fairly closely to Dickens' original, even including many of the famous lines you'll hear across town at the Guthrie. But there are a few ridiculous diversions too, resulting in a very entertaining and fun little show. You can see this alternative (or addition) to A Christmas Carol at Open Eye in South Minneapolis through December 30.