Tuesday, May 28, 2024

"Machinal" by Clevername Theatre at the Center for Performing Arts

Machinal: mechanical, done without thinking, from force of habit. Early 20th century playwright Sophie Treadwell uses this word as the title of her her 1928 play about a woman caught in the mechanics of a woman's expected life path and the disastrous results. In Clevername Theatre's new production (my first experience with the play), it feels like it could have been written yesterday instead of almost 100 years ago. It's performed in the German Expressionist style with exaggerated, almost absurd, performances, which is a bit off-putting. But that's intentional, and how the play was written, and it beautifully and harshly exemplifies the experience of this woman. Even if the style feels unfamiliar to audiences used to modern American theater, the themes are resonant with modern life. The show is halfway through its short two-week run, with only three remaining performances at the Center for Performing Arts in Uptown.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Peter and the Starcatcher" by Duluth Playhouse at the NorShore Theatre

Duluth is my (and many Minnesotans') favorite spot for a Minne-cation. Not only is there that endlessly fascinating lake (which on this visit the winds churned up into wild waves), the best of Minnesota's 70+ State Parks, and tons of outdoor activities, food, and shopping, but it's also an artsy city, including a great theater scene. As soon as I bought my ticket to see the living legend that is Willie Nelson at Bayfront Festival Park, I checked out the theater schedule, and was thrilled to discover that I would be in Duluth for the opening of the charming play with music Peter and the Starcatcher by Duluth Playhouse (and also disappointed that I would be missing Zeitgeist Theater's POTUS, opening May 30 and running through June 8). This Peter features a talented 12-percon cast (including some familiar faces), playful and inventive storytelling, and a sweet story about home, family, and adventure; check it out if you're going to be in Duluth through June 2. And whenever you plan your North Shore adventure, see what's going on at the Playhouse or Zeitgeist, or better yet, plan a trip around it - like I may be during Duluth Playhouse's 110th season to see the gorgeous musical The Light in the Piazza, or Waitress - yet another musical that #DuluthTheater does before #TCTheater (see also Renegade Theater's lovely 2019 production of Fun Home, which is premiering in the Twin Cities at Theater Latte Da next season, and last summer's Kinky Boots at the Playhouse, with Mitchell Douglas reprising his role as Lola at Lyric Arts this summer).

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

"Men on Boats" at Theatre in the Round

As promised at the last Theatre in the Round show, their new production of Men on Boats includes neither men nor boats. Nothing against either, but having an all-female or non-binary cast telling the story of the first government sanctioned expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, with nary a boat on stage, is pretty clever. And it's utterly delightful - funny and playful, while still commenting on the ideas of Manifest Destiny, exploration, discovery, and masculinity. It's also a fun adventure tale, and having been on several wilderness adventures with all-female groups (including hiking in the Grand Canyon, and canoeing in the BWCAW), it kinda made me want to plan my next adventure. Maybe a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, although with better maps, equipment, and food than this group had. But if real-life adventuring isn't for you, you can safety join these non-men on their non-boat adventure at the oldest theater in Minneapolis, now through June 2.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

"The Brontide" by nimbus theater at The Crane Theater

This weekend, I spent two nights in a row at The Crane Theater, seeing two completely different shows. Friday night I saw a spooky pair of short plays, Ghoulish Delights' Bonehouse / Outsider, in the small studio space, and on Saturday I went back to see a new work by nimbus theatre, who owns/operates the space, in the main theater. nimbus almost exclusively does new work, often developed by the ensemble. Their newest work, The Brontide, was born out of an idea by co-Artistic Director Mitchell Frazier and company member Ernest Briggs (who also co-direct). An idea about stories, who tells them, who needs to hear them, who owns them. The result, by playwright Josh Cragun (another co-Artistic Director) is a modern and fantastical story about a tech company mogul who tries to buy up all of the stories in the world, and the scientist and filmmaker who try to stop him. As if often the case with new work, it could use a bit of editing and tightening up, but there are some interesting and relevant ideas discussed, and some great performances. The Brontide continues through June 9Bonehouse / Outsider closes on May 25, and Skylark Opera Theatre's production of the Sondheim revue Marry Me A Little opens at the Crane on June 20.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

"Bonehouse / Outsider" by Ghoulish Delights at The Crane Theater Studio

And now for something a little spookier, Ghoulish Delights is presenting a pair of short plays about two lonely individuals who are trying to escape. But don't worry, this isn't Twin Cities Horror Festival (although it is in the same venue - The Crane Theater's intimate studio space), so there isn't any blood or gore. But there is well-crafted storytelling, like a ghost story you'd tell around a campfire, that'll send chills up your spine. At just about an hour runtime, and a 7pm start time, stop by the Crane for some chills and thrills before going about your evening plans. If you can shake it; these two pieces cast a dark and contemplative spell that's a little hard to shake when you escape out into the still light evening, which these two protagonists were unable to do. Bonehouse / Outsider plays Thursdays through Saturdays until May 25, which a post-show discussion with the playwright of Bonehouse after the May 24 performance.

Friday, May 17, 2024

"The Spitfire Grill" by Ten Thousand Things at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church

Ten Thousand Things musicals are my favorite. When their trademark "All the Lights On" barebones style is applied to a musical, we get a few acoustic instruments accompanying unmiked singers performing a few feet in front of us, and the result is magical. The lovely Americana score and intimate story of the Off-Broadway musical The Spitfire Grill is a perfect choice for this treatment. The only problem with "all the lights on" is that everyone can see when you start to cry at the emotions brought on by the story and the music! But that's OK, they're probably crying too, and it's all part of being human, which is what this show exemplifies so beautifully. A simply stunning cast and simply charming design allow the true heart of this piece to shine, which is what Ten Thousand Things does so well. You can see The Spitfire Grill at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church this weekend (an easy-to-get-to location with a large free parking lot) or the following two weekends at The Jungle Theater, with free community performances continuing through June 9.

"Skeleton Crew" at the Guthrie Theater

Just before the pandemic, Yellow Tree Theatre partnered with New Dawn Theatre to produce the regional premiere of Dominique Morisseau's Skeleton Crew, the final installment in her trilogy of plays known as The Detriot Project (which includes Detroit '67, produced by Penumbra in 2015). Since then, the play premiered on Broadway, receiving three Tony nominations and one win (for Phylicia Rashad). Now it's back in the Twin Cities, on the Guthrie's proscenium stage, with the same director as the Yellow Tree/New Dawn production (Austene Van, founding Artistic Director of New Dawn, who has since become the Artistic Director of Yellow Tree), as well as some of the same cast and design team. It's basically the 2020 production on a bigger stage and with a bigger scale. And this is a play deserving of a second look, and of a wider audience, as it tells a very human and relatable story of blue collar workers struggling to stay afloat during the recession of the late aughts. See this powerful and moving play, that's also funny and entertaining, now through June 9.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

"The First Lady of Song: Ella Sings The Irving Berlin Songbook" at The Hive Collaborative

For their first season, The Hive Collaborative has been exploring the idea of a concept album. Local singer/songwriter Monica Livorsi's new album of Jane Austen-inspired songs (now available for purchase or streaming). Hive co-owner Eric Morris singing from a couple of Frank Sinatra concept albums. The "original concept album" Schubert's Winterreise performed by a couple of fabulous local classical musicians. And last but not least, Deidre Cochran sings Ella Fitzgerald singing Irving Berlin. Each one of these shows has been unique, but they definitely feel like part of a collection. Ella Sings is 60 minutes of music, joy, fun, and community. Check out one of the four more performances this weekend, and then visit Hive's event page to see what else is buzzing this summer (not just music and theater!).

Monday, May 13, 2024

"Blended Harmony" at the History Theatre, a co-production with Theater Mu

Wrapping up an excellent season of world premieres, the History Theatre is bringing us another gem of a local story - Blended Harmony: The Kim Loo Sisters, a co-production with Theater Mu. If you've never heard of this Chinese-Polish-American family of singers from Minneapolis, well, you have now! Referred to at the time as "the Chinese Andrews Sisters," they toured the Vaudeville circuit before making their Broadway debut in the late '30s. That's where this story picks up, and we follow them through the next several years, through conflicts, touring, and reunion. It's a heart-warming story of family and identity, told with a fabulous swing era score, with touches of Chinese and Polish sounds as well. See this original, historical, feel-good musical now through May 26.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

"Rasputin" by Four Humors Theater

Other than their participation in last year's Minnesota Fringe Festival Five-Fifths fundraiser, I haven't seen a Four Humors Theater production since before the pandemic. Which is way too long to go without seeing their uniquely clever and ridiculous original work, often adaptations of literature or history. They debuted a new work at Twin Cities Horror Festival last fall, but I missed it, so I'm happy they're remounting Rasputin at Open Eye Theatre so I could see the show my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers raved about. It's just as smart and silly and hilarious as expected, with a bit more blood than usual for their shows. As a bonus, I caught one of two encore performances of their 2013 Minnesota Fringe hit Lolita, which made for a pretty great double-billing. They have a pretty loyal following, and lots of buzz from TCHF, so some shows in their short two-week run are already selling out. You can see Rasputin through May 18, with one final performance of Lolita following the Saturday night closing performance.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

"Sea Cabinet" at Theatre Elision

Almost five years ago, Theatre Elision brought us the first US production of Sea Cabinet, a charming song cycle written by British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert. At the time I called it "a collection of lovely, melodic, interesting, unique songs around a common theme of the sea, and specifically a woman walking along the sea collecting objects." I was happy to revisit it again with their new production, this time in Theatre Elision's home, the Elision Playhouse in Crystal, where it feels closer and cozier than it did in the gorgeous expanse of the Southern Theater. They've brought back the original cast and creative team, and I was reminded just how lovely it is. Even though there are no clearly defined characters or storyline, the songs taken together as a whole create an experience that's gorgeous and moving, beautifully brought to life by Elision. If you like original and unique music-theater, that's a tight 70 minutes that'll leave you wanting more, see Sea Cabinet as it continues this weekend and next.

Friday, May 10, 2024

"Torch Song" at Six Points Theater

A few years ago, Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein wrote a new adaptation of his 1982 play Torch Song Trilogy (for which he won two of his four Tonys), cutting it down to about two and a half hours from the original four. Six Points Theater is presenting this version, that still feels like three distinct but related one-act plays. It's a beautiful and heart-wrenching story about a gay man navigating his career as a drag queen, dating, relationships, and family. Full of heart and humor and featuring a lovely and heartfelt performance by Neal Beckman, this Torch Song is a joy to experience. See it at Six Points Theater (in the Highland Park Community Center) now through May 19.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

NYC Theater Trip 2024: "Suffs" at The Music Box Theatre

Show*: 4

Title: Suffs

Location: The Music Box Theatre

Written By: Shaina Taub (music, book, and lyrics)

Summary: The story of the final leg of the fight for women's suffrage, told as a fun and modern musical with an all-female cast.

NYC Theater Trip 2024: "October 7: A Verbatim Play" at The Actors Temple Theatre Off-Broadway

Show*: 3

Title: October 7: A Verbatim Play

Location: The Actors Temple Theatre

Written By: Phelim McAleer

Summary: A docu-play about the horrific attack on Israel by the terrorist group Hamas on October 7, in which over 750 civilians were killed.

NYC Theater Trip 2024: "The Outsiders" at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Show*: 2

Title: The Outsiders

Location: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Written By: Adam Rapp and Justin Levine (book), Jamestown Revival and Justine Levine (music and lyrics)

Summary: An adaptation of the 1967 novel by S. E. Hinton and the 1983 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola, about three orphaned brothers and their "greaser" friends and rival gang of "socs" (the rich kids).

NYC Theater Trip 2024: "Merrily We Roll Along" at the Hudson Theatre

Show*: 1

Title: Merrily We Roll Along

Location: Hudson Theatre

Written By: music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Firth

Summary: The story of three artist friends told backwards - from the unhappy ending to the happy beginning.

Friday, May 3, 2024

"FLEX" at Penumbra Theatre Company

The new play FLEX, about a high school girls basketball team in the mid-90s, is receiving its area premiere at Penumbra Theatre Company. Like The Wolves (about a high school girls soccer team, which the Jungle produced twice a few years ago), it's about so much more than sports. It's about friendship, teamwork, betrayal and what it's like to be a teenage girl. It's a little lighter than what I remember The Wolves to be. While there is tragedy and difficult issues that the girls are dealing with, in the end it's a feel-good story about camaraderie and the triumph of a group when everyone works together. See it at Penumbra in St. Paul's historic Rondo neighborhood through May 19.