Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Musical Christmas - My Holiday Musical Mixtape 2014

For the musical theater lover, Christmastime has an embarrassment of musical richest to enjoy.  In addition to the many solo albums put out by performers (like Idina Menzel), a number of musicals have Christmas, New Year and winter-related songs.

For your listening enjoyment, here's my personal Musical Christmas Mixtape 2014.  (Please note: the links go to the recordings on Amazon, with the exception of the amazing BC/EFA cds.)
  1. "Snow" from Irving Berlin's White Christmas (2006 Cast Recording) - Because living in Minnesota, this song is perpetually on the tip of my tongue.  Also, Brian D'arcy James.

  2. "Twelve Days to Christmas" from She Loves Me: The New Broadway Cast Recording (1993 Revival) - The quintessential Christmas shopping musical comedy song from a terribly romantic musical.
  3. "Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year" from Catch Me If You Can (2011 Cast Recording) - Sweet duet with an edge sung by Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit in an underrated show.
  4. "New Year's Day" from Side Show (1997 Original Broadway Cast) - Not my favorite song from this show, but I love a little Side Show representation.

  5. "The Schmuel Song" from The Last 5 Years (2002 Off-Broadway Cast) - Hey!  It's Norbert Leo Butz again!  Although whenever I hear this song, I think of the lovely Nautilus production with Bradley Greenwald, and always picture him singing the last few lines.
  6. "Lament/Lonesome Polecat" from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954 Film Soundtrack) - So wintry, so lovely, so much dancing with axes.
  7. "Choose to Be Happy" from Grey Gardens: Original Broadway Cast Recording (2006) - I wanted to go for "Another Winter in a Summer Town", but 'tis a bit depressing for the holidays.

  8. "Once Upon a December" from Anastasia: Music from the Motion Picture (1997) - Why is this movie not a Broadway show yet?  Dead people singing!  Always a winner!  Sung by the lovely Liz Callaway.
  9. "Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)" from Anastasia: Music from the Motion Picture (1997) - Maybe not Christmasy but so very fun, with Bernadette Peters and adorable cameos by "Gertrude Stein", "Picasso", and "Isadora Duncan".
  10. "NYC" from Annie (1999 Television Film) - Practically perfect television adaptation.  This song features Victor Garber, Audra McDonald and the original Annie herself: Andrea McArdle.  "Three bucks, two bags, one me!"

  11. "Christmas Bells" from Rent (1996 Original Broadway Cast) - Sacrilege of sacrilege, I listen to the movie soundtrack of Rent far more than my formerly beloved cast recording.  But I still love "Christmas Bells."
  12. "Christmas Is All Around" from Love Actually (2003 Soundtrack) - This one's for my sister who loves Love Actually, and Bill Nighy even more.
  13. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" from Love Actually (2003 Soundtrack) - See above sans Bill Nighy.
  14. "Girl for all Seasons" from Grease 2 (1996 Soundtrack) - Why is this not a Broadway show yet?  Oh yeah, cause I'm one of a very few fans.

  15. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from Broadway Cares: Home for the Holidays (2001) - Alan Cumming and Liza Minnelli in an adorable duet--which is a little bit bonkers.
  16. "We Need a Little Christmas" from Broadway Cares: Home for the Holidays (2001) - Sung by Patrick Wilson and comprising about a minute and 22 seconds, this is upbeat, peppy Christmas musical fun.
  17. "I Don't Remember Christmas" from Broadway Christmas (1998) - Sung by the very lovely Harry Groener, from the show Starting Here, Starting Now and recently sung at the fabulous local cabaret show Musical Mondays at Hell's Kitchen.

  18. "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" from Carols for a Cure 2003: Volume 5  - My first Broadway show was Hairspray, and this adorable song is by the original cast, Harvey Fierstein, Dick Latessa, Shoshana Bean, Clarke Thorell and more. Music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Trey Parker.
  19. "Sing Out" from Carols for a Cure 2003: Volume 5  - Another from the Carols for a Cure collection, this done by the cast of Gypsy.  A beautifully moving and funny song, written by M. Heitzman and I. Reid.
  20. "White Christmas" from Irving Berlin's White Christmas (2006 Cast Recording)  - Cause even though it's fairly recent to Broadway, this is a perfectly wonderfully done musical.  And a classic!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Lovely New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Whale - Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Mixed Blood Theatre

Saturday night I went for a jaunt to the West Bank. I went to see The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter.
Wow. I'm not even sure how to start this.

From the Walking Shadow website:

On the outskirts of Mormon Country, Idaho, a six hundred pound recluse hides away in his apartment, eating himself to death. Hoping to find an honest human connection, he reaches out to his long-estranged daughter, only to discover a viciously sharp-tongued teen. Big-hearted and fiercely funny, The Whale tells the story of a man's last chance at redemption, and of finding beauty in the most unexpected places.

Beyond the recluse and his daughter, throw in an ex-wife, a best friend, and a Mormon boy who may or may not be on his mission and you have an incredible two hours ahead of you. I have to be honest, it is a difficult piece but completely worth seeing. In fact, I am still thinking about the work and have been most of today. There is a lot to think about and I could write more about the work, the plot, etc - but I think the less you know going in, the better.

All you need to know is that I think the small cast is perfect. Zach Curtis, Zach Garcia, Jennifer Maren, Katie Adducci, and Julie Ann Nevill make up this amazing ensemble. The show is thought provoking, moving, funny, and may make you feel a little uncomfortable. The experience though is worth going through. I look forward to seeing more work by Samuel D. Hunter, and I know that I will be back to see more work by Walking Shadow. Check out their website for more info.

Also, if you want to know more about the playwright, Lindsay Barenz from Maxamoo had a wonderful interview with Mr. Hunter. You can check out the podcast here. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

10 Reasons Why You Need to See "A Christmas Story" Now

Here's why A Christmas Story at the Ordway needs to be your holiday show this year:

10.  The 1983 movie, starring Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, is a holiday tradition in many homes (thanks to yearly marathons on TBS). From "You'll shoot your eye out!" to "I can't put my arms down!" every moment of this film is ingrained in our hearts. And now, it's a musical! And it's a good one, with words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who also composed the recent critical fave Dogfight, as well as songs for NBC's Smash.)

9. It's a local production! YAY! This Ordway production, directed and choreographed by James Rocco and Sharon Halley, employs tons of local actors, stagehands, set builders, box office staff, ushers and elves. Support your local theater professionals!

8.  The set, built by Penumbra Theatre's scene shop, feel substantial and evokes the time period perfectly. Refreshingly, projections were kept to a bare minimum, a rarity in today's big theater productions. (I was a little worried about Ralphie on that top bunk bed, but he's a professional; he'll be fine.)

7.  Gorgeous costumes show the time period and bring to mind our own wintery weather. I especially enjoyed that all the kids had strings on their hand-knit mittens. I totally had those!

6.  Lovely score performed by a full 18-piece orchestra and sung beautifully by the entire cast. You gotta love a big chorus that really fills the stage and the theater.

5. Adorable child actors who are cute without being cloying. They sing like children, not like American Idol contestants. Jake Goodman builds on the film's Ralphie Parker, creating wonderful moments all his own. James Ciccarelle is adorable as younger brother Randy, and the boys have a nice fraternal chemistry. But all of the kids are wonderful, whether cowering from bullies or tap-dancing their hearts out.

4. Erin Schwab. Erin. Freaking. Schwab. If the rest of the show were not as consistently fabulous, she would have stolen the show as the teacher, Miss Shields. It's wonderful to see her shine in a role that lets her be the exasperated adult as well as a femme fatale.

3. Can I just say? I see a lot of theater, and I am used to seeing a stage filled with white actors, with a few actors of color in the back row. I love the racially diverse ensemble, and I especially love that the actors of color were not all paired off together. Stage families were not strictly divided along color lines, displaying a casual racial diversity that is rare and refreshing. Yes. Please. More of that.

2. Casting Director Reid Harmsen has done a great job of putting together a mix of local and national talent.  Dieter Bierbrauer and Billie Wildrick are funny and touching as Ralphie's parents--boots that are a challenge to fill. Gary Briggle is a wonderfully understated Jean Shepherd, observing and participating in the story. The ensemble is loaded with MNTheaterLove faves, including Randy Schmeling, Austene Van, Suzie Juul, Aja Parham, Kersten Rodau, Michael Gruber, Jennifer Eckes, Carl Schoenborn, Rudolph Searles III, Tony Vierling and Linda Talcott Lee and many, many more.




1. A Christmas Story is a delightful holiday treat for the whole family.  You should buy tickets and go see it RIGHT NOW. The show runs through December 28, so hurry up! (Seriously. Support your local theater!)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Peter Pan Live

This is just going to be a quick post about Peter Pan Live, on NBC.  First and foremost, I have to write that I, personally, think it is a brilliant notion to get live theatre back on the main stations. Yes, we all know that PBS does some amazing live theatre. However I feel that NBC or another major network station is going to reach a larger audience, which hopefully will create the desire to see more live theatre.

That being written, I'm not certain about Peter Pan as a follow-up to Sound of Music. Sound of Music is so well known, where as Peter Pan (the original with Mary Martin) has a niche following I think. Perhaps I'm wrong but songs like "I'm Flying" just aren't part of the typical theater fan lexicon, let alone the non-theater person. Rumor has it that next year they are looking to do Music Man. I think by choosing a better known property, they would and will get a larger portion of the audience.

Now, what about the production itself?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Holiday Theater - No Tinsel, No Holly

Way to go, local theaters! I love that you're bucking the holiday trend and giving us something to watch that's a bit of a break from the usual holiday shows.

Feeling over-holidayed?  Check out these shows for a little non-holiday-themed enjoyment:

Disenchanted - Illusion Theater
October 30-November 23, 2014
"The original fairytale princesses are none too happy with the exploitation they’ve suffered in today’s films, books and merchandise. Snow White and her angry band of storybook friends are “storming the castle” in order to take their lives back!" (illusiontheater.org)

Grounded - Frank Theatre at the Playwright's Center
October 31-November 23, 2014
"A passionate fighter pilot sees her career in the sky interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy. Reassigned to a “desk job,” operating military drones, she grows numb as she tracks terrorists by day and, at night, returns home to play with her daughter and her pink ponies. As the pressure to find a high-profile target mounts, the lines begin to blur between the desert in which she lives and the one she is patrolling on the other side of the world." (franktheatre.org)

Ghost Sonata - Nimbus Theatre
November 1-November 23, 2014
"A student with second sight longs for beauty, wealth, and the nobility of the upper class. His journey of discovery will show him crimes, lies, regrets, hyacinths. And a talking mummy." (nimbustheatre.com)

The Juniper TreeThe Juniper Tree - Open Eye Figure Theatre
November 7-30, 2014
"This classic Brothers Grimm story brims with singing birds, dancing bones, and barking trunks. Add a live band to blast the brutish stepmother and soothe the sobbing sister, and you get a not-to-be missed whirl of fairytale fun where everyone (who’s supposed to) lives happily ever after." (openeyetheatre.org)

On Golden Pond - Jungle Theater
November 7-December 21, 2014
"American classic explores the turbulent relationship between father and daughter, the generation gap between young and old, and the difficulties facing a couple in the twilight years of a long and happy marriage." (jungletheater.com)

The Whale - Walking Shadow at Mixed Blood
November 26-December 20, 2014
"On the outskirts of Mormon Country, Idaho, a six hundred pound recluse hides away in his apartment, eating himself to death. Hoping to find an honest human connection, he reaches out to his long-estranged daughter, only to discover a viciously sharp-tongued teen. Big-hearted and fiercely funny, The Whale tells a story of finding beauty in the most unexpected places." (walkingshadowcompany.org)



Relics - Guthrie Theatre in the Dowling Studio
November 13-November 23, 2014
"The year is 2314. Archaeologists have discovered a 300-year-old colony in what used to be called North America. You are invited to the opening night gala exhibition of the artifacts they uncovered. Move freely through exhibits, life-size dioramas, and reenactments of the daily life, rituals and battles of the 'Ancients.'” (guthrietheater.org)

Love's Labour's Lost - The Moving Company at The Theater Lab
November 21-December 21, 2014
"Gives a makeover to the seemingly familiar, yet totally new - a mad festival of lovers, lunatics, and poets, let loose upon the verdant meadow of Shakespeare's mind." (themovingco.org)

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story - History Theatre
November 22-December 21, 2014
"Part biography, part rock ’n’ roll concert, this musical is a toe-tapping, hand-clapping celebration of the life and music of Buddy Holly." (historytheatre.com)

The Cocktail Hour - Guthrie Theater
November 22, 2014-January 4, 2015
"It’s the 1970s, and John arrives for dinner at his parents’ home carrying the script of his soon-to-be produced play depicting his uptight, upper-crust WASP family. Just as the martinis begin to flow, so do the revelations and recriminations – both funny and poignant." (guthrietheater.org)

4000 Miles - Park Square Theatre
December 5-21, 2014
"At the end of a grueling cross-country bike trip, restless 21-year-old Leo seeks refuge and a hot shower in his elderly grandmother’s New York apartment. Though his liberal ways should mesh with Vera’s history in lefty politics, the two unlikely roommates mostly baffle each other." (parksquaretheatre.org)



Jonah And The Whale: A New Musical - 7th House Theater at the Dowling Studio
December 19-28, 2014
"Will re-imagine one of the strangest, most familiar stories in the Old Testament in this original bluegrass/folk musical. Featuring thirteen local actors and a completely original score, Jonah And The Whale is an unforgettable story of faith, loss, and survival against unbeatable odds." (7thhousetheater.org)

Holiday Theater - New Shows & Holiday Stalwarts

What started out as a teensy post to say, "Hey, let's go see some theater this holiday season," turned into a massive list of shows.  You'll find new shows and old favorites here.  (Feeling Grinchy? Check out our next post for non-holiday-themed shows.)

New Shows for Your Holiday Enjoyment:

A Christmas Story, The Musical - Ordway Center
November 29-December 28, 2014 
Why It's On MY Xmas List:  Because it's an Ordway-produced production directed by James A. Rocco that features a cast of utterly fabulous local talent including (but not limited to): Gary Briggle, Dieter Bierbrauer, Erin Schwab, Jennifer Eckes, Michael Gruber, Suzie Juul, Aja Parham, Kersten Rodau, Randy Schmeling, Austene Van and Tony Vierling.  Need I say more?

The Chanukah Guest - Minnesota Jewish Theatre
December 4-21, 2014
"MJTC's new commission and world premiere,The Chanukah Guest, is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday season with your family. This interactive, heartwarming play tells the story of Bubba Brayna, who is renowned throughout the village for making the best potato latkes every Chanukah." (mnjewishtheatre.org

OWT 2014-2015 season_Christmas-NiatirbChristmas in Niatirb - Open Window Theatre
December 5-28, 2014
"An astute and humorous look at the traditions of “Exmas” and “Chrissmas” through the lives of the fictional inhabitants of the island of Niatirb (Britain spelled backwards). This full-length theatrical adaptation of a little-known Christmas essay by C.S. Lewis brings out the full wit, charm, and inspiring self-examination that so characterizes his writing and creative genius." (openwindowtheatre.org)


The Hothouse - Dark & Stormy Productions (presented in the atrium of the 1906 Grain Belt Bottling House)
December 10, 2014-January 4, 2015
Why It's On MY Xmas List: That cast and a very intriguing location. Starring Robert Dorfman, Mark Benninghofen, John Catron, Sara Marsh, Bill McCallum, and Bruce Bohne, this "clever and cutting Pinter piece exposes the underbelly of the hierarchical power structure at an ambiguous institution – which is at once functional and falling apart – on one fateful Christmas Day." (darkstormy.org

Old Favorites and Annual Traditions:

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Children's Theatre Company
November 11-January 4, 2015
"Whoville is experiencing a seemingly unstoppable crime wave—and who oh who will save Christmas? CTC’s Technicolor, maxed-out musical brings alive the songs, the story, and the Seuss in megadoses of spirited storytelling and fanciful rhymes." (childrenstheatre.org)

A Christmas Carol - Guthrie Theater
November 13-December 28, 2014
"This year marks the 40th annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the perennial favorite that received a new adaptation by Crispin Whittell in 2010 and continues the Guthrie’s holiday tradition for families across the region." (guthrietheater.org)

Irving Berlin's White Christmas - Orpheum Theatre
November 25-30, 2014"
"Tells the story of two buddies putting on a show in a magical Vermont inn and finding their perfect mates in the process. Full of dancing, laughter and some of the greatest songs ever written." (hennepintheatretrust.org) (Equity tour)

God Rest Ye Scary Gentlemen III - Hardcover Theater at Bryant-Lake Bowl
November 28-December 22, 2014
GRYSG_website
Why It's On MY Xmas List: I love Hardcover Theater and ghosts.  There you are.
"What’s Christmas without a few ghosts? Dead folks get up to all kinds of mischief in this third installment of Hardcover Theater’s successful series, featuring three new stories of holiday hauntings." (bryantlakebowl.com)

A Very Asian Christmas Concert - Mu Performing Arts at the Southern Theater
November 29-30, 2014
Why It's On MY Xmas List:  Hosted by Randy Reyes and featuring a ton of great performers, I can't believe I've missed this in the past.
"Santa’s hitting the bottle again, and Jasmine is down in the dumps. The only thing that will cheer her up is singing, dancing, and laughing the night away with her talented friends and family members." (muperformingarts.org)

Black Nativity - Penumbra Theatre
December 4-21, 2014
The Longest NightWhy It's On MY Xmas List:  Having worked at the Fitzgerald Theater for many years, Black Nativity was always a part of my holidays.  I'll never forget the amazing performances and joyful songs--especially T. Mychael Rambo as the preacher.  I love that they keep shaking up this classic, but always have amazing music. Revisits "the nativity story in this concert staging, featuring narration by Lou Bellamy, soloists Yolande Bruce, Greta Oglesby, Dennis W. Spears and with the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church Choir under the musical direction of Sanford Moore." (penumbratheatre.org)

The Longest Night - Open Eye Theatre
December 11-21, 2014
Why It's On MY Xmas List: I'd happily watch Bradley Greenwald read the phone book, or sing the stock reports.
 "Bradley Greenwald celebrates winter, the holidays and "hell-idays," seasonal affective disorder, friends, family, Christians and Pagans with pianist Sonja Thompson." (openeyetheatre.org)

La Natividad - In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
December 11-21, 2014
La Natividad at HOBTWhy It's On MY Xmas List:  I love the idea of the procession through the city--a truly unique tradition (for Minnesotans!).
"This unique event honors the Mexican tradition of La Posada, leading everyone on a journey to four sites in our community. Enacted with beauty, humor, soulful live music, and an ending feast. (Performed in English and Spanish)" (hobt.org)

All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 - Theater Latte Da at the Pantages
December 17-21, 2014
"The Western Front, Christmas, 1914. Out of the violence comes a silence, then a song. A German soldier steps into No Man’s Land singing Stille Nacht. Thus begins an extraordinary night of camaraderie, music, peace. A remarkable true story, told in the words and songs of the men who lived it." (theaterlatteda.org)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Looking Back at October

Though October is gone, it's not forgotten. I wanted to share a few of my personal highlights from the month.

Eating Raoul: The Musical at Minneapolis Musical Theatre was an unexpected delight! Based on the film and set in the swinging 60s, this musical walks a narrow line between period kitsch and sincerity. The tunes were catchy, with clever lyrics, beautifully delivered by a small but talented cast. The direction of Ryan McGuire Grimes hit the perfect tone, which must have been difficult in a musical featuring a faltering marriage, serial murder, and a dominatrix. This is what MMT does best: presenting shows that don't otherwise get seen in the Cities and showing that there is more to musical theater than the old warhorses.

Sally Wingert is a a marvel. This is not news, but the performance she gave in Master Class at Theater Latte Da was still astounding. Though I'm not convinced that Terrence McNally's script is all that great, Wingert totally embodies the faded diva as she holds a master class at Juilliard. The play was performed in a perfect setting: Antonello Hall at MacPhail Center for Music, just like the recital hall such a class would take place in. The entire cast was quite strong, with wonderful piano accompaniment from Andrew Bourgoin, who also directed the excellent vocal performances of Kira Lace Hawkins, Benjamin Dutcher, and Kelsey Stark D'Emilio. Peter Rothstein directed the opener to an exciting Latte Da season.

Last, but definitely not least, the new play Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker, directed by Will Davis, was part of a rolling world premiere from the National New Play Network at Mixed Blood Theatre. The fantastic script concerns a football player injured on the field and his love for one of his teammates. The main character, Mike, was played by two actors: Torsten Johnson as the football player in his prime and Toby Forrest as the the post-injury player, now in a wheelchair. The playing space was a football field with a scoreboard counting off four 15-minute quarters, and as the audience entered, the team was already running drills. This was an amazingly physical production, with Mike starting out as a dancer, like his father. The football scenes were beautifully choreographed, complete with instant replay, and the action rarely let up. There was even a halftime dance show. But the play was much more than a gimmick, showcasing beautiful performances and a touching story.

Now it's time to look forward to all the great shows coming up in November and December!



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Give To The Max (to Local Theater!)

GTMD GiveMNGive to the Max Day is almost upon us!

If you've not participated in past years, here's the long story short:
"Join thousands of Minnesotans as we ignite generosity and raise millions of dollars for nonprofits and schools across the state. Make a donation to your favorite cause on November 13 and be part of Minnesota's annual day of giving!" (www.givemn.org)
Are you looking for an amazing local theater to support with your generous contribution? Try Minnesota TheaterLove's own list of Local Theaters with links to each theater's website.

And Give to the Max!  So many of our amazing small theaters deserve your gift!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nice Work...indeed: Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Ordway

Last night I took a little trip to St. Paul and saw some classic musical theater. It was a brand new show, but a classic style. Nice Work If You Can Get It is a classic new musical in the vein of Crazy for You. In fact, they both use only music of Gershwin as their score.

So, what is it about? With the music of Gershwin, gorgeous chorus girls, hunky chorus boys, and a charming set...does it really matter?

Boy meets girl bootlegger while drunk, falls for girl even though he is getting married to his third, or maybe his fourth wife the following day, bootlegger steals his wallet and hides 400 cases of illegal booze (did I mention it takes place during the prohibition?) at his Long Island mansion that he never uses...except for his honeymoon the next day.

Hi-jinks ensue. Dances are danced, songs are sung, laughs...oh so many laughs...and sighs of "awww, how sweet."

This show played originally on Broadway starring Matthew Broderick, and the amazing Kelly O'Hara. It is directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who did a great job keeping the pace, and keeping the eyes entertained.

Here is the clincher though - it only plays through Oct. 19th, at the Ordway.  Do what you can to go see it. It is a really fun night out!

Links:

Star Tribune Review (with some hints of spoilers)
Interview with the leading man - Alex Enterline
Interview with the leading lady - Mariah MacFarlane






Monday, October 13, 2014

October Theater Preview on KFAI - Part Two!

On Monday morning,  KFAI: Radio Without Boundaries broadcast the second installment of our October theater preview! We talked about a few more shows we're excited to see this month:

Theatre Pro Rata's production of 1984, showing at Intermedia Arts from October 17-26. 


We also talked about study guides like the one Pro Rata put together for this show. Many theaters have great information about their shows and it's good to remember to check their websites!

Romeo and Juliet at Ten Thousand Things, running October 10–October 26 at Open Book and October 30–November 2 at MN Opera Center. Great cast directed by Peter Rothstein from a company that always does a great job with Shakespeare. 


We also talked about the Twin Cities Horror Festival III, at the Southern Theater from October 23-November 3. Nine companies, nine shows, all with a horror theme. As the name indicates, this is the third year of the festival, and we're hoping to catch some of the offerings. 


We're hoping to have audio files of our appearances to post on the blog soon. Enjoy the wealth of theater on offer this month. There's a lot to see this time of year!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

October Theater Preview - Hear it on KFAI Radio!

(from the fabulous Minnesota Digital Library collection)
Curious about upcoming theater here in beautiful Minneapolis-St. Paul?

Gather your friends and family 'round the radio this Monday morning for Minnesota Theater Love's inaugural radio spot. We are terribly excited to be making our broadcast debut!

You can hear us discuss the shows you absolutely HAVE to catch this October on Monday, October 6th at 7:30 a.m. on KFAI: Radio Without Boundaries (heard in Minneapolis on 90.3 and in St. Paul on 106.7).

Here's a sneak peek at what you'll hear on the broadcast--besides super enthusiastic theater chat--from your Minnesota Theater Love friends:

We talk about a few shows that we mentioned in our September 2014 Theater Preview, including Colossal at Mixed Blood Theater, The Heidi Chronicles at the Guthrie (but mostly because of the hilarious Kate Wetherhead of our favorite web series Submissions Only), and Master Class at Theater Latte Da.

Plus, we gave a bit of a shoutout to the local theater web series Theater People, which you should definitely check out!

Stay tuned for news about more radio appearances!  We'll also be posting a link to the broadcast here on our blog.  So much theater fun!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Marcus, or the Secret of Discovering New (to me!) Talent


One of the things I love about Minnesota theater (as opposed to say, New York) is that when I see an actor whose performance wows me, I am reasonably sure that I'll be able to catch them in another production soon.

I just had this delightful experience while watching Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet, a Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company co-production at the Guthrie Theater (playing now through October 5--go see it!)

This final installment of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s acclaimed Brother/Sister Plays featured an amazing ensemble cast.  A unique aspect of this play is that the cast often sat in chairs on the side of the stage and watched the action when they weren't in scenes.  Watching them watch the action was an unexpected delight.  So, on to the cast!

Mikell Sapp, Nathan Barlow and Aimee K. Bryant (twincities.com)
Some of the actors I had seen and enjoyed in theater around town, like Aimee K. Bryant (loved her most recently as Marian the Librarian in Ten Thousand Things' The Music Man), Thomasina Petrus (love her AND her cashew brittle), James A. Williams and Nathan Barlow.

But there were a few actors that were pretty new to me that I am definitely putting on my don't-miss list:

Mikell Sapp (Terrell) - There are some actors who capture your attention so completely when they're onstage and Mikell Sapp is one of those actors.  He has an amazing energy and wonderful timing. Saw him first in The Ballad of Emmet Till at Penumbra Theatre, where he stood out in that excellent cast as well.

Lauren Davis, Nathan Barlow and Joy Dolo (pillsburyhousetheatre.com)
Joy Dolo (Shaunta lyun) - I've never seen Joy Dolo before (although her local appearances are extensive--I'm a little ashamed to have missed her), but will keep an eye out for her work.  She is incredibly funny and quite poignant as well.  Marvelous performance.

Lauren Davis (Osha) - Lauren Davis (and Joy Dolo) so perfectly embodied the characters of teenage girls, it was hard to believe they weren't straight out of a local high school.  Davis, in particular, was so uncannily accurate that her character gave me some interesting insight into my library's teenage patrons.

And just for fun, here's a cute Star Tribune blog post (with pictures!) about McCraney's visit to the Guthrie to see Marcus.  From the post:
Playwright Terell Alvin McRaney McCraney said that he often is fully engaged, sometimes in call-and-response style, when he watches his shows.
"It's supposed to be fun," he said.
To wit, he laughed out loud during Saturday's evening performance of "Marcus," sometimes talking back (encouragingly) to the actors.
“That’s it,” he said during a musical number called “Sun Shower,” performed by Nathan Barlow as Marcus and Lauren Davis and Joy Dolo as his friends Osha and Shaunta.
McCraney was vocal during turns by all the performers, especially Thomasina Petrus as under-her-breath cusser Elegua, James A. Williams as funerary marcher Ogun, Jamila Anderson as bible-reading Oba, and Mikell Sapp as Marcus' funky school friend Terrell.
How much fun would it have been to see it with McCraney?  SO fun.  No shushing the playwright!

Monday, September 1, 2014

September 2014 Theater - What I'm Looking Forward To

From http://simpsons.wikia.com/
After a bit of a theater-dry summer, the fall theater season is upon us.  My personal goal this year: more plays by smaller theaters that are new to me. I also want to see productions that feature actors and creators of color (#weneeddiversetheater) to back up my endless complaints about plays with white people shouting at each other.

So here's what I'm looking forward to in coming weeks and why. Listed in order by start date, not excitement. (For my most eagerly anticipated show, you'll want to go straight down to Mixed Blood's Colossal).  Did I miss something amazing opening in September or October?  Tell me in the comments!

The Mystery of Irma Vep - Jungle Theater
August 29 through October 19
Why: Because even though I get frustrated with the Jungle's love for doing the same shows over and over again, I do love this play, love Bradley Greenwald, and am intrigued by Stephen Cartmell after seeing him in Ten Thousand Things' Dirt Sticks.  
"Set on a "dark and stormy night," Lady Enid and her husband arrive at a haunted estate complete with werewolves and mayhem, as well as an impromptu side-trip to the tombs of Egypt! Don't miss this farcical thriller and gender-bending tour-de-force!" (Jungle Theater)

Sexy Laundry - Park Square Theatre
September 5 through September 28
Why:  I always find John Middleton really interesting to watch.
"Alice and Henry have to make a change. After twenty-five years of marriage, three children and stalled careers, the couple has fallen into the same old dull routine. They desperately hope a staycation at a fancy hotel – and a copy of Sex for Dummies – will cure all that ails them. Can the once-happy couple reignite a passion that’s more than skin deep?" (Park Square Theatre)

altStrumply Peter - Open Eye Figure Theatre
September 11 through September 25
Why: Because the first time I went to Open Eye, Michael Sommers drove by and gave us parking advice.  Also, I love their intimate space and German cautionary tales.
"Strumply Peter, a Toy Opera, is the latest original creation from Open Eye Figure Theatre, inspired by the cautionary poems 19th century German physician Heinrich Hoffman composed to entertain his children. Where but on the Open Eye stage can Strumply Peter whisk away children to make them sweeter? This cautionary Toy Opera is a flourish of amusements with puppetry, larger than life characters, and a miniature music hall band." (Open Eye Figure Theatre)

The New Electric Ballroom  - Frank Theatre
September 12 through September 28 - New Century Theater
Why:
 Because Enda Walsh's Misterman was super weird and original.
"Set in a small fishing town on the west coast of Ireland, two aging sisters re-enact a night in the early 60s with a seductive rock singer as a cautionary tale for their younger sister. Party dresses, sponge cake, rock n’ roll and regret swirl into a fantasy-fueled night of storytelling in this beautiful and devastating play of broken hearts."  (Frank Theatre)

Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet - The Guthrie Theater presents a Pillsbury House Theatre and The Mount Curve Company co-production
September 12 through October 5 - Dowling Studio
Why:  Because I'm ashamed that I haven't seen the other two of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Brother/Sister Plays.” Theater slacker.
"Sixteen-year-old Marcus is haunted by his dreams and dogged by doubts from his friends and family. Days before an ominous storm on the Louisiana bayou, Marcus journeys to discover who he is and where he comes from by unraveling the secrets of his deceased father Elegba. As Marcus pieces together his own ancestral legacy with help from his tightly-knit, intergenerational community, he realizes the special power that being “sweet” brings." (Guthrie Theater)

Middle Brother - Mu Performing Arts
September 12 through September 28 - Southern Theater
Why:  Because Mu's work with Park Square Theater has introduced me to so many talented actors--I'm excited to see one of their own shows.
"The plan was so simple.  1.) Eat Korean food.  2.) Drink Korean beer.  3.) Live and work in the homeland for the first time in 22 years.  But only days away from moving back to the Midwest, Billy is unexpectedly reunited with his Korean birth brother and must somehow reconcile his modern American life with his newfound Korean past." (Mu Performing Arts)

The Heidi Chronicles - Guthrie Theater
September 13 through October 26, 2014 - Wurtele Thrust Stage
Why:  Because although I've never really taken to Wendy Wasserstein, I LOVE Kate Wetherhead in Submissions Only.  
"Witty, insightful and poignant, The Heidi Chronicles traces the coming of age of Heidi Holland from high school in the radical ʼ60s to her career as an art historian in the heartless ʼ80s."  (Guthrie Theater)

Gabriel - Walking Shadow Theatre
September 26 through October 11 - Minneapolis Theatre Garage
Why: Because sometimes a premise just sounds intriguing.
Gabriel horizontal image"A tiny, rocky island in the middle of the English Channel. A bitter winter night, two years into the German occupation. A young girl calls on ancient fairy magic, and a beautiful, naked young man washes up on the mine-filled Guernsey beach. Is he an English pilot? Or a Nazi officer? For the women who found him, Gabriel could either be their savior, or the biggest danger they've ever met."  (Walking Shadow Theatre)

Eating Raoul - Minneapolis Musical Theatre
EATING RAOUL POSTEROctober 3 through October 26 – New Century Theatre
Why:  Because ... what?  Eating Raoul the Musical?  I mean, what?  
"Meet Mary and Paul Bland, a couple who just want to open a restaurant in 1960s Los Angeles. But they’re broke…until an accidental death by frying pan fills their pockets with cash. The bodies begin to pile up, but they need to team up with Raoul, their sexy building superintendent, to get rid of the evidence. Raoul turns their lives upside down, both financially and sexually. But this murderous partnership cannot last…and one of them will pay the ultimate price." (Minneapolis Musical Theatre)

Master ClassMaster Class - Theater Latte Da
October 8 through November 2 - MacPhail Center for Music
Why: Because I love Theater Latte Da and I've read much about Master Class, but have never seen it.
"Master Class is a fictionalized account of the series of classes the glamorous and commanding Maria Callas, the most influential vocal artist of the 20th century, instructed on the art of performing opera." (Theater Latte Da)

Colossal - Mixed Blood Theatre
October 10 through November 9 
Why:  Because holy cats, read the description!  Also, Stephen Yoakam.  And, I haven't been to Mixed Blood in ages.
"Performed in four 15-minute quarters with a half-time show, featuring a dance company, a drum corps, and a fully-padded cast, Colossal is an epic event that simultaneously celebrates and attacks our nation's most popular form of theater: football. A star football player–a pro prospect, one of the most graceful runners in the world, and a man in love with a teammate–struggles to move forward in the wake of a catastrophic spinal cord injury. With a cast of two dozen men, and full contact choreography, this play about love, ability, and extraordinary feats of strength tackles definitions of masculinity and the male body as a vehicle for language, violence, and silent expression through dance, football, and disability." (Mixed Blood Theatre)

Gridiron play: 'Colossal'
From http://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/arts/2013-03-27/tackling-footballs-dark-side/

Romeo & Juliet - Ten Thousand Things 
October 10 through November 2 
Why: Because it's Ten Thousand Things and hardly anything but actual physical illness keeps me from their shows.
"A diverse cast takes on Shakespeare's tale of finding love when surrounded by family and societal cultures of violence." (Ten Thousand Things)

So MUCH theater, so little time!  Happy theatergoing!  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Guthrie

"We are agreed that a critic is not, and never will be, a member of the audience.  Not only is he paid to attend, he is paid to listen; and this sobering circumstance colors his whole attitude toward the material on stage.  The critic says: This is an extremely bad play--why is that?  The audience says:  This is an extremely bad play--why was I born?  There is a real difference."
- I Don't Want To See the Uncut Version of Anything by Jean Kerr
I am not a critic--not remotely. But I saw Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Guthrie last night and all I can say is, MAN, am I tired of seeing plays with white people yelling at each other.  Also, this is 2014, right?  Why is the only African-American actor in the cast playing the cleaning woman?  Also, Vanya and Sonia?  GET A JOB.


 
As usual, the Guthrie audience really enjoyed it (although not enough for the obligatory standing ovation), but that's not unusual.  I remember this getting fairly good reviews when it was on Broadway, starring Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen.  (How could you go wrong with that cast?)  Also, Christopher Durang won the Tony in 2013 for this play.  So is it just me?  Am I unreasonably crabby about theater featuring white people who should stop whining and get jobs? 

Let's go to the Internet and see!  (Isn't it nice that you can always find someone to agree with you online?)



Ben Brantley's 2012 review in the New York Times, Insecure Namesakes With a Gloomy Worldview, in which he praised the performances, had this to say:
"That means that for a couple of benignly stretched-out hours, Durang fans can watch a master of antic psycho-comedy play with Chekhov like a self-amusing cat toying with a tangled string. Notice I didn’t say mouse. Mr. Durang is not in the killing vein here." 
So if you like that kind of thing, there you go.

I'm not the only one whose racism radar was triggered by the character of cleaning woman Cassandra--played by Isabelle Monk O'Connor, who was just wonderful in Theater Latte Da's recent production of Our Town, and deserves better than this role.

I think Scribicide: A New York Theater Blog's post They Should Have Left Vanya and Sonia and Masha to Chekhov which reviews the 2012 production, gets it right, referring to Shalita Grant, who played the role of Cassandra on Broadway:
 "And Ms. Grant, who was a delight in the Pearl’s Philanderer, has possibly the play’s most difficult task, charming her way through an awkward, vaguely racist role. (Do we really need another gyrating, magical Black character whose only narrative purpose is to save white characters?)"
Answer?  No.  Scribicide also says:
"It is only fair to mention that on the night I attended the audience was positively roaring and constantly interrupting the actors with applause. The phrase, I suppose, is crowd-pleaser. The crowd was pleased. I was not."

Ours too!  And me too.

I found myself dissecting the humor--what the audience was laughing at, what they weren't, and in Threat Quality Press's post Christopher Durang and the Court of Cannibals, the author perfectly encapsulates my vague feeling while describing the scene where Sonia throws a coffee cup against the wall:
"...this is a textbook example of the kind of joke that doesn’t go anywhere: the playwright, noticing that his play is boring, has a character do something unexpected; realizing that “unexpected” isn’t the same thing as “a joke”, he has the characters react to each other in the hopes that they’ll eventually squeeze out a laugh."
Threat Quality Press, would you like to sum up?  You put it SO well:
"I just want to reiterate that this play, with its go-nowhere jokes, its leaden exposition, its racist caricatures, this play that is a self-confessed lump of vomit composed of half-eaten, better plays, this play that climaxes with five minutes of an old man yelling at a cloud, won the Tony Award for Outstanding New Play. It won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Production, the Drama League Award for Best Production of a Play, the Drama Desk Award for Best Play, the Outer Circle Critics Award for Best Play and the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Play. It, along with Venus in Fur (by David Ives, America’s other favorite author of community theater audition monologues), is one of the most-produced non-musical plays in the country right now. This play is a pile of hot garbage, and the worst that reviewers in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Associated Press, et al have had to say about it is “Certain bits go on too long and the exposition could be lightened” (that’s Charles McNulty at the LA Times, in case you’re wondering)."
I only hope that the Guthrie production generates the kind of discussion that the New York production has.  Kind of makes me tempted to go to a talk-back, just to see the response.  But then I'd have to see it again, and it might make me throw a coffee cup at the wall.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Little Shop of Amazing (at 7th House Theater)


I have seen a LOT of productions of Little Shop of Horrors. The 2003 Broadway revival with Hunter Foster, Kerry Butler and an underused Douglas Sills; the subsequent tour with the lovely Jonathan Rayson as Seymour; Ten Thousand Things' dark, innovative (as always) and unsettling production with Jim Lichtscheidl; and various high school and community theater productions.  There's also a soft place in my heart for the movie, because I saw it in the theater in 1986--and, of course, Ellen Greene!  And of course, the original film (although A Bucket of Blood is a much better Corman, IMHO.)

This is all to say that I know the show backwards and forwards and I'm a tough audience. But I'm SO GLAD that I read the rave review of 7th House Theater Collective's recent production in City Pages. I tend to seldom read reviews before seeing shows, but something about Ed Huyck's review (possibly the part that said: "I want to see it again. No, I want to see it 10 times.") compelled me to buy tickets for the last performance on Sunday night. 
Even though the show is indelibly etched in my brain already, it was like seeing the show for the first time. With a super minimalist staging (a laboratory framing device that didn't 100% work for me), musically quite bare bones, and in the intimate Open Eye Figure Theatre space, this production was outstanding. (Check out 7th House's Facebook page for lots of great production photos.)

Can I just tell you about Grant Sorenson as Seymour?  We've seen him before, as a predatory young man in Spring Awakening, and recently reading the stage directions in one of Theater Latte Da's Next Musicals, and probably in countless other shows.  But MAN.  This young man is a star.  I predict it--and I'm seldom wrong.  It's lovely to see young performers with amazing talent because you know they have so many fabulous roles and performances ahead of them.  He has a somewhat dark look--I think of him as being a great fit for the Emcee role in Cabaret without much work at all--but as soon as he put the glasses on, he WAS Seymour.

And I loved that although he was shabby and poor, he wasn't stupid or pathetic, as Seymour can often be portrayed.  His slight physique worked perfectly for the character, and the intelligence in his character played off well against Maeve Moynihan's portrayal of Audrey as genuinely a bit dim, but sweet--also a tough portrayal to get right.  Sorenson sang the heck of out this role, and after "Somewhere That's Green", when he kissed Audrey?  DANG.  Seymour never gets to seem like he could actually get and keep the girl.  This Seymour did, and dare I say it?  He's a bit of a sexy Seymour.  More raving:  Sorenson has amazing physicality, terrific diction and timing (so great to hear all the hilarious Ashman & Menken lines landing so perfectly--i.e., the line with the Petunia/junior line in "Mushnik & Son," which he delivered with the perfect amount of knowing irony), and he does marvelous comedic work with his face alone--though he uses everything else as well.

Every member of the ensemble was wonderful.  The timing was perfect--the whole show was so TIGHT. Amazing that it was directed by the ensemble themselves.  And the singing!  Beautifully sung, but not oversung.  I loved that the singing didn't overwhelm the storytelling.  For example, Moynihan's "Suddenly Seymour" was a revelation.  Hardly anyone can sing it as Ellen Greene did--though many people try--but Moynihan made it her own.

The girl group/scientists of Gracie Kay Anderson, Liz Hawkinson and Cat Noble sang beautifully together, had plenty of sass (without being annoying), and held together the action beautifully, whether portraying Mushnik or Audrey II.  They were all marvelous but I especially enjoyed Gracie Kay Anderson's performance--she has a marvelously animated face and wonderful comic timing, in addition to a great voice.

Robert Frost as the accompanist and occasional ensemble member did beautifully at leaping in and out of the action.  And what can you say about David Darrow?  He's wonderful in everything I see him in, and I loved that as part of the ensemble, we saw him much more than if he just played the dentist.

For such a bare bones production, there are so many elements that will stay with me.  "Mushnik & Son", with all of the ensemble taking turns playing Mushnik, which leads to a much more engaging (and dancey!) staging.  The beakers of blood thrown against the clear curtain when Audrey II starts killing.  The cardboard box that represents Audrey II, which amazingly works, especially at the very end, and the ensemble all playing Audrey II, which was beautifully depicted.

And did I mention tight?  Stopwatch-like timing, and under two hours with intermission.  After sitting through way too many bloated, draggy shows, this was a bit of heaven.

In short, it was an exciting, inventive production of a show I've seen too many times to count. Though I'd seen some of the performers before, this was my the first production I've seen by 7th House Theater. If this is the kind of work they're doing, it definitely won't be my last.

Total random P.S.:  Did you know there was a Little Shop of Horrors game?  What?