Sunday, April 21, 2024

"9 to 5" at Lyric Arts

In the first of two #TCTheater premieres this season, Lyric Arts is bringing us the musical adaptation of the hit 1980 movie 9 to 5 (the second is Kinky Boots this summer, which had its Minnesota premiere at Duluth Playhouse last summer). With built-in name recognition, shows are already selling out. But the good new is, this 9 to 5 is more than just a recognizable name and an easy sell to audiences. It's super fun and really well done. I'm not sure why it took so long for a local professional theater to do this show (last seen to my knowledge on tour at the Ordway in 2011) - it features a fun original score by the great Dolly Parton and an ever-timely theme of women's rights, workers' rights, and the power of women working together. Directed by one of #TCTheater's funniest women people Shanan Custer (who also knows how to pull on the heartstrings) and featuring a large, talented, and energetic cast, it's a celebratory evening of music-theater. Bring your girlfriends, bring your coworkers, bring your family, or bring yourself to Anoka to see 9 to 5 now through May 12.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Being Alive: Mandy Patinkin in Concert at the Ordway Center's Concert Hall

I've been wanting to see Mandy Patinkin, legend of stage and screen, perform live for years. But experiencing his "Being Alive" concert last night in the Ordway's Concert Hall was beyond anything I could have imagined. This wasn't just Mandy singing his greatest hits, which would have been amazing, this was Mandy telling stories, inhabiting characters, and sharing his soul, in the way that only he can. There truly is no one else like Mandy Patinkin - that wholly unique voice (the gruff gravely speaking voice that turns into something else when singing), that charmingly impish humor, that passion for everything he does. He's pure magic. He's a national treasure. If you have the opportunity to see him live in anything anywhere - take it. There are a very few remaining tickets for his second show on Sunday - snag them while you can.

Friday, April 19, 2024

"They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues" by Full Circle Theater Company at Gremlin Theatre

In the new play They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues by #TCTheater artist Siddeeqah Shabazz, a family therapy session turns into a '90s sitcom. But the cheesy laughs soon give way to some heavy drama, as painful secrets are revealed. Produced by Full Circle Theater Company, the play walks the fine line between comedy and drama, as does the talented cast. Come for the funny and comforting sitcom tropes, stay for the emotional truth of this dysfunctional but loving family. They Wear Teal Ribbons Around Their Tongues continues this weekend and next at Gremlin Theatre.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

"Lend Me a Tenor" by Expressions Community Theater at Lakeville Arts Center

Last weekend, I went from the sublime to the ridiculous - in a good way! After spending the day at Guthrie Theater for the opening of their sublime triumph of three of Shakespeare's History Plays performed in rep, I headed out to my old home town Lakeville for Expressions Community Theater's production of Ken Ludwig's ridiculous and hilarious farce Lend Me a Tenor. I usually don't have time to see community theater, but Expressions performs in my childhood church, next door to the elementary school I attended, both of which have been converted into Lakeville Arts Center. After watching professional theater artists from around the country in an epic creation, it was also great to watch community theater actors working just as hard to create a fun (if less epic) afternoon at the theater. Moral of the story: check out your local community theater to see what they're doing, and support their work, or even get involved in a production. Our strong community theater scene feeds our professional theaters, and vice versa, and that's what makes #TCTheater great. And if you're in the South Metro, you have one more weekend to see this delightfully ridiculous play.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The History Plays: "Richard II," "Henry IV," and "Henry V" in rep at the Guthrie Theater

Once in a lifetime, if you're lucky, you'll have a chance to experience an epic theater event at your home town theater, which just happens to be one of the best respected and most highly acclaimed regional theaters in the land. That was April 13, 2024, a day I will never forget, a day in which I consumed more theater than I ever have in a single day. Some 8 1/2 hours of theater, more than seeing Tony Kushner's epic two-part Angels in America on Broadway, more than the longest day at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Sometimes known as The Henriad, Shakespeare's Richard IIHenry IV (two plays here condensed into one), and Henry V tell the stories of three English kings in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries. But this was not some boring slog through ancient history and archaic language. It was a living, breathing, dynamic, compelling, thrilling, jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, laugh-inducing, thoroughly engaging binge-watch of some of the best plays in the English cannon, brought to life by some of our best theater artists from the Twin Cities and around the country. Each play has a somewhat different tone or look or feel, but all are cut from the same cloth so that when knit together, they form a whole much grander than the sum of its parts. If you have the financial means and physical stamina to do so, I highly recommend attending the one remaining marathon day on May 18. It's a rare shared community experience, with artists and patrons joining their energies together for some 14 hours in the same space. Or you can take in the trilogy in a more reasonable manner - see all three plays in a weekend, or more spread out over time. But if you're a #TCTheater fan (and if you're not, why are you reading this blog?), see it you must. This is something we'll be talking about for generations. Click here for details and tickets.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

"Winterreise: A Winter's Journey" at The Hive Collaborative

The Hive Collaborative continues their series on concept albums with the original concept album, Austrian composer Franz Schubert's 1828 song cycle Winterreise, setting the poems of Wilhelm Müller to music. I don't think albums existed in 1828, but nevertheless, the idea of a set of songs conveying a common theme or mood did. This "Winter's Journey" is performed by baritone Justin Spenner and pianist Carson Rose Schneider in a unique collaboration with the kind of staging not usually associated with classical music. They're only doing two performances; the final one is this Saturday at 5pm, and with a runtime under 90 minutes, you'll be out in time for dinner at one of the many great St. Paul options.

Monday, April 8, 2024

"God of Carnage" at Theatre in the Round

Next up in Theatre in the Round's 73rd season: the "people behaving badly" dark comedy God of Carnage. There have been several local productions of the 2009 Tony winner, most recently by Dark & Stormy in 2022. But this play that I've called "a tightly wound, intense, darkly hilarious four-person play about what happens when our baser natures come to the surface" is worth another visit. These people don't get any more likeable, if anything the reveal of their inner natures is even more vile with each passing year, but Theatre in the Round has assembled a great cast, and their in-the-round staging brings something unique. This play shows us what happens when people say the quiet part out loud, which maybe should have stayed quiet. See it now through April 28, and be prepared to laugh, cringe, and maybe even uncomfortably see yourself a little in these people.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

"I Am My Own Wife" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre's ambitious 71st season continues with perhaps the most interesting choice of the season - playwright Doug Wright's solo play I Am My Own Wife, chronicling his interviews with an East German transgender woman known as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf - antiques collector, museum curator, and gay icon. Charlotte lived through the Nazi and Communist occupations of Berlin. She provided a haven for the gay community in East Berlin during a time of persecution, but also worked as an informant for the Stasi (the Communist secret police). She was truly a singular individual, and the play explores not just her life, but also the playwright's investigation into her life, and his conflicting feelings about her complicated life.* I've previously only seen one production of this play 12+ years ago at the Jungle, and I was thrilled to revisit it. It's so smartly written, weaving Charlotte's stories, the playwright's questions, and historical facts into the storytelling. Lakeshore's production in the intimate immersive space of their black box theater features a charmingly detailed design and a tour de force performance by Lewis Youngren. Only five performances remain - don't miss your chance to see the truly impressive work happening out here in the 'burbs of White Bear Lake.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

"Hecuba" by Pangea World Theater

Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pangea World Theater's General Manager Adlyn Carreras and Production Manager Suzanne Victoria Cross, along with my fellow blogger Julie from Minnesota Theater Love, for our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat (listen here or wherever you listen to podcasts). It truly was eye-opening to learn about all of the programs that this organization offers, in addition to what we traditionally think of as theater. I found them to be incredibly thoughtful and passionate about the work of community building and lifting up diverse voices. With this as their foundation, it's no wonder that the theater they create is relevant and inclusive and has something to say about our world. Such is Hecuba, a millennia old story retold by modern day Irish playwright Marina Carr, whose By the Bog of Cats, a loose retelling of Medea, was produced by Theatre Pro Rata last year. Similar to that play, this Hecuba reimagines a mythical figure as a real, flawed, relatable woman who is trying to survive in unimaginable circumstances. The history of the world is a history of war, violence (often towards women), and genocide, and unfortunately the daily news is also littered with such stories. This mythical story about the brutality of war, set at the end of the Trojan War, is all too relevant. It's a beautifully written play, and Pangea's regional premiere production features a strong cast, effective elements of physical theater, and a sparsely beautiful design set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Southern Theater, all elements combining for a powerful and sobering experience.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Toronto Theater Trip: "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," "SIX," and The Second City

When two actors from my favorite movie(s) are performing on stage in a play by one of my favorite playwrights, I will cross international borders to see it. Last weekend I did just that, take a short two-hour flight to Toronto, Canada, to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead starring Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, aka Merry and Pippin from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The experience more than lived up to my expectations, and I fell in love with Toronto in a too short long weekend. Turns out it's a great theater town, not just with touring productions, but also local theater companies. I also saw the global phenomenon that is SIX, which two people in my group had never seen, and the other two (myself included) loved and would see as often as possible. And then I did something I rarely am able to do at home - I saw a 10pm comedy show! What can I say, I was on vacation, and simply could not pass up the opportunity to see a performance by the legendary The Second City, even if it meant staying up way past my bedtime. We're so lucky to have such an incredible theater community here in the Twin Cities, but it's also fun to experience theater in other cities. Travel and theater are my two favorite pastimes, and Toronto is a great option for both. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

"The Lion King" Broadway tour at the Orpheum Theatre

In the summer of 1997, the stage musical adaptation of the 1994 Disney animated film The Lion King premiered in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre. That fall it moved to Broadway, winning six Tony Awards (including best musical), where it is still playing - currently at number three in the list of longest running Broadway shows. The tour has come back home again, and will play at the Orpheum Theatre for about a month - through April 28. Last night was my 5th time seeing it, and still, nearly 27 years after I first saw it, it's an absolute thrill. It's without a doubt the most successful Disney movie-to-stage musical adaptation on many levels - financially, creatively, musically. The creators of the stage musical took a two-dimensional children's cartoon movie and turned it into a wholly satisfying three-dimensional spectacle of music, dance, puppetry, and story. It's a big-budget spectacle that's also uniquely beautiful and moving storytelling. As Dana said in that one episode of Sports Night - look what we can do!*

Sunday, March 24, 2024

"The Color Purple" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Alice Walker's beloved 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple is such an inspiring story, and one I've loved for a long time. It's had many successful adaptations - the 1985 Steven Spielberg movie, the 2005 stage musical adaptation, the 2015 Broadway revival, the recent movie musical (which is how I spent my Christmas Day last year). And now we have Theater Latte Da's version of the Broadway musical, a co-production with Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY. The visually stunning production features many fantastic performances, and all of the emotional highs and lows of this epic American story. See it at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis now through May 5, and #bringtissues.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

"Apples in Winter" at Gremlin Theatre

Food is comfort, food is family, food is community. We like to joke about what our last meal would be, listing our favorite foods. But in Gremlin Theatre's new production of the solo play Apples in Winter, it's no joke. The entire story plays out in real time as we watch a woman make an apple pie as her son's requested last meal. It's a brutal and devastating look at the effects of addiction, violence, the prison system, and the death penalty on individuals and families. Gremlin has turned their stage into a kitchen, and Angela Timberman not only gives a heart-wrenching performance, she also literally prepares and bakes a pie before our eyes (and noses). It's a triumph of performance, direction, and design that casts a mesmerizing spell that's difficult to wake up from. When the lights went down at the end of the opening night performance, there was a moment of silence and a few heavy sighs before the applause broke out. See this devastatingly beautiful play at Gremlin Theatre now through April 7.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Black and Funny Improv Festival at HUGE Theater

The 8th Annual Black and Funny Improv Festival is running this weekend only! I attended the first night and saw four improv groups perform. Not only was it a fun night of laughter (which is the norm at HUGE Theater), but it was a wonderful celebration of Black artists, Black comedy, and Black joy. The festival stresses that "Black people are centered, all are welcome," and it truly felt like that. As a White person, I felt not only welcome, but also privileged to experience and be part of this wonderful community. Laughter is healing and uniting, it builds community and companionship, it makes us forget any perceived differences we think exist between us and others. So head on down to HUGE Theater in Uptown to see some great improv by local, national, and international performers, and/or partake in comedy workshops. You can purchase tickets and find more information about the performers and workshops at the Black and Funny website. And to learn a little more about the festival, listen to our interview with festival co-directors John Gebretatose and Jada Pulley on the Twin Cities Theater Chat podcast.

Monday, March 18, 2024

"A Unique Assignment" at History Theatre

Yesterday was a special day at History Theatre. Not only did I learn about an important chapter in American history with which I was previously not very familiar, told in a compelling, well-constructed, beautifully designed and acted play, but the people who lived that history were actually there! That's one of the great things about History Theatre - they make history relevant, tangible, and real in addition to entertaining. A Unique Assignment was written by one of my favorite local playwrights, Harrison David Rivers, based on two auto-biographies: Three Years in Mississippi by James Meredith, the first Black student at the University of Mississippi, for which President Kennedy sent in troops to protect him and keep the peace, and James Meredith and the Ole Miss Riot by Henry Gallagher, a young soldier from Minnesota who was put in charge of Meredith's security detail. This may sound like a dry history lesson, but in the hands of this talented playwright, cast, and creative team, it is anything but. It's an inspiring story that's clearly and succinctly told with much humanity, emotion, and even humor. The message of standing up for equality and justice and against bigotry, hatred, and ignorance is beautifully delivered, and tragically still incredibly relevant in 2024. For these reasons and more, I highly recommend seeing A Unique Assignment at History Theatre in downtown St. Paul before it closes April 7.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

"Love and Other Things that Ruined My Life" by Brave New Workshop at Dudley Riggs Theatre

Valentine's Day may be over, but Love and Other Things that Ruined My Life is timeless! Brave New Workshop's new sketch comedy show, which opened Valentine's Day weekend, pokes fun at love, relationships, breakups, and all things related (and not related). Unlike that four-letter word love, the longest running comedy theater in the country never lets you down with their silly, smart, relevant, and sometimes just plain goofy sketches performed by a fantastically funny cast. This show plays through May 18, after which they'll be bringing back their all-improv show It's Not the Heat It's the Stupidity this summer, featuring a rotating cast of local improvisors.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington" at Mixed Blood Theatre

It's been almost two years since Mixed Blood Theatre produced a mainstage play; The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington is the first play since the departure of founding Artistic Director Jack Reuler, the first under new Artistic Director Mark Valdez. To which I say: welcome back Mixed Blood! This kind of risk-taking envelope-pushing social commentary, with a focus on accessibility and diversity of voices and stories, is much needed in our community. While their last play, an original called imagine a u.s. without racism, was an inspirational fairy tale that encouraged audiences to do just that, The Trial (as I'll refer to it) is a brutal look at the racism upon which this country was built. Specifically through "the mother of America," Martha Washington. Written by James Ijames, recent Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony nominee for his play Fat Ham, The Trial is an ingenious mix of storytelling styles, using fantasy, music, and pop culture in this wild exploration of history and present. The cast and creative team do an incredible job of navigating this tricky script and challenging themes, for a wholly successful, entertaining, and thought-provoking work. See it in the old brick firehouse that is Mixed Blood Theatre in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis now through the end of the month.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

"Hairspray" on tour at the Ordway Center

20 years after premiering on Broadway and winning eight Tonys, Hairspray is back on tour, and it's as fun, infectious, and inspirational as ever! The tour stopped at the Orpheum in Minneapolis last year, but I missed it, so I hadn't seen a production since 2015 at Artistry. It's one of my faves (I saw the tour twice in the mid-aughts, as well as the Chanhassen's production in 2011), so it was more than time for another visit to this big-haired and big-hearted version of 1960s Baltimore. Thankfully the Ordway is hosting this super fun and high energy tour for one short week and there are limited tickets still available through Sunday, so head to downtown St. Paul to watch the nicest kids in town dance and sing about anti-bullying, inclusion, and integration.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

"Radiant Vermin" at Lyric Arts

"We are thrilled to have you join us on this wildly dark, complex, and comedic ride... This show touches on a variety of intricate themes that include the unhoused, gentrification, myths surrounding the middle class, religious trauma, morality, and so much more. While I could try to explain further, it's better not to give too much away and just let you experience the journey." This note in the program from director Callie Aho pretty much sums up everything that can be said to someone considering seeing Lyric Arts' production of Radiant Vermin. The premise of the smart, funny, and super dark three-person play is so outrageous, I can't even begin to talk about it without spoiling the experience of seeing this play. But I will add that the direction, acting, and design are spot-on, so if any of the above sounds intriguing to you, I highly encourage you to head up to Anoka to see this play before it closes on March 24.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

To continue Lakeshore Players Theatre's ambitious 71st season, which began with the regional premiere of the smart, poignant, relevant play What the Constitution Means to Me, they're presenting the 2015 Tony-winning Best Play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, about an autistic boy who goes in search of the truth about a dog and finds the truth about himself. It's a really lovely production of this cleverly constructed and moving play, with a strong ensemble cast and inventive design, that makes you feel all the feels. But it's only running for two weekends, so head to charming White Bear Lake to experience this Curious Incident through March 17. And then get ready for the conclusion of this exciting season with the rarely done solo play I Am My Own Wife, a for-kids production of Pinocchio, and the hilarious social satire musical Urinetown. Good things are happening out here in the suburbs.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

"Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

For their third regional premiere in a row, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (CDT) is presenting Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. It's interesting that it follows on the heels of their regional premiere of Jersey Boys, because that 2006 Tony-winning bio-musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons set the standard for the bio-musical and spawned a bunch more of the like, of which Beautiful (premiering in 2014), is one of the better ones. You can definitely see some similarity in structure between the two shows, both feature recognizable hits from the mid 20th Century, and both are really more like plays with music than musicals (most of songs are sung in context - in a studio or at a concert). As Artistic Director Michael Brindisi says, they went from the Jersey boys to the Brooklyn girl. And this first #TCTheater production is big, bold, and yes - beautiful. With an outrageously talented ensemble, super smooth transitions between the many mini scenes and songs, and unstoppable momentum that makes each act of this 2.5-hour-long musical feel like 20 minutes, Beautiful is not to be missed. It's playing through the end of September so you have plenty of time to get out to the Western metro for this celebration of one of the most prolific songwriters of 20th Century American popular music.

Friday, March 8, 2024

"Wish You Were Here" at Strike Theater

For one weekend only, Strike Theater is bringing back their improvised dramedy show Wish You Were Here, in which a talented cast of improvisors explore the ideas of grief and loss as a normal part of life. But not in too heavy or sad of a way. It's still very funny and a little goofy, but with a tinge of melancholy and nostalgia as this group of pretend (but maybe also real) friends mourn the pretend death of one of their group. There are only two more performances, so head to Strike in Northeast Minneapolis tonight or tomorrow night for this bittersweet, funny, and original show. Visit their website for info on all of the comedy, storytelling, and spoken word shows and classes they offer, and mark your calendars for the return of my favorite Strike Theater showThe Great Strike Theater Improvised Bake Off - on April 21 (yes, they actually bake live in front of you!).

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Musical Mondays at LUSH, March 2024

This is your regular reminder that if you're not at LUSH Louge & Theater on the first Monday of the  month, you're missing some fabulous music-theater entertainment! Earlier this week Max Wojtanowicz hosted the 94th Musical Mondays, featuring some super talented local singer/actor/performers. The good news is that if you missed it, you can catch the next one on April 1 (no foolin'). Just follow them on Facebook or Instagram for all the deets. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

"The Moneylender's Daughter" at Six Points Theater

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice can be problematic, with its ant-Semitic representation of the greedy Jewish moneylender, yet it also contains the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes... if you prick us, do we not bleed" speech that argues for a shared humanity. In a post-show discussion, Six Points Theater's Artistic Director Barbara Brooks noted that she's interested in depicting the character of Shylock onstage, and how it might be different at a theater that specializes in telling Jewish stories. But since their home stage at Highland Park Community Center is small, they can't really do a large-scale Shakespeare play, so instead they're presenting the world premiere of Brooklyn-based playwright Martin Coren's sequel The Moneylender's Daughter. I've only seen The Merchant of Venice once, pre-blog in 2007 (more on that later), so I'm not that familiar with it and pretty much viewed this as a standalone play. If you do have familiarity with the original it might have a deeper meaning, but I still found it to be a fascinating and moving play dealing with issues of identity, family, and the anti-Semitism that unfortunately is still very much a part of our world.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

"Bear Grease" tour presented by New Native Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

The Edmonton-based husband and wife duo known as LightningCloud has created a new version of the classic musical Grease. What makes this Grease special is that it stars an entirely Indigenous cast, and has been reworked to reflect the Native experience. Bear Grease has played at the Edmonton Fringe Festival as well as toured around Canada and the US. And now for six performances only, New Native Theatre is presenting it at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul. The parody hits the highlights of the original, and also incorporates other classic songs of the '50s, as well as rap, hip-hop, and Native-influenced sound. It's a fun mash-up of styles and cultures, but the best part was seeing more Native people than I've ever seen in a theater audience. There were several children in the audience on opening night, and it's so moving to realize that these kids (and grown-ups) are seeing people who look like them, who make references to their culture, singing and dancing and having fun performing in this American pop culture classic.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

"The Hatmaker's Wife" by Ten Thousand Things at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church

The Hatmaker's Wife by Lauren Yee (whose most recent work produced in #TCTheater was the epic Cambodian Rock Band by Theater Mu and Jungle Theater) feels like it was written for Ten Thousand Things (it wasn't - it premiered over ten years ago). It's in the vein of their magical fairy tale stories, that I think is my favorite kind of TTT show (even more than their clear-eyed Shakespeare or stripped down musicals). I can't imagine a "normal" theater company doing this play, meaning on a proscenium stage separated from the audience, with fancy lights, sets, and costumes. It's so well suited to the TTT All the Lights On style, weaving a magical and moving tale simply through the talents of the performers and the power of collective imagination (that makes even the aggressively religious paintings in the room at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church fade into the background). It's a story of love, and disconnection, and grief, and hope, a wistful and whimsical story of talking walls, golems, and connections across time. These hats continue to sing at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church this weekend (with a huge free parking lot) and then will move on to Open Book for two final weekends.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

"Clue" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

A newish 90-minute non-musical stage adaptation of the cult classic 1985 movie Clue is going on tour, and it's premiering right here in Minneapolis! I'm not a particular fan of this movie, in fact I watched it for the first time just last week (#research). I found the movie to be quite delightful, and the play even more so. First of all, I love a 90-minute show at the Orpheum Theatre, when you don't have to sit through a 20-minute intermission (or worse yet stand in line for the bathroom for 20 minutes), or stay up past 11pm (#morningperson). Secondly, it's a really fun mystery with lots of wordplay, clever nods to the popular board game, and hilarious physical comedy. The 90 minutes are jam-packed with laughs, the mystery part taking a back seat to the entertainment factor. If you're looking for a different kind of tour that's non-musical, short and sweet, and a fun time, check out the premiere of Clue through March 3 only, after which it will embark on a tour across the country.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

"On Beckett" at the Guthrie Theater

Friends, you're in for a treat. If you're an actor, or writer, or poet, or director, or any kind of artist, Bill Irwin's solo show On Beckett should be required viewing. And if you're not an artist, but you love art and listening to artists talk about their work (like me), you're going to love it too. Bill Irwin is a veteran actor of screen and stage (he won the 2005 Tony for best actor in a play for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), as well as a clown, as well as a decades-long student of playwright/author Samuel Beckett. So seeing him in anything is a treat, but seeing him in this very personal piece in which he talks about his love for (and sometimes frustration with) the work of Beckett is a rare delight. Whether or not you're familiar with Beckett (I'd only seen his most famous play, once), On Beckett is a riveting 90 minutes spent with a talented and passionate artist. See it at the Guthrie now through March 24.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

"Wine in the Wilderness" at Penumbra Theatre

Last weekend, I saw four plays written by women. The first three were by living playwrights (Grace McLean's musical In the Green, Lauren Gunderson's Silent Sky, and Keiko Green's world premiere Hells Canyon), and the fourth was by Alice Childress, one of the most prolific Black female playwrights of the 20th Century, who had her Broadway play debut just a few years ago - Trouble in Mind (which the Guthrie produced a few years earlier). Her plays seem to be having a resurgence in recent years, and it's about time. In 2017 Penumbra Theatre Company produced the gorgeous and devastating Wedding Band, and now they're presenting Wine in the Wilderness, about an artist painting Black women in 1960s Harlem. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of the intersection of race and gender, as always beautifully done by Penumbra.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

"Hells Canyon" by Theater Mu at Jungle Theater

The world premiere new play Hells Canyon is a revenge fantasy, in which the revenge comes almost 140 years after the crime - the murder of 34 Chinese goldminers in Oregon. The spirits of the murder victims are restless, and use a group of friends having a fun getaway at a cabin to enact their revenge. It's modern dramedy-horror with social commentary, in the vein of Get Out. Horror isn't really my thing, but this play is thrilling. It'll make you laugh, and think, and feel, and maybe jump out of your seat a little. Theater Mu's production is brilliantly cast with an incredible design that pulls off some real scares, and it's a must-see, especially if you're a fan of the horror genre (and even if you're not). It plays at the Jungle Theater* Wednesdays through Sundays until March 17. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

"Silent Sky" at Theatre in the Round

One of America's most produced playwrights of recent years, Lauren Gunderson is known for writing plays about women in history and/or science that are modern, feminist, funny, and moving. Silent Sky is one of her most popular - it's now receiving it's third #TCTheater production (I love it, but I'd also love to see The Half-Life of Marie Curie, or Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, or any and all of her other plays). Silent Sky features little known astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who figured out a way to measure the universe, laying the foundation for more well-known (male) scientists like Edwin Hubble. In Gunderson's hands, Henrietta is a very real and relatable woman, who wants to do work that matters, and maybe also have a little fun along the way. With a strong five-person cast and elegantly simple design, Theatre in the Round's Silent Sky is entertaining and inspirational. Who knew science could be so dramatic and emotional?! (Lauren Gunderson, that's who.)

Friday, February 23, 2024

"In the Green" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

For seven years, Theatre Elision has been filling a niche in #TCTheater that we didn't know we needed - small cast, one act, original or rarely done musicals by mostly female creators and artists. In that time they've become one of my favorite theater companies, consistently producing high quality work that you just can't see anywhere else locally. That's definitely the case with the regional premiere of In the Green, less than five years after it premiered Off-Broadway. In a pre-show speech on opening night, resident Music Director Harrison Wade said it's the most difficult piece they've ever done. With its unique subject matter (12th Century nun/composer/scholar Hildegard von Bingen's years spent living secluded in a cell with her teacher), mix of modern and medieval music, and use of looping technology, it definitely feels like their most ambitious work, and perhaps the most rewarding because of it. I found myself moved to tears for reasons I can't explain. The musical taps into something deeply human, specifically what it means to be a female human in the world, and the performances by the five-woman cast, accompanied by a three-piece band, are simply stunning. If you like unique, original, boundary expanding music-theater, you do not want to miss this show. In the Green continues at Elision Playhouse in Crystal through March 9.

Monday, February 19, 2024

"C.L.U.E" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Southern Theater

For their 30th production, Collide Theatrical Dance Company is remounting/revising their 2015 original dance musical C.L.U., now with one letter added to be C.L.U.E. It's a parody of the classic board game (which I spent many hours playing as a kid) and the movie based on it (coincidentally, a new non-musical stage version will be at the Orpheum next week). While the mystery part may be a little thin, the dancing and performances are incredible, and the show is overall a whole lot of fun. Collide lives at the intersection of theater and dance, and as a primarily theater reviewer, it's fun to have an excuse to see some dance, especially when it tells a story in a theatrical way. Embrace the mystery and enjoy the dancing of C.L.U.E. at the Southern Theater (the best venue for dance) now through March 10.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

"Alice in Wonderland" at Children's Theatre Company

Children's Theatre Company is bringing back their original adaptation of Lewis Caroll's classic children's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Somehow I missed the last time they did it over a decade ago, perhaps mistakenly thinking it was just for kids. So this was my first time going down the rabbit hole with director Peter C. Brosius, composer and one-man band Victor Zupanc, and this exceedingly talented ensemble of young and grownup actors. It's two hours of sheer wonder, magic, and delight for audiences of all ages, so inventive and playful and surprising at every turn. The fun and whimsical sets and costumes, the ensemble leading us through the story like something out of Pantomime and/or English Music Hall traditions, and Caroll's endlessly entertaining series of oddball characters speaking nonsense combine for a truly enjoyable show. Bring your kids, your grownups, or yourself to see Alice in Wonderland now through the end of March.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

"Broadway Songbook: Broadway in Love" at Park Square Theatre

As part of their soft reopening after some financial troubles over the last year, Park Square Theatre is bringing James Rocco's Broadway Songbook series back to St. Paul. When he was Artistic Director at the Ordway, James did a dozen or more shows in the series, most of which I attended. I fondly remember them as the best musical theater edutainment, with James' stories and history combined with live performances by some of #TCTheater's top talent. The series has continued at various locations since James left the Ordway in 2017, but hopefully this is the first of many at Park Square. It's February, so the topic for this Songbook is "Broadway in Love," a very broad topic since just about every musical has a love story. So there was less of a cohesive historical or thematic throughline in this show, but more just a collection of some of James and friends' favorite love songs from musicals. Only two performances remain, so head to downtown St. Paul if you've been missing this unique brand of musical edutainment. And follow Park Square for the upcoming announcement of their four-show season, beginning with a summer mystery.

Friday, February 16, 2024

"Honey, I'm Home" at Open Eye Theatre

If walls could talk... they might sound like Madeleine Rowe in their solo show Honey, I'm Home, now playing at Open Eye Theatre as part of their Guest Artist Series. Because when Madeleine says "Honey, I'm home," they literally mean "I am a home." Over about 70 minutes, they personify a house that's been on the market for way too long, and just wants to be bought and lived in and loved, like anyone (or anything). It's a very funny, silly, odd little show that's playful and fun and participatory (in a not too scary way).

Thursday, February 15, 2024

"Mood Swings: An Exploration of the Concept Albums of Frank Sinatra" by Buzz Music Theater at the Hive Collaborative

When I chatted* with Laura Rudolph Morris and Eric Morris, new owners of The Hive Collaborative (the sweet intimate St. Paul theater space formerly known as Dreamland Arts) and co-founders of Buzz Music Theater, Eric talked about his love of the concept album, from Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift, as the perfect intersection of pop culture and theater. Now he's bringing that idea to the stage in the first of four events in a series they're calling "Conceptual Beginnings." In Mood Swings: An Exploration of the Concept Albums of Frank Sinatra, Eric sings some two dozen songs as a sort of song cycle around the themes of "relationships and the human experience." We do indeed go on "an emotional roller coaster" over the course of an hour, in a theatrical expression of classic songs from the American Songbook, from the Gershwins to Cole Porter. It's a fun evening that expands the idea of music-theater. But hurry, this short run concludes on Monday.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

"Improvised Love is Blind" at Strike Theater

I don't get to Strike Theater, our Northeast Minneapolis home for sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word, nearly as often as I would like. But with zero traditional theater shows opening this weekend (in advance of the storm that is late February), I was able to check out Improvised Love is Blind: Season 2. Apparently it's based on a Netflix dating show, which I've never watched or even heard of, so I might have missed some of the references (what are pods?). But the general concept is clear - one of those contrived dating pool situations, with lots of drama and mayhem. They're running it this weekend like episodes of a TV series, and I saw the second episode - after the pairing in the pods, and before the weddings. It would be fun to see all three shows, but even one is a fun evening. The finale is tonight, but last night was over sold out (perhaps the fullest I've ever seen Strike Theater), so get your tickets soon if you're interested! Otherwise check out Strike's website for upcoming shows, including a return of the laughing-through-grief show Wish You Were Here in March. I'm also hoping my favorite - Improvised Bake-Off - will return this year. But there are plenty of shows to choose from in the meantime, as well as classes for those interested in learning how to do improv and storytelling.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

"Toil & Trouble" at Yellow Tree Theatre

In recent years, Lauren Gunderson has become one of my favorite playwrights, with her fresh, modern, feminist plays about women in history, and her Christmas at Pemberley series, the best Pride and Prejudice fan fiction (co-written by Margo Melcon). And I'm not alone in my love for her plays; she's one of the most produced playwrights in recent years. So whenever a theater programs one of her plays, I'm all for it (I would like to request #TCTheater productions of the women-in-science plays The Half-Life of Marie Curie and Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight next season). But I'm not sure I would have recognized Toil & Trouble, now playing on Yellow Tree Theatre's Osseo stage, as one of her works. It might be the only one of her plays set in modern times that I've ever seen, and it's much darker than her other work that I'm familiar with. But it's still smart, funny, modern, and feminist (because women can be murderers too!). Yellow Tree's production is perfectly cast, with abundantly detailed design, and darkly hilarious. Go get your Lauren Gunderson fix in Osseo now through March 3 (and follow it up with Silent Sky at Theatre in the Round, opening soon).

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

"Mamma Mia" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The smash hit 2001 Broadway musical Mamma Mia!, which opened in 2001 and went on to become the 9th longest running musical in Broadway history, has come back to Minneapolis for one week only! When I first saw it on Hennepin Theatre Trust's 2023-2024 season (note: the new season will be announced this Thursday!), I thought - really, Mamma Mia! again? Why?! But then I realized I hadn't seen the Broadway/touring version since 2010 (although I did see three gorgeous local productions in the last few years, at the Ordway, Chanhassen, and Zephyr in Stillwater outdoors), so I thought I'd check it out. And I had an absolute blast at the show. Yes, it's a jukebox musical with a silly plot made up in which to shove ABBA songs, but the result is so joyously infectious, it's impossible to resist. So if you're thinking, "why should I see Mamma Mia! again," keep reading and I'll give you ten reasons. But hurry, Donna and Sophie and her three dads leave town on Sunday! (Click here for the official ticket site.)

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

"Handprints" at History Theatre

Greta Oglesby has been a mainstay in #TCTheater for some 20 years, appearing on stages all over town. But now, for the first time, she's telling her own story. In a project that was first developed with Ten Thousand Things (who produced a film version of it), Greta shares all of the people who shaped her and made her into the person and artist she is today. It's a funny, touching, relatable a story, that reminds us of the people in our lives who teach us things that we carry with us all of our lives, like handprints on our hearts. I loved getting some insight into this artist I've long admired from afar, and learn about what brought her to this place. With music, puppets, and imagery, Greta brings us all on the journey with her. Handprints continues at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul through February 18.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Preview of the Regional Premiere of "Beautiful: the Carole King Musical" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

For their third regional premiere in a row, following the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' favorite musical of 2023 The Prom and the crowd-pleaser Jersey Boys, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is bringing Beautiful: the Carole King Musical to their main stage (note: there was a production in Alexandria MN last summer at Theatre L'Homme Dieu, but this is the first one in the seven-county metro area). You can still catch the Frankie Valli jukebox musical Jersey Boys now through February 24, but beginning March 1, the Chan is moving on from the Jersey boys to the Brooklyn girl (as noted by director Michael Brindisi). I was fortunate enough to be invited to a special preview event last Saturday afternoon, which made me even more excited to see the show this spring. Beautiful premiered on Broadway in 2014 and ran for over five years. The first national tour came to Minneapolis for two weeks in the fall of 2015, about which I wrote, "Although it feels at times like a baby boomer tribute concert, Beautiful truly is just that - beautiful - as it celebrates this remarkable woman's talents and life story." A tribute concert that also tells the true story of the woman behind all of these iconic songs - what's not to love about that?!

Saturday, February 3, 2024

"Cabaret" by Theatre 55 at Mixed Blood Theatre

Cabaret is one of my favorite musicals. I've seen it on stage many times, but it's been almost ten years since I saw a production of it, so it's beyond time to see it again. As usual, Theatre 55 brings a whole new perspective to the beloved and familiar piece by populating the world with people age 55 and better. These performers have lived through, if not the rise of Nazism in 1930s Berlin (that would be Theater 95), then many difficult, tumultuous, divisive times in this country and around the world. Facing another contentious and vitally important election cycle, 2024 is the perfect time to bring back Kander and Ebb's brilliant musical, that lures you in with a funny, sexy, gorgeous show, and then punches you in the gut with the ugly reality of what hate, fear, and bigotry can do. I interviewed Director Richard Hitchler and star Prudence Johnson on an episode of Twin Cities Theater Chat, and it was a pleasure to talk about the meaning of this piece, as well as Theater 55's important work of fighting agism and "enriching the lives of elders as artists, audiences, and lifelong learners." This especially poignant but still super fun Cabaret has only six performances left, several of which are sold out, so don't snooze on getting tickets, or you may be left sitting alone in your room instead of going to the cabaret, where everything is beautiful.

Friday, February 2, 2024

"Dial M for Murder" at Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater is bringing a new adaptation of a classic thriller to their stage. Local prolific playwright and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher has applied his sharp wit and clever plotting to Frederick Knott's 1952 play Dial M for Murder (later adapted into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock). In an interview in the program, Jeffrey noted that the first task of adaptation is not to screw it up. He didn't. I've seen the play a couple of times before, but I'm not familiar enough to know what was changed or tweaked, other than the obvious ones noted in that interview - the murderous husband is a failed novelist rather than former tennis celebrity, and the American writer named Max that his wife has an affair with is a woman. Without taking anything away from the original, these slight changes add a whole new layer to the story and make it feel more modern. Homosexual relationships very much existed in the '50s, they just weren't talked about. Much like the new adaptation of the classic Western Shane last summer, this new adaptation adds back into the narrative the people that were erased. But rest assured, this Dial M is still a thrilling twisty delight! See it on the thrust stage through February 25.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

"Crazy for You" at Artistry

Artistry is opening their 2024 with a winner - the 1992 Broadway musical Crazy For You, featuring music by George and Ira Gershwin taken from several early 20th Century musicals, including Girl Crazy. With book by Ken Ludwig (known for his comedic adaptations of classic stories) and music by the Gershwins, you really can't go wrong. Despite being only about 30 years old, it has the feel of an old-fashioned (in a good way) American musical comedy. Director Ben Bakken has staged it as a sort of concert version, with an almost unheard of 20-piece orchestra conducted by recently retired longtime #TCTheater Music Director Anita Ruth, at center stage and the focus of the show. The cast is smaller than the band, with just 12 performers (the Broadway production had more than twice that) playing all of the roles and performing in the small space in front of the orchestra with little in the way of sets and costumes. But while some elements of production are stripped down, the music, singing, dancing, and performing are full out and fabulous! The Sunday matinee on opening weekend was almost sold out, and word is only going to spread about how great this show is, so you would be wise to get your tickets now for the final two weekends.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

"Stones in His Pockets" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Every once in a while, Theater Latte Da throws a play on their season schedule and I think - what is this going to be? At one time their tagline was "we don't do musical theater, we do theater musically," and their new production of Stones in His Pockets is a prime example of this. They haven't turned it into a musical (like they did with the classic play Twelve Angry Men, which sounds weird but turned out to be brilliant), but they have turned it into theater musically. Jason Hansen (Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' favorite Music Director for three years running - watch for our interview with him on an episode of Twin Cities Theater Chat coming soon!) has written original music to fill in the spaces and add color and emotion to the story, like a film score played live. I'd never seen this play before, and now that I've seen this production, I can't imagine it without music. Music is so much a part of Irish culture and everyday life, that it seems fitting that there is music in this funny, wistful, tragic, heart-warming, and very Irish little story. See this wholly original Stones in His Pockets (featuring a brilliant comedy duo) at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis through February 25. (Recommended dinner-and-a-show pairing: enjoy the food, atmosphere, and Guinness at The Anchor Fish & Chips just down the street.)