Tuesday, April 30, 2024

"Urinetown" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre's 71st season just keeps getting better! I would say that their new production of the hilarious satirical musical Urinetown is the best thing they've done this season, but then I remember the other great shows they've done this season (She Loves Me, I Am My Own Wife, and more). Suffice it to say that this is their best season since I've been attending shows at the Hanifl Performing Arts Center in lovely downtown White Bear Lake (which admittedly has only been about six years). Urinetown is one of my favorite musicals, since seeing the Broadway tour over 20 years ago. There have been a handful of #TCTheater productions, but it's been a while, so I was thrilled to see it as the conclusion of this ambitious season which began with the smart, funny, and relevant play What the Constitution Means to Me. I'm even more thrilled to report that it's a fantastic production, with a talented and energetic cast, detailed design, fun choreography, and direction that hits on all of the humor and relevancy of the script (continuing through May 19).

Sunday, April 28, 2024

"A Year with Frog and Toad" at Children's Theatre Company

The Tony-nominated musical A Year with Frog and Toad has returned to where it began - the Children's Theatre. It's been back a few times since its brief 2002 Broadway run and subsequent nominations. I first saw it in 2017, and much of this review is borrowed from what I wrote then, since many of the production elements remain the same. But I had forgotten just how delightful this show is. Based on Arnold Lobel's children's books about the friendship between a frog and a toad and commissioned by his daughter Adrianne Lobel, whose original scenic design is used in this production, Frog and Toad is an utterly charming musical. Like many shows at CTC, it's designed with children in mind, but its sweet and simple story is so clearly and entertainingly told that it's a joy for all to behold. This is the final show directed by Artistic Director Peter C. Brosius, who is retiring after 27 years and countless incredible productions, many of them world premieres. This playful, funny, and sweet show is a wonderful swan song for Peter (continuing through June 16).

Saturday, April 27, 2024

"Language Archive" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Julia Cho's The Language Archive, which premiered in 2010, is a sweet, odd, and endearing little play. Park Square Theatre produced the regional premiere in 2015, when I called it "smartly written, funny, a bit fantastical but very grounded in reality... touches the heart as well as the mind and the funny bone." I described it thusly: "It's about the different languages that we all speak, not just the actual language, but also the more intimate informal languages that we develop in relationships with the different people in our lives. Even though the characters in the play all speak English, they struggle to communicate with each other on a deeper level, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, as we all do." It's a great choice for Theatre Pro Rata, which consistently makes interesting choices (this is actually one of the rare times when I've seen one of their play choices previously). They've employed a talented five-person cast (Park Square had seven), and an inventive design with some unique delights. You can see this little gem of a play now through May 4 at the Crane Theater.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

"A Jumping-Off Point" at the Jungle Theater

"A smart, sharp comedy that asks the important questions about privilege and who is allowed to fail." This tagline on the cover of the program pretty well describes the new play A Jumping-Off Point, receiving its regional premiere at the Jungle Theater. It's the kind of play that I love, one in which complex characters discuss relevant issues in a personal and relatable way, with no easy answers, no winners or losers. And the issues discussed are ones on the forefront of current conversation - who has the right to tell whose story? It's no longer acceptable for a writer to tell the story of a community they're not a part of, particularly a marginalized community. People in that community have the right to tell their own story, something we've only just begun to realize and put into practice. But does that make it OK to steal someone else's idea and "make it better?" Those are the thorny issues that this excellent three-person cast, savvy director, and brilliant design team dig into in just 90 minutes. Buckle your seat belts, not just to make it through Uptown construction to see this play at the Jungle through May 19, but also to navigate the twists and turns of this story.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

"The Sound of Music" at Artistry

The Sound of Music is a particular favorite of mine, having grown up watching and loving the movie, playing clarinet in the pit orchestra of my high school production, and studying abroad in wunderschöne Salzburg almost 30 years ago. It's been over eight years since we've had a professional #TCTheater production of it, so seeing it at Artistry in Bloomington is a thrill. They've assembled a fantastic cast of #TCTheater favorites and some precocious children, with a simply lovely design, and Raymond Berg leading a 13-piece onstage orchestra on this beloved score. And the result is every bit as warm, comforting, familiar, and delightful as it should be. It continues through May 12, but I'm not the only one with a built-in love for this show, so it's already selling out. Don't wait to long too get your tickets to Salzburg!

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, taking 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!*