Sunday, June 7, 2015

Summer Theater Preview - Greater Minnesota!

We all know that the Twin Cities are teeming with theaters, but there's also a heck of a (heckuva?) lot of wonderful theater in greater Minnesota. Why not combine a lovely Minnesota day or overnight trip with a visit to one of these great theater companies? Here are a few upcoming summer shows that you should definitely add to your Explore Minnesota list!

(By the way, I was inspired to research this preview by Cherry and Spoon's great Summer Theater Preview, and her inclusion of the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. Thanks, Cherry and Spoon! Love ya!)

Heading north and west? Check out Theatre L’Homme Dieu in Alexandria, who have an amazingly full line-up of shows you may have missed the first time around. First up, River Songs and Tales with Mark Twain (June 23-28), performed by the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and starring Don Shelby as Mark Twain, it's a musical journey celebrating life on the Mississippi of past and present.

Then, joy of joys, a second chance to catch Yellow Tree Theatre's acclaimed production of next to normal (July 7-12), the Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning rock opera that tells the story of a mother battling bipolar disorder and the effect the illness has on her family. Another local favorite follows, 2 Sugars, Room for Cream (July 14-19), written, produced, directed, and performed by Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool.

Another play that I regret missing here in the Cities is Nature, produced by TigerLion Arts (July 21-26). Written by Tyson Forbes (recently so amazing in TTT's Unsinkable Molly Brown), this is a mythic telling of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s and Henry David Thoreau’s mutual love affair with the natural world--performed outdoors as a “walking play.” So cool. I also heard great things about Daleko Arts of New Prague and their production of Little Shop of Horrors, the Menken/Ashman musical (August 4-9). Check it out!

Head north and west to the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in beautiful Brainerd. The five shows in their summer season all sound great. First up? I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change (June 3-13), where four actors play forty roles in a hilarious musical that skewers everything from first dates to marriage. The Underpants by Carl Sternheim, adapted by Steve Martin (June 17-27) includes unsatisfied wives, idiotic bureaucrats and wardrobe malfunctions.

And yes! Another second chance at a show I missed. How did I not know I could relive theater magic in greater MN? Prints by John Middleton (July 1-11) was much buzzed about when it played in Minneapolis. Circa 1935, two reporters navigate their way through gangsters and crooked cops to find a kidnapped Hamm’s Brewery magnate in this sometimes dark, often hilarious play.

The season is rounded out by I Oughta Be in Pictures by Neil Simon (July 15-25), about a Hollywood screenwriter whose past is hitchhiking her way to his door. and finally, Monty Python's Spamalot by Eric Idle and John Du Prez (July 29-August 8), which includes killer rabbits, snarky Frenchmen and knights who say “Ni!” Check out the season preview below:

Going all the way up to the big lake? Spend a little time at the Duluth Playhouse! First up, Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (June 4-14), a Chekhovian themed farce (if you like that kind of thing--I was not sold by the Guthrie's production.) Then the old favorite Guys & Dolls, which is sure to be a good, fun time (July 16-August 2).

I'm a little more intrigued by Duluth Playhouse's Underground Season, including Game Show (June 18-20 and 25-27), a zany play written by Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton, where audience members have a chance to be a contestant of the game show and win actual prizes. Also, catch Behind the Shining Star, a family-friendly production that is a celebration of fun, childhood, lasting friendship and the music of Duluth's own Trampled by Turtles.

Don't feel like venturing too far?  Try Excelsior's Old Log Theatre, which is playing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas all summer long (June 12-August 29). This happy-go-lucky view of small town vice and statewide political side-stepping recounts the good times and the demise of the Chicken Ranch, known since the 1850s as one of the better pleasure palaces in all of Texas.

Head south to Red Wing, and check out the Sheldon Theatre. Built in 1904, and the first municipally owned theater in the United States, the theater was restored in the 1980s to its original glory. Catch the musical Oliver!, presented by Phoenix Theatre, from July 9 through July 19.

Further south, you'll find Rochester Repertory Theater, which is showing Tribute, a comedy by Bernard Slade (June 26-27 & July 2-3, 9-11). Scottie Templeton is a charming, irresponsible guy, a sometime Broadway press agent and former scriptwriter who has spent his life shirking responsibility. When he discovers he is terminally ill, he attempts to reconnect with his long-estranged son. (Thanks for the summary and the image, Wikipedia!)

Heading even further south will lead you to Commonweal Theatre Company, "Lanesboro's professional theatre company telling soulful stories with honesty and creativity in Southeast Minnesota since 1989." Ibsen's The Master Builder (adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher) is playing now through June 13; Woody Guthrie's American Song plays now through September 28; or check out Charley's Aunt from June 19 through October 26. (Also, plan ahead for their fall offerings!)

Want more info about theaters in Minnesota? The Minnesota Theater Alliance has a handy-dandy list, which includes locations and links. And although these are professional theaters, sometimes the most charming productions are found by looking for signs around town!

Happy traveling and happy theatergoing!