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.