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.)

Saturday, January 27, 2024

"Little House on the Prairie" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

As a fan of all things Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder, I was excited to see the musical Little House on the Prairie on Lakeshore Players Theatre's ambitious 2023-2024 season. I grew up watching the TV show and reading the books, and as an adult I've read every book I could find about Laura Ingalls Wilder, and visited most of the historic sights. As a descendent of 19th Century immigrants who came to Minnesota to make a better life for their family (i.e., me), Laura's story feels like my story. But as an adult, I recognize that it's only one side of the story, and that the story of the indigenous people of this land, who were displaced by the US government so that my ancestors could make a new life here, is also an important one to tell. Laura's story and legacy are complicated,* but I still love Little House for the nostalgia, and the comforting message of family, home, togetherness, and respect for nature. I hadn't seen the musical in almost 15 years, and it turns out it's not as strong of a piece of musical theater as I remembered or hoped it was. But it's still lots of fun for Little House fans, and Lakeshore Players has put together a charming production, with a large and talented cast and beautiful design. You can see it at Hanifl Performing Arts Center in White Bear Lake through February 10 (and for something different, check out an encore performance of Lakeshore's fantastic regional premiere of the smart, funny, inspiring play What the Constitution Means to Me on January 29 and 30).

"Survivors" at Six Points Theater

Just in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Six Points Theater is presenting the play Survivors, which tells the stories of ten Holocaust survivors. 79 years ago today the concentration camp Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army. In the course of human history, or even American history, that's not that long ago, and unfortunately it did not mark the end of violence, discrimination, and hate against the Jewish people. It's so important to keep telling these stories, to remember the horrors that Jews endured not so very long or far away, because as they say in the play, "Never Forget! Never Again! Never is Now!" Survivors only has three performances; it's more of a special event than a part of Six Points' full season. But if you have a chance to see the final performance on Sunday afternoon, I encourage you to do so. Each performance is followed by a discussion about anti-Semitism with local leaders and scholars. Anti-Semitism never went away, but has seen a resurgence in recent years with the extreme political climate, as well as in recent months since the Israel-Hamas War. I'm so glad I was able to attend this moving performance and informative discussion, which was heavy and a bit depressing, but also hopeful and inspiring. (Click here for info and to purchase tickets to the final performance.)

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

"Ironbound" by Frank Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

Leave it to Wendy Knox to discover a new-to-#TCTheater playwright who has written (at least one) gorgeous, funny, devastating, and very human play about immigrants, poverty, classism, sexism, and so much more. Ironbound is believed to be the first of Polish-American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Martyna Majok's work to be produced in the Twin Cities, and it's a stunner. As per usual, it receives top notch treatment in Frank Theatre's production, with beautifully raw and real performances from the four-person cast and an understated but effective design. It's only mid-January, but I'm confident this will be one of the best plays of 2024. It plays Thursdays through Sundays at Gremlin Theatre until February 11. Click here for info and tickets, and watch for Frank's remount of another fantastic and relevant play, Fetal, playing at their intimate studio space in late February. After a very long hiatus, it's a joy to have Frank Theatre back with two strong plays, that are probably among my favorites that I've seen them do.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

"The Last Five Years" at Lyric Arts

Jason Robert Brown truly is one of the best living musical theater composers, his scores viscerally capturing the emotions of the characters and stories. His two-person musical The Last Five Years, inspired by his first (failed) marriage, is a gorgeous song cycle of relationship songs, from funny to heart-breaking. It's almost entirely sung through (in what should be 90 minutes), with the two characters telling their shared story in opposing directions. It's a clever device that not only creates an interesting narrative, but also parallels the story being told - two people who never quite get on the same track. Lyric Arts' production is perfectly cast, with a lush onstage six-piece orchestra, and design elements that add to the storytelling. See this lovely and heart-breaking musical at Lyric Arts in Anoka now through February 11.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

"Funny Girl" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The long overdue first Broadway revival of Funny Girl (which made Barbra Streisand a star in the '60s) has finally arrived in Minneapolis - for one short week only! I'd never seen it on stage before (I don't recall a #TCTheater production in my blog-memory), and while I have seen the movie, I'm not that familiar with it, or the music. I was blown away by the score, the dancing (setting a story in the Follies allows for some great dance numbers apropos of nothing), and the positively radiant performance of Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice. Head to downtown Minneapolis to see this fabulous new production of a little done classic while you can! (Click here for the official ticket purchasing site, which also include info about the student/educator rush tickets.)

Sunday, January 14, 2024

"'Til Death Do Us Die" by The Mystery Cafe at Majestic Oaks Golf Club

Having been entertaining audiences for 35 years, The Mystery Cafe is "the longest running interactive comedy dinner theater company in Minnesota," but for some reason I've only recently heard of it. I think maybe that's because it operates outside of the typical theater model, and maybe attracts different audiences. But it employs a lot of the same great actors/ comedians/ improvisors that we see on #TCTheater stages around town, so I (and you) should definitely be aware of it. Presumably if you read this blog you love theater, but if you have someone in your life who says they don't like theater, this might be a great way to introduce them to the wide world of theatrical entertainment. It's definitely not the sit-in-a-dark-audience-completely-separate-from-what's-happening-onstage kind of theater. Instead, you're right in the middle of the action, sitting at large round tables with a group of friends and strangers, eating a three-course meal while theater happens all around you. At my table there was a family of four, and a couple from out-state Minnesota who for years has been driving into the cities to see this show. The show was nearly sold out, so they obviously have a big following. The current show 'Til Death Do Us Die is playing through February 17 at Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake, check it out for a really fun and uniquely entertaining night out. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

"The Seagull" at Theatre in the Round

The Seagull may be the most tragic comedy I've ever seen. As it happens, this Chekhovian mix that makes you laugh as much as it makes you cry is my favorite thing (see also: The Bear). This slice of life story of a group of family and friends at a country home by the lake one summer, with a flash forward to catch up with them two years later, is full of laughter, music, love, heartbreak, and tragedy. Just like life. #TCTheater artist Craig Johnson has written a new adaptation of Chekhov's first play, and although I can't really speak to what's new or different about this adaptation since I've only seen it once before, it feels fresh and funny and modern, and heart-wrenching. An across-the-board strong 10-person cast and a charming nature-based design bring this 125+ year old story to such vivid life that it was jarring to leave the theater and walk out into the bitterly cold night. Experience this great tragicomedy now through February 4 at Theatre in the Round, the oldest theater in Minneapolis.

Friday, January 12, 2024

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2024

It's January in Minnesota and that means two things: below zero temperatures and History Theatre's "Raw Stages" new works festival. This year they're presenting five readings of new plays and musicals, and I thought about getting a hotel room in downtown St. Paul so I could just hang out for a week and see them all. But other duties and shows call, so I'll likely end up seeing just three of the five. I love "Raw Stages" for many reasons - the incredible performers who made these characters and stories come alive after just a few hours of rehearsal, the fascinating stories of little known Minnesota history, and being a part of the new work development process. It's a thrill to get a glimpse into how new work comes to be, something we don't often get to see or even really think about. And the best part is most of these works will end up on the main stage in a fully realized production, and you can watch something new and exciting come full circle. Keep reading for full details of all shows below (from the History Theatre website), as well as my thoughts on the three I saw. Since there's not much snow to play in or to impede getting out and about - head to downtown St. Paul this weekend and watch theater in the making (click here to purchase $15 tickets for one show, or a pass for $30).

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Musical Mondays at LUSH, January 2024

No better way to start the year than with Musical Mondays at LUSH! This monthly cabaret show hosted by #TCTheater artist Max Wojtanowicz (see him in his TCTB Award-nominated performance in 'Art' at the Guthrie through January 28) held it's 92nd show this Monday. It's always a fun night (especially when the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers go as a group) and an incredible showcase of the talent in this town. You might discover a new favorite performer, or you might see a new side to a performer you've seen before. They get to choose what they want to sing, which allows them to really express their personalities and unique talents in a way that sometimes a role in a musical might not. Keep reading for a recap of this month's show, then mark your calendar for the next Musical Mondays at LUSH on February 5 (follow them on Facebook for details).

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

2023 #TCTheater Favorites - Almost Back to Normal

Here we are friends, at the close of another year of theater, and the beginning of a new one. It's hard to believe that it's been almost four years since a global pandemic halted all live indoor performances for almost 18 months. I went from seeing over 200 live performances in 2019 (and for several years before that), to 49 in 2020, to 86 in 2021 (the year that live theater began to return), to over 150 in 2022 (when theater was back but not out of the woods). But now, finally, 2023 felt almost like a normal year of theater. From the incredible touring production of King Gilgamesh and the Man of the Wild at the Jungle in snowy early January, to my second viewing of Christmas at the Local on New Year's Eve, I saw 226 live performances (including 41 Fringe shows, 10 concerts at the best little folk festival in Minnesota - Storyhill Fest, and a half dozen shows in NYC). The virus is still around, and performers still miss shows due to illness, and some shows are still cancelled because of it, but we know better how to deal with it now, with vaccines, masks, and understudies keeping theater going. This is definitely the hardest favorites list I've had to write since 2019, since there was so much good theater to choose from this year. It's a welcome problem to have. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite shows of 2023 (in alphabetical order, click on show title for full review). I know this list is too long, but don't blame me, blame the incredible artists of #TCTheater for making it impossible to narrow down my list of favorites to anything less than 50!