Sunday, April 21, 2019

Be More Chill - Minneapolis Musical Theatre

Minneapolis Musical Theatre's production of Be More Chill is a rare opportunity to see one of the hottest shows on Broadway right here in Minnesota.

And let us tell you friends, we VASTLY preferred MMT's version to the Broadway version. Read on to discover why!

Be More Chill is a theatrical sensation. With music and lyrics by Joe Iconis, book by Joe Tracz, and based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini, this new musical premiered at Two River Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2015. Last year, the extended off-Broadway run at New York's Signature Center picked up a cult following, and in February 2019, the musical opened on Broadway. The show has been compared to Dear Evan Hansen for the way it speaks to young people, who are the show's most fervent fans.
The cast of Be More Chill. Set design by Robin McIntyre. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.
We witnessed this wild affection for ourselves when we caught Be More Chill in previews on Broadway. The show, however, left us cold. If it wasn't for our affection and respect for Minneapolis Musical Theatre's excellent work (like last year's amazing High Fidelity), we probably would have skipped it altogether. We are so glad we didn't!

Maxwell Emmett Ward as Jeremy.
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.
Be More Chill is about a young social outcast named Jeremy Heere (Maxwell Emmett Ward), who lives at home with his divorced father (Christian Unser) and hangs out with Michael Mell (Jim Belden), his best friend and fellow outcast. Jeremy has a crush on Christine Canigula (Caitlin Featherstone) and gets involved with the school play to get closer to her. Jeremy is casually bullied by popular Rich Goranski (Nick Manthe), but Rich nonetheless shares with Jeremy his secret of social success: an oblong gray pill called a squip. You can pretty much guess the rest, if you've seen a movie.

Even though Broadway is considered to be the pinnacle of theatrical entertainment, there are times when a show just doesn't work for us on Broadway. Spring Awakening was a show we couldn't stand on Broadway, but Theater Latte Da's production with the U of M was a revelation. The same with Be More Chill. The Broadway production was over-produced with lots of flashing lights, no heart, and little humor. MMT's version could not be more different.

For one thing, Jeremy is played by Maxwell Emmett Ward, who we last saw as Dick in MMT's High Fidelity. He not only gives sweetness and realism to Jeremy, he is also fantastically funny, with devastating timing. Did we mention his incredible voice?

Jim Belden as Michael.
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
As Jeremy's best friend Michael, Jim Belden kills "Michael in the Bathroom," one of Be More Chill's most memorable numbers. Caitlin Featherstone perfectly captures Christine Canigula's quirky and endearing personality. The chemistry and relationships between all three give this production its heart and soul. There are apparently changes in the script as well, with MMT using the off-Broadway script that was made available for licensing. But the changes didn't stand out, except that we felt much more connected to the characters and invested in the outcome in this production.

Ward with Caitlin Featherstone as Christine.
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis.
The scene that really exemplifies the difference in the shows is "Two-Player Game," where Jeremy and Michael express their friendship through a video game. On Broadway, the song was accompanied by lights and projections simulating the game, but MMT's version, the two characters connect through their physicality in wielding their game controllers in coordination.

Also notable is the physical coordination between Jeremy and the embodiment of his Squip (Mike Tober). Ward really seems like the Squip is controlling his movements against his will, which is both funny and scary.

Director Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha, who also directed High Fidelity (which we saw three times), brings the best out of the talented young ensemble. The actors feel like the teenagers they are playing, and they enthusiastically perform Abbi Fern's choreography. A kick-ass band, conducted by Anna Murphy, adds to the fun.

Go see this and support Minneapolis Musical Theatre. They are doing beautiful work, and they imbue all of their work with talented artists and plenty of heart.

When: April 5 - 28, 2019
At: Illusion Theater
Running Time: Two hours and some?

And in case you're wondering how MMT's excellent production compares to the Broadway one, here's the New York Times review of Be More Chill by Ben Brantley:

"This all sounds like more fun than it is — at least for anyone over the age of 21. (That’s a generous cutoff point.) The acting, singing and dancing (choreographed by Chase Brock) are all, to put it kindly, frenetic. The set (by Beowulf Boritt), lighting (Tyler Micoleau) costumes (Bobby Frederick Tilley II) and projections (Alex Basco Koch) bring to mind bright fan fiction comic books drawn in fluorescent crayon."

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Golden Record Project - Sandbox Theatre

We've never seen anything like The Golden Record Project at Sandbox Theatre (through May 4). An art installation and a performance piece set simultaneously in the past and the future, this truly immersive show is, frankly, mind-blowing.

Pro Tip: When you go (NOT IF), go early so you can explore the installation fully before the performance begins. And book your tickets now. Audience space is limited and tickets are going fast!

Here's the backstory: When NASA sent the Voyager spacecraft outside our solar system in 1977, a team led by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan prepared a recording to accompany the probe. The idea was to provide an introduction to the people of Earth to any intelligent beings that may find the craft.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

US

I digress from our regularly scheduled theater programming to tell you that I read a bunch about Jordan Peele's fantastic horror film Us.

Here are a few articles I found particularly interesting.

WARNING: THIS IS SPOILER CENTRAL.

MUST MUST MUST READ:

Wikipedia Brown on Twitter: Things I Missed the First Time Around,  @eveewing
 Mar 29More~ RTed this thread so you should go ahead and assume that all my interpretations are correct 😎

‘Us’ Review: Jordan Peele’s Creepy Latest Turns a Funhouse Mirror on Us, Manohla Dargis, New York Times 
In “Us,” Peele uses the metaphor of the divided self to explore what lies beneath contemporary America, its double consciousness, its identity, sins and terrors. The results are messy, brilliant, sobering, even bleak — the final scene is a gut punch delivered with a queasy smile — but Jordan Peele isn’t here just to play.
 A Thinkpiece About Thinkpieces About Us, Michael Harriott, The Root
Good black films can’t be about regular black people. For a black film to be a critical darling, it must be centered in whiteness. The pain, the heroism or the story must be relatable to white people. The film must have a white savior or teach us an existential lesson about the universality of mankind. Black people are only seen as human when they are suffering from black shit (slavery, oppression or injustice).
Us: We Discuss Jordan Peele's New Psychological Thriller, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, Still Processing (podcast)
We dissect Jordan Peele’s new psychological thriller, “Us,” and discuss the film’s central question (WITHOUT SPOILERS): Are any of us ever truly free from the past?
 Empire Podcast Us Spoiler Special Ft. Jordan Peele, Chris Hewitt, Empire Magazine (podcast)
This movie’s about maybe the monster is you. It’s about us, looking at ourselves as individuals and as a group.

What Is ‘Us’ About? Here Are Some Interesting Theories, Kyle Buchanan, New York Times
Is Jordan Peele’s “Us” a metaphor for our politically polarized moment, a rallying cry for the dispossessed 99 percent or simply a nifty home-invasion movie?
This horror hit from the director of “Get Out” is designed to keep audiences guessing, and each viewer is likely to leave with his or her own interpretation of what the film really means. (Perhaps we should have known when the first image Peele released for “Us” was of a tantalizing Rorschach blot.)
 How Jordan Peele Builds Suspense in ‘Us’Mekado Murphy, New York Times
The film’s writer and director discusses a haunting scene where members of a family meet their terrifying doubles.
Why Lupita Nyong’o’s ‘Us’ Voice Sounds So Creepy, Reggie Ugwu, New York Times 
The sound has provoked strong reactions in audiences and critics. In his review, New York magazine’s David Edelstein described it as “the whistle of someone whose throat has been cut” and “a rush of acrid air from a tomb.”
On the trail in Austin, Nyong’o was recalling how she fell in love with acting when something — someone — broke her focus. It was a large man in a faded T-shirt and white earbuds walking behind us, talking so loudly that we were struggling to hear one another. Nyong’o stopped and turned around. As the man passed by, she gave him a look of such elegant and devastating ferocity that I thought he might evaporate mid-stride, leaving only the earbuds behind. The bodyguards may not have been necessary after all.
‘Us’ Took Hands Across America and Made It a Death Grip, Erik Piepenburg, New York Times
“There’s something cultlike about the imagery that makes me think of the Manson family singing folk songs as they leave the courtroom,” said Peele, who was 7 when the nationwide gathering happened. “There’s like an insistence that as long as we have each other, we can walk blindly past the ugliness and evil that we may be a part of.”
After ‘Us,’ Jordan Peele Crosses Over to ‘The Twilight Zone’, Dave Itzkoff, New York Times
But in this tale of unlikely parallels, Peele has been shadowing Serling’s trajectory all along, whether or not he wants to admit it. He, too, has used genre entertainment to convey otherwise unpalatable truths to his viewers, deploying sketch comedy to comment on police brutality or horror movies to skewer self-satisfied liberals.
“It’s been good to me,” he said. “‘5 on It’ blew up, and it’s blowing up again, which is crazy because it’s 24 years later.” If that’s what being a one-hit wonder means, he joked, “I’ll be a one-hit wonder.”

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Drowning Girls - Freshwater Theatre

This weekend, we saw two shows in which women played real historical figures, but looked at their stories with the benefit of hindsight. The plays are very different, but both allow the women to tell their own stories, with the help of other women. Two may not be a trend, but if it is, we are here for it.

The first was Velvet Swing by Umbrella Collective (check out our rave here) and the second is The Drowning Girls by Freshwater Theatre at the Crane through April 14 (only!!)

Walking into the Crane theater space, we were greeted by a spare set featuring three old-fashioned clawfoot bathtubs with running shower heads. (The lovely box office staff warned us that there's a lot of water in the show and no intermission, so .... check out the restrooms in advance!)  The sound and the set beautifully sets the scene for a spare, haunting play.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Velvet Swing - The Umbrella Collective

Although Women's History Month is over, Twin Cities theaters are still filled with fascinating, thought-provoking plays examining women from history. YAY!

Case in point: the ingenious and inventive Velvet Swing by Umbrella Collective at Bryant-Lake Bowl (through April 27).

Before seeing this play, my knowledge of Evelyn Nesbit was limited to her appearance in the musical Ragtime, based on the book by E.L. Doctorow.

A Bright Room Called Day - Red Bird Theatre

Red Bird Theatre believes: Art is either responding to the world or it is not. Responding is the only option. 

With their new production, A Bright Room Called Day, playing at Pillsbury House through April 13, Red Bird lives up to that goal. Tony Kushner's play is set in two different times: In 1932 Berlin, in a comfortable apartment as the Weimar Republic is giving way to the rise of the Nazi party. And in 1980s New York, a woman sends hate mail to President Reagan as she studies the events of the past.

When Kushner's play was first presented in 1987, the contemporary part of the play was set in the present day. Now, 30 years later, the whole play is set in the past, but the themes relate seamlessly to our current climate.


Monday, April 1, 2019

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Collide

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Collide Theatrical Dance Company

When: March 22 - April 7
At: Park Square Theatre
Running Time: 90 minutes with intermish

About:
COLLIDE presents a contemporary version of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Set in modern day New York City, the story follows a beautiful young Dorian Gray who stumbles into an accidental photo opportunity and shoots to heights of social media fame. Disturbed that her physical beauty will deteriorate with age, Dorian wishes for eternal youth. Her wish is granted, and the photo rather than the woman degrades as she pursues a life of corruption and debauchery, reminding her that though her looks are unscathed, her soul is not. Can she still find salvation? Or is her soul trapped in the photograph? Created by Regina Peluso and Michael Hanna and featuring the COLLIDE Band and Company Dancers.


What We Thought:
We've loved Collide's theatrical dance work in the past, especially 2017's delightful Dracula and last year's charming partnership with History Theatre: Dance 'Til You Drop. When they announced their season, we were most intrigued to see how they told The Picture of Dorian Gray, based on Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel.

The Cradle Will Rock at Frank Theatre

The Cradle Will Rock at Frank Theatre

When: March 15 - April 7, 2019
At: Gremlin Theatre
Running Time: 90 min, no intermish

About:
"A play in music written in 1937, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein is set in Steeltown, USA. Mr. Mister, the corporate magnate, has bought up (or paid off) every sector of the community: the church, the press, the university, the artists. A prostitute arrives in Steeltown, and is immediately picked up for soliciting. Hauled into night court, she is befriended by a derelict pharmacist, who explains that all the others (who have been hauled in mistakenly) are as guilty of selling themselves as she is. Through flashback and song, the piece illustrates how each of the civic leaders sold out to Mr. Mister, with the exception of Larry Foreman, a union organizer who is attempting to get the whole town to organize."

What We Thought:
The Cradle Will Rock is possibly best known as the pro-union show produced by the Federal Theatre Project in 1937 that was closed before it opened due to the incendiary subject matter. It's heavily symbolic, as demonstrated by the character names: Mr. Mister, Reverend Salvation, Harry Druggist. Frank artistic director Wendy Knox leans into the unreality, with exaggerated performances, makeup, costumes, and two-dimensional scenery.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

School Girls at Jungle Theater

When: March 26-April 14
At: Jungle Theater
Running Time: 80 minutes

About:
"The reigning queen bee at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school has her sights set on the Miss Ghana Pageant. But a new student captures the attention of the pageant recruiterand the previously hive-minded students. Award-winning playwright Jocelyn Bioh’s buoyant and biting comedy explores the universal similarities (and glaring differences) facing teenage girls across the globe."

What We Thought:
As the subtitle suggests, School Girls, or The African Mean Girls Play shows some of the worst ways in which women (young or otherwise) can compete amongst themselves. However, the prize for these Ghanian students has real valuea chance for a more promising future. Playwright Jocelyn Bioh was inspired by the true story of the 2011 Miss Ghana Pageant, won by an American-born contestant whose Ghanian parentage was never confirmed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Beldenville Troll at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Add a little spooky, gothic, monstery magic to your spring with The Beldenville Troll A New England Gothic at Open Eye Figure Theatre.

When: March 22 - April 14, 2019
At: Open Eye Figure Theatre
Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermish

About:
Welcome to Beldenville, Maine, where townsfolk scoff at the legend of a troll who lives in the old train tunnel—until one dark night a child vanishes and is never seen again. This new Open Eye premiere is an imaginative, visually rich theatre piece that uses live actors, puppetry, and a wild array of animated objects to conjure the uncanny events occurring in a small town, and how the inhabitants cope with a troublesome stranger in their midst. Mythic, mysterious, and full of frights and laughs, THE BELDENVILLE TROLL is a modern fable about childhood’s end, and adulthood’s beginning.

What We Thought:
There are certain shows that are so stunningly creative and wondrous that it's nearly impossible to describe them properly. So I'll let director, creator and genius Joel Sass tell you more:

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Candide by Theater Latte Da and VocalEssence

When: March 20-24
At: Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
Running Time: two and a half hours with intermish

About:
"A tale exploding with star-crossed lovers, melodramatic villains, broad comedy, and a beautiful score, Candide combines the power of opera with the delights of musical theatre. Wrapped in irony, this musical follows the optimistic young Candide in search of “the best of all possible worlds" on an extraordinary journey to reunite with his soulmate. An all-star cast will be joined by a full orchestra and a chorus of sixty--the perfect way to savor the epic beauty of Bernstein's remarkable score."


What We Thought:
Phinehas Bynum, Bradley Greenwald, Philip Brunelle,
and Liv Redpath. Photo by Allen Weeks
Candide includes some of Leonard Bernstein's most memorable music, including the familiar overture, which serves as the theme for PBS's "Live from Lincoln Center."


The book has been revised numerous times since the original 1956 version written by Lillian Hellman. Theater Latte Da and VocalEssence use the Royal National Theatre Version of the play, performed in what the program calls a "theatrical concert version."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Cosi fan tutte at Skylark Opera

Skylark Opera Theatre is a dang Minnesota treasure. Go see their delightful production of Cosi fan tutte, tell your friends, and support their innovative, beautiful work.

When: March 22 - 31
At: The Historic Mounds Theater
Running Time: About two hours with intermish  

About:
"Skylark Opera Theatre throws a modern new light on the story of two guys who think they can dupe their girlfriends by switching places. But the women have their own power and they aren’t afraid to use it! Mozart’s gorgeous score is sung in English in this immersive production, set in the present day."

What We Thought:
Let's be honest: Opera can feel abstruse to the newcomer. It can be long, dull, melodramatic, and distancing. You have to dress up and applaud at the right times. It's an Important Night Out. Skylark's adorable and hilarious Cosi fan tutte is the polar opposite of that. Set in the present-day in New Rochelle, New York and sung in English, this translation of Lorenzo Da Ponte's 1790 libretto features modern-day references while keeping within the original feel of Mozart's work.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Roe at Mixed Blood Theatre

Laura Zabel and Tracey Maloney
Photo by Rich Ryan
If you see one play this year, go see Roe at Mixed Blood Theatre. DO IT. GO. BYE.

Still here? Okay, here are the details:

When: March 15 - 31, 2019
At: Mixed Blood Theatre
Running Time: Two hours with intermish

About:
"Roe, a theatrical survey of the complicated and fiery underpinnings of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a womxn’s right to an abortion. Roe precisely illustrates the fractured and fracturing history of one of the most polarizing social issues of the modern era. Sarah Weddington was a 26-year-old lawyer when she argued Roe v. Wade, and accidental heroine Norma McCorvey was a 22-year-old poor, hard-living lesbian bartender seeking to end her third pregnancy when she first agreed to be the plaintiff under the pseudonym 'Jane Roe,' decades before she renounced her involvement in the case and became an anti-abortion advocate."

Photo by Rich Ryan
What We Thought:
Holy cats. Where do we start?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Hobbit at Children's Theatre Company

The Hobbit at Children's Theatre Company

When: March 12 - April 14, 2019
At: Children's Theatre Company
Running Time: Two hours with intermish
Dean Holt in The Hobbit. Photo by Dan Norman.
About:
"Our unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins, would much rather be sitting in his cozy Hobbit Hole with a cup of tea and a plate of bacon and eggs. However, he somehow finds himself on a magically mystical adventure. Staged with speed and surprises, you’ll be delighted as things change before your very eyes. Discover what happens as Bilbo travels on an epic journey over freezing mountains and a frightening forest, meeting all sorts of fierce creatures—some who want to eat him, others who turn into dear friends."

What We Thought: The Hobbit is an epic adventure, so why is Children's Theatre presenting this show with only five actors and two musicians? Because imagination is their business and they do it well. This new script, adapted by Greg Banks, who also directs this production, keeps the cast hopping. 


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Mother Courage and Her Children at Pangea World Theater

Photo provided by Pangea World Theater
Mother Courage and Her Children at Pangea World Theater

When: March 15 - 31, 2019
At: The Lab Theater
Running Time: 3 hours, fifteen minutes

About:
"Pangea World Theater’s take on Brecht’s classic, Mother Courage, is a scathing critique of profiteering through war and misfortune. As relevant today as when it was written, Mother Courage follows a woman determined to make her living from war at any cost. Over the course of the play, she loses all three of her children to the very war from which she tried to profit."

What We Thought:
Considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, Mother Courage and Her Children was written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939 in response to the rise of fascism in Europe, but set in 1624 to 1636 during the Thirty Years' War. Mother Courage is hailed as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Although productions are fairly rare in American theater, some of the most well-regarded contemporary playwrights have adapted the play, including Ntozake Shange, Hanif Kureishi, David Hare, Lee Hall, and Tony Kushner. Pangea's production uses the 1972 adaptation by acclaimed translator Ralph Manheim.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

She Persists: The Great Divide III at Pillsbury House + Theatre

You should go and see She Persists: The Great Divide III at Pillsbury House + Theatre.

When: March 13-24
At: Pillsbury House + Theatre
Running Time: 70 minutes, no intermish

From "I Voted" by Aamera Siddiqui
© 2019 George Byron Griffiths
About:
"She Persists is a fresh take on the conversation that began with the popular 2017 production, The Great Divide: Plays for a Broken Nation and continued with 2018’s The Great Divide: Plays on the Politics of Truth. Featuring an all-woman cast, production team and playwright cohort, She Persists: The Great Divide III is a powerful, intersectional look at the place where womanhood and politics collide."

What We Thought:
These plays are short, but they each pack a punch. "I Voted" by Aamera Siddiqui shows us a far-too-easy to imagine near-future in which voting rights are more like privileges, particularly for people of color. Casey Llewellyn's "The Team" introduces campaign staffers for a presidential campaign who question the commitment of their candidate to making real change.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Behind the Scenes: Props at 84 Charing Cross Road

Last weekend, we crossed the river to beautiful Hudson to see 84 Charing Cross Road at the Phipps Center for the Arts, which runs through February 3rd.  Helene Hanff's charming book about her epistolary exchange with a London bookseller is one of our favorites and we were excited to see it on stage.

Confession: As a librarian, former bookstore employee and all around fan of books, I've always cast a pretty critical eye at the books that are used as props in theater. And I get it! Sometimes you just have to fill a bookshelf on set with Readers' Digest Condensed books.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

February Is Filled With Theater Love

So much theater to love, so little time!

February is completely packed with amazing new shows. Spend your Valentine's Day (and month!) at the theater with a few shows we are especially looking forward to right now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2018 - Looking Back at the Year in Theater

2018 was another amazing year in Minnesota theater. After voting for the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Awards (4th annual!), we still had a bit to say about what we loved this year.

Favorite Way to Binge Theater: The Festival 
Between our beloved Twin Cities Horror Festival, Great River Shakespeare Festival, American Players Theatre AND Mixed Blood's Prescient Harbingers festival, power theater-attending is our new favorite sport. Especially the hosts of these festivals are so welcoming and provide lovely venues and hospitality.

Favorite Way to Visit New Places: Site-Specific Theater
This year alone we saw High Fidelity at the Electric Fetus, Thomas Tallis in a church, Trojan Women at a taproom, Our House: A Capitol Play Project at the State Capitol AND The Haunting of Hill House AT. THE. HILL. HOUSE. Like you can get any better than that? Every one was beautifully produced in a setting that made the work even more meaningful and compelling.