Wednesday, July 24, 2024

2024 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-See List

The most adventurous 11 days in the #TCTheater year is almost upon us! The Minnesota Fringe Festival runs August 1 through 11, with about 100 shows playing at 9 Fringe venues (plus some additional venues for independently produced shows). This will be my 14th consecutive year attending MN Fringe (if you count the all-virtual 2020 festival and the 2021 hybrid), so I have a pretty good idea of how to go about this. But if you're new to fringing, don't worry, it's easy! The MN Fringe website has everything you need to know, including details about all of the shows, info for how to get to the venues, and ticketing info. Bookmark this, and refer to it as needed. I also have a few tips at the bottom of this post. But first, and without further ado, my annual Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-See List.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Broadway Tour of "SIX" at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

The smash hit musical SIX returns to the Ordway Center for the third time. It actually played here in 2019 before it even went to Broadway, where it was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won two. It's still playing on Broadway and has since become a worldwide phenomenon (I saw it in Toronto earlier this year). I've seen it five times now, and will never pass up a chance to see it. Why? It truly is a practically perfect 70ish minutes of music-theater, telling the story of the six wives of King Henry VIII as a pop concert, with an all female cast and band. It's a delightful mash-up of history and pop culture and music and theater. You can read my full review of the 2019 production here (which is largely unchanged, except for the cast), and read on for six reasons to see SIX (again) before these queens leave town on July 28.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

"Kinky Boots" at Lyric Arts

To close out the 2023-2024 season, Lyric Arts is bringing us their second regional premiere of the season (the first was 9 to 5) - the super fun and feel good musical Kinky Boots. Last seen in the Twin Cities in 2015 (the Broadway tour), the 2013 Tony-winning musical celebrates the love of shoes and self-identity in a glorious, fun, warm-hearted way. But of course it's about more than just shoes (even if they are "the most beautiful thing in the world"). As with most musicals there's a love story at its core, but this time the love story is a friendship between two very different men who grow to admire and respect each other, encouraging each other to live up to their full potential. With this great story (based on a 2005 movie that was based on a true story) adapted to the stage by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein with score by music legend Cyndi Lauper (the first woman to win a solo Tony for best score), it's a surefire hit!* Lyric Arts has assembled a fantastic cast to ensure the most fun and heart-warming time. 

Sunday, July 14, 2024

"Rope" at Gremlin Theatre

The 1929 play Rope, which was adapted into a 1948 film by Alfred Hitchcock, is now receiving fine treatment on the Gremlin Theatre stage. Written by English playwright Patrick Hamilton (who also wrote Gas Light, which was also adapted into a film, and later become a term for psychological manipulation), it was inspired by the real life case of two college students who murdered a child in 1920s Chicago as an intellectual pursuit. In this version of the story, two university students murder a fellow student, put his body in a chest, and then hold a dinner party with food served on top of the chest, just to prove they could get away with murder. It's sickening really, but also makes for a riveting and suspenseful tale, because - spoiler alert - they don't get away with it. Watching their carefully plotted plan unravel like so much frayed rope is a thrill. A fantastic cast and spot on design chillingly bring this story to life. See it at Gremlin Theatre in Vandalia Tower in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood now through August 4.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

"Penelope" at Theatre Elision

Next up in Theatre Elision's tradition of bringing us rarely done (often regional premiere) one-act musicals with a largely female cast and/or creative team is Penelope, about the long-waiting wife of Odysseus. What started as a pandemic project by singer-songwriter Alex Bechtel turned into a concept album, and then a one-woman musical with help from director Eva Steinmetz and book writer Grace McLean (who also wrote Elision's winter show In the Green, and is currently starring in Suffs on Broadway as a hilariously buffoonish President Woodrow Wilson). Penelope premiered in 2023 in New York, and here it is on the Elision Playhouse stage less than a year later. Thanks once again to Theatre Elision for finding this music-theater gem, and no one better to perform it than the luminous Christine Wade, who has been in every Elision show (and often serves as Vocal Director). She's joined on stage by a five-piece orchestra on this gorgeous score that sounds modern yet classical, telling a story of longing, waiting, loyalty, and identity. It's playing for about a month, so you have plenty of time to get to Elision Playhouse to see this new original piece of music-theater that you can't see anywhere else (unless you're planning a trip to NYC this month). 

Friday, July 12, 2024

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" by Jackdonkey Productions at Phoenix Theater

William Shakespeare wrote 37(ish) plays, an astounding feat for any playwright, but especially when you consider that they're still being performed 400 years later. I'm not even the biggest Shakespeare fan, I don't seek out Shakespeare, but being after being a Twin Cities Theater Blogger for 14 years and a Guthrie season subscriber for 20, I've seen about two-thirds of his plays, and some of them multiple times (over a dozen Romeo and Juliets alone!). That's a lot of hours of Shakespeare. But if you don't have time to see 37 plays (who does?), now you can see them all in under two hours! In Jackdonkey Productions' version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), three talented actors take you through them all, well sort of. Each play at least gets a mention or a line, with a couple of them getting a bit longer treatment. The script (by Reduced Shakespeare Company) is really just a framework upon which the cast and creative team build a silly, fun, fourth-wall-breaking romp of a show. And you don't need to have seen any of Shakespeare's 37 plays to enjoy it (although if you have, you'll get a few more of the references). See it now through July 21 at Phoenix Theater in Uptown (still open despite the construction on Hennepin). Or you can catch it in Lanesboro or Stillwater the following week.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

2024 Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona

Last weekend was my favorite Minnesota theater vacay of the year - the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona. I first attended the festival in 2018 with some of my Twin Cities Theater Blogger friends, and have been back every year since (not counting 2020 - the year that doesn't count), with those same friends, or different friends, or sometimes by myself. This is a smallest festival since I've been attending - only two shows with a company of nine actors, compared to twice that size pre-pan, but what's not smaller is the quality of the theater, the thought and care put into it by the entire team, and the community feeling of being at the festival. Two shows is better than none, and it makes it even easier to see everything in a short weekend trip. Or extend the trip by a few days and enjoy the lovely city of Winona, about a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities, with its ample opportunities for hiking, water sports, museums, shopping, restaurants, and other activities. The festival continues through July 28, so make your plans now for a quintessential Minnesota theater vacation!

Monday, July 1, 2024

"Little Shop of Horrors" at the Guthrie Theater

For their summer musical this year, the Guthrie has chosen the cult favorite Little Shop of Horrors. The 1960 B-movie filmed in just two days (per a great article in the program) - turned successful Off-Broadway musical - turned 1986 film starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene (from the original Off-Broadway cast), and Steve Martin - finally landed on Broadway in 2003. And 20 years later it's on the Guthrie stage, the first regional theater to produce a Broadway musical in 1983 (per another great article in the program). It's a bit of a departure from the more classic musical fare usually seen at the Guthrie, and it's a risk that has paid off greatly. This production leans heavily into the story's B-movie roots, features a super talented (and mostly local) cast, and is loads of fun while not ignoring the tragic aspects of the story. Visit the Guthrie through August 18 to see this fantastic production of this brilliant little musical, but please, don't feed the plant.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

"Glensheen" at the History Theatre

Last night I saw History Theatre's smash hit original musical Glensheen for the 5th time, and loved it as much as I did when I saw the Raw Stages reading over ten years ago. It's unheard of for a local theater's wholly original musical to be this successful, coming back year after year (after year) and continuing to sell tickets. While History Theatre has created many fantastic original musicals that I hope to see again (including I Am Betty, which returns this fall), for some reason (or many reasons) they struck gold with Glensheen. Specifically, dark musical-comedy gold. When you take Minnesota's most famous and strange murder mystery* (the brainchild of retired Artistic Director Ron Peluso), add a script by one of Minnesota's most prolific and talented playwrights Jeffrey Hatcher, and a score by beloved local musical Chan Poling, how can you go wrong?! At this point it's pretty easy for History Theatre to mount this show - pull the gorgeous set and costumes out of storage, plop the original cast on stage, and press go. But the great thing is, the show still feels fresh and exciting, with this dreamy cast still (and probably even more) fully embodying these characters that they know so well. You can read my full review of the original production here (which has remained largely unchanged), or scroll down for ten reasons to see Glensheen (again), continuing through July 14.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

"A Wrinkle in Time" at Theatre in the Round

Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time won many awards, as well as many hearts. It's been adapted several times, including a 2018 film. I remember loving the book as a kid, but no details about it, so I went in almost blind to Theatre in the Round's production of the 2010 stage adaptation. I found it to be a sweet story about the triumph of good over evil, of love over fear. A timely message indeed. TRP's production features an ensemble cast playing many roles, led by a trio of talented young actors, and a charming design utilizing low-tech theater tricks. It's a magical story and production that can be enjoyed by the grown-ups as much as the many youngsters in the audience (continuing through July 14).

Monday, June 24, 2024

"Only Ugly Guys" at Open Eye Theatre

After adapting/directing/producing a play last fall that was "unlike anything I've ever seen before" (an adaptation of the Norwegian novel Naive. Super, with a different actor performing the solo play each night), Kurt Engh returns with an original play that once again inventively uses sound, video, and technology to tell a story. In this case, it's the story of four young gay men in a modern rom com that's very funny and engaging, and well performed by this cast of new-to-me young actors. Only Ugly Guys is presented as part of Open Eye Theatre's Guest Artists Series, which has already brought us Madeleine Rowe's charmingly odd solo piece Honey, I'm Home. It's great to see this established theater host the next generation of theater makers on their sweet little stage, and the group of artists behind Only Ugly Guys makes the future of #TCTheater look bright. The short run concludes on June 30.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

"Romeo and Juliet: Love in a Time of Hate" by Teatre del Pueblo at Luminary Arts Center

The cancellation of one show (see you in August, Skylark Opera Theatre's Marry Me a Little) allowed me the opportunity to attend opening night of Teatro del Pueblo's new adaptation of the classic tragic love story Romeo and Juliet, which they call Love in a Time of Hate. They've reimagined the Capulets and the Montagues in a border town with Latin American characters, the Capulets a powerful and wealthy political family, the Montaguez revolutionaries fighting for the people. The general story is the same, with some differences in details and characters (Romeo's a street artist, the friar is now a lawyer), and more agency given to Juliet (although not enough to refuse her parents' choice of husband). The result is a powerful and engaging retelling of this familiar story, infused with Latin American culture. I'm glad my schedule opened up so I could see it. The short run continues through June 30 only at Luminary Arts Center in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis (use code TEATRO for 35% off).

Friday, June 21, 2024

Blackout Presents: Juneteenth at the Ordway

This week I attended my first celebration of Juneteenth National Independance Day, a holiday long celebrated but only recently made a federal holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. And I can think of no better way to celebrate than with Blackout Improv. Blackout has been performing at various venues around town since 2015, and was the first Black improv troupe in Minneapolis. There are more now, many of which perform at the annual Black and Funny Improv Festival which they started, bringing in BIPOC improv performers from all over the country (and Canada!) to perform at HUGE Theater. I've seen Blackout perform a number of times over the years, and they're always "funny, smart, relevant, and topical" (as I wrote one of the first times I saw them). This was the biggest venue in which I've ever seen them perform, the Ordway's gorgeous Concert Hall, and it was a thrill to see them in front of a large and supportive audience in what felt like a usual Blackout show, but also elevated and special.

Friday, June 14, 2024

"Once Upon a Time... Josephine Baker!" at Yellow Tree Theatre

In the new play with music Once Upon a Time... Josephine Baker! at Yellow Tree Theatre, written by and starring Artistic Director Austene Van, we get an overview of the fascinating life of Josephine Baker. It plays out like a dream, which leads to more curiosity about this inspiring and ground-breaking woman, who left the racism of America behind to become a star in Paris in the early 20th Century, while still continuing to fight for Civil Rights. This production gives us a glimpse into her difficult childhood, her many marriages, her work as a spy during WWII, her talent, and the human behind the legend. See it in Osseo Wednesdays through Sundays until June 30.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

"Eleemosynary" by Spacetime Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

There's a new theater company in town, and they're making a strong debut with Eleemosynary, a play by prolific local playwright Lee Blessing commissioned by Park Square Theatre in the '80s. It's such a great play, delving into the complex relationships between mother and daughter (and grandmother and granddaughter), that I wonder why I've never seen it before. But I'm glad that Spacetime Theatre (helmed by Christopher Kehoe, who's been working in #TCTheater for a couple of decades) has chosen it as their first production, and cast these three talented actors. Check it out at Gremlin Theatre weekends through June 23.

"Come from Away" Broadway Tour at the Ordway Center

I truly believe that Come From Away may be one of the best musicals ever written. It's the perfect marriage of music, text, and performance, brilliantly constructed into 100 solid minutes of constant storytelling, flowing from music to dialogue and back again, with only two applause breaks to break the spell. And the story it tells is remarkable: the heart-warming true story of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7000 strangers when their planes were diverted there on 9/11. Canadian married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein (and producer Michael Rubinoff) have woven the true stories from dozens of people who were there, gathered at the 10th anniversary in Gander. Now, past the 20th anniversary of the unfathomably horrific events of that day, and the extraordinary actions of ordinary humans in its wake, this musical continues to be necessary. It reminds us that despite what we see on the news every day, the human capacity for good knows no bounds, if only we could remember that we all have the same wants and needs, and helping each other is the only way through. The first time I saw this musical on Broadway in 2017 I had tears streaming down my face for the entire 100 minutes, not because of the tragedies of that day, but because of the inspirational and beautiful stories of, as Mr. Rogers says, the helpers. My fourth time seeing Come From Away* and I only needed one tissue, but I can never see this musical enough times. The world needs it, so I hope it continues to tour, and maybe one day be available for regional productions across the world, celebrating the best of humanity. This time it's in town for two weeks, so head to the Ordway soon!

Saturday, June 8, 2024

"devoured: notes on love and enmeshment" at The Southern Theater

devoured: notes on love and enmeshment is a meditation on codependency through three queer intimate relationships. Weaving text and movement, it explores complicated relationship dynamics between people who are struggling to love and be loved, but can't help but hurt each other in the process." This description of the new play by Playwrights' Center's Many Voices Fellow Liqing Xu is apt, but doesn't cover how beautiful, funny, and moving it is. Over the course of 70 minutes, we see three different relationships play out, with no happy ending in sight. But perhaps a bit of personal growth. There are only three more chances to see this fascinating, innovative, and thoughtful new work at the Southern Theater.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

"Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I'm not sure what I expected from the new work of music-theater Johnny Skeeky; or, The Remedy for Everything, based on Puccini's one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi, but it wasn't... that. #TCTheater legends Bradley Greenwald and Steven Epp have adapted the story about a wealthy man's family fighting over his will (with additional inspiration from Succession and Arrested Development) and written new English lyrics for the music. The result is the most ridiculous and delightful opera I've ever seen. If it can even be called an opera anymore; there's much more dialogue than operas typically contain. But whatever you call it, it's simply a joy to watch this outrageously talented cast sing this gorgeous music with modern, silly, and even sometimes crude words. It's a 100-minute wild romp of an opera. You have plenty of time to get to the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis and see it before it closes in early July. And if you like music, comedy, and creativity - you definitely should.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

"The Servant of Two Masters" at Lyric Arts

"On some evening 278 years ago, an Italian audience sat together and had an experience similar to the one you are about to have." So says Lyric Arts' Resident Director Scott Ford about their new production of The Servant of Two Masters, an 18th Century Italian comedy written in the style of commedia dell'arte. It's reassuring to think that as much as our world is vastly different than the world of this play's original audiences, we still laugh at the same things. At double entendres, at pratfalls and physical humor, at overly melodramatic emotions, at mistaken identities and near misses. Ford and his absurdly talented 15-person cast (plus one musician) are having a great time playing around with this classic piece and milking every comic moment, which translates to the audience having a great time too. I do wish the runtime were closer to the two-and-a-half hour mark than the three-hour mark, but take a nap or have a coffee and settle in to enjoy a few hours of classic timeless comedy at Lyric Arts in Anoka through June 23.

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.

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.