Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review: Kinky Boots

Ladies, Gentlemen, and those of you who have yet to decide - Kinky Boots is in a word - Fantastic!

The multi-award winning show Kinky Boots opened last night at the Orpheum. The story is about a man who is trying to find a way to save his family's shoe factory. In trying to do so, he comes across the idea of making stiletto boots for the men who wear them. Of course, there is romance, and conflicts that need to be overcome. The show is still playing on Broadway (at the time of this writing) and won six Tony awards in 2013, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Performance by a Leading Actor. Even though Billy Porter is not touring with the show, all of that award winning talent is evident on stage.

The set is a shoe factory. The show starts with an actor walking in through the front door for work and takes a phone call. He then provides the very clever pre-show announcement about silencing cell phones, not texting, or taking photos, etc (though some folks still didn't get that message, but more about the audience later*). The first number clearly sets the stage and gives a brief history of Charlie growing up in a shoe factory and being told that he would be in charge of it later in life. It also shows Lola growing up and the trouble she has to deal with, and finally the upwardly-mobile life-view of Nicola - Charlie's girlfriend. The joy is that all of these viewpoints are shared while focusing on shoes. Charlie and the shoe factory (making men's shoes), Lola and the bright red heels she likes as a boy, and Nicola's desire for a pair of shoes that cost three-months rent.

Charlie's father dies and he has to figure out what to do with the factory. On his way out of a pub, he sees a woman being chased and steps in to protect her. She doesn't need his protection, swing her purse and accidentally hits Charlie. She takes her to her dressing room and we are introduced to the land of Lola - a drag queen. Billy Porter won a Tony award for his performance as Lola on Broadway. Kyle Taylor Parker was incredible as well. As Lola, he knows how to work some high boots and great drag! He never felt like he was over-the-top but was so natural. In fact, he was so natural that when he comes on stage dressed in a suit and tie, it is clear that he is uncomfortable. Lola is backed up by her "Angels" - six gorgeous men in drag. By the reaction of the audience last night, this town loves their drag queens! After the first number by Lola and her Angels, Charlie realizes that this is his niche market for shoes - tall, stiletto boots for men - and a way to save the factory. Of course, there are some relationship issues that need to be worked out. The relationship between Charlie and Nicola, between Charlie and Lola, between Charlie and Lauren (the girl at the factory who is majorly crushing on Charlie - and played by the amazing Lindsay Nicole Chambers [Gayle from Submissions Only]), and the relationship between Lola and the factory workers.

For the rest of the story, go see the show. If you can't make it, then I would recommend watching the film. The film was based on a true story, and was translated for the stage by Harvey Fierstein with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. It was all directed and choreographed for the stage by the amazing Jerry Mitchell. The versatile, multi-level set by David Rockwell was amazing. I never felt trapped by the factory set as it was used so fantastically, and it changed up so easily for other scenes. Of course, the costumes for Lola and the Angels are going to get most of the "publicity" but the rest of the costumes were perfect for the time and place. The score is very pop with some gorgeous ballads as well. And for a "pop" show, even the sound levels were perfect, with some really cool surround-sound effects during a number.

I already called out Kyle Taylor Parker as Lola but I also have to call out Steven Booth as Charlie. While he was at first uncomfortable being around Lola, he opened his mind and accepted her for who she is - not as a gay man (as her sexuality is never mentioned) - but as a person who expresses herself differently. And this is the true message of the show - change your mind and you can change the world. For an amazingly fun show to have a subtle message is fantastic. And speaking of fantastic - I have to call out Lindsay Nicole Chambers. If you are a fan of the webseries Submissions Only, then you know her as Gayle. This role of Lauren is a total turn-around from that role. And what an amazing voice!! I also have to mention the Angels, and the rest of the cast. Every role was perfectly cast and well played. I had a LOT of fun watching the show, and it was clear that the cast was loving every minute as well.

Go see this show!!

*now, about the audience...First off. When the tickets say that the show starts at 7:30, it means it starts at 7:30. There were probably 30+ people coming in after the opening number. I know that there were multiple things happening downtown Mpls last night but 7:30 means 7:30. Also - I noticed quite a few people walking out during the first ballad, and coming back in. On the other hand - the audience last night was looking for a great fun time, and they were present for it. There was cheering and extended applause after almost every number, and for certain after every number of Lola's. The standing ovation was almost instantaneous as well. There was so much energy coming from the audience, and it was a loud house in a good way. I was really amazed!

(all photos curtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust and Matthew Murphy)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Beautiful Grandeur: The Music Man at the Guthrie (Guest Post!)

Days later, I’m still reveling in the Guthrie Theater’s majestic and faithful production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (playing now through August 30 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage).

The Guthrie simply pulls out all the stops in this razzle-dazzle, slam-bam production, directed masterfully by John Miller-­Stephany. He has employed a surefire energetic cast who perform, in a classy, brassy, old fashioned theatrical manner, this classic piece of Americana theater. After seeing this rendition, I can almost see how it beat out West Side Story for the Tony Award in 1958. 

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
The entire cast is up to the challenge and perform at the top of their game, lead by the spirited Danny Binstock as Harold Hill and the effervescent Stacie Bono (possessed with a lovely voice) as Marian Paroo. Every actor, too many to name, owns their character. A shout out out to Peter Thompson and Barbara Marineau as Mayor Shinn and his petulant wife. The kids were also a real delight, but then, everyone was. Just delightful! 

There is so much to admire here. Let’s start with Mr. Willson’s now famous music score. It was beautifully sung whether in solo or chorus. The chorus work was staggering in the big numbers completely delivering Willson’s pleasing, big, brassy, melodies. We simply have to single out the barbershop quartet which drew spontaneous applause each time they sang. They were just so much fun. 

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
The Guthrie made full use of the thrust stage with Todd Rosenthal’s impressive set design and the number of performers gracing it. At times there were close to 30 people on stage at one time. The scene changes were done effortlessly with some pieces lowered below the stage as the lights dimmed, others popping up from the floor.

And the costumes! Boy, were they rich. Designed by Matthew J. LeFebvre, they were simply stunning. 1912 to the hilt! So much color and adornment. Kudos, too, to the lighting designer, David Lander. His work was especially effective in some of the tender solo numbers. 

Need I say that this is a highly recommended production? It’s practically perfect in every conceivable way. Good, old Broadway razzmatazz! Like I said, there is just so much to be admired scene after scene. It really is awesome!!! (contributed with massive enthusiasm by rickjallen)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Review: Nature by TigerLion Arts

I spent about 30 min outside today, just around late afternoon. I live just north of 694 and the area is quite nice - lots of tree, grass, a pond; and yet I can hear the rumble of traffic, I can see cars driving by from my deck, and there are neighbors.

I had a similar experience when I went to see Nature at Washburn Fair Oaks Park just north of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It was a gorgeous late afternoon, there were trees and grass, some sounds of traffic, some sounds of other people enjoying the park, and the sun was low in the sky. It was a perfect night to see Nature.

This show is presented by TigerLion Arts, and it tells of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau's mutual love of the natural world.  It also tells of the lives of these two great gentlemen, thinkers and writers. It is a fascinating story told by an ensemble of actors portraying various roles, and providing sound effects, creating props, etc. Ralph Waldo Emerson is played by Tyson Forbes (a direct descendent of Emerson, as well as being a co-creator/writer of the work), while Thoreau was played by John Catron (Sam Elmore plays Thoreau at other times). The piece provides a view into their lives that is simple and beautiful, yet incredibly complex and relevant at the same time. The whole cast was fantastic, as were the musicians and singers.

One thing that made this piece as wonderful as it was is the fact that it is a "walking play." One the night I saw it, it started in a hollow in the park. Benches were set up, a small group of vocalists were singing music of the period and I was told to go to "the small church." The show started with a reverend starting a service and being interrupted by a woman portraying Nature. She then introduced Emerson and Thoreau, and we were off on an exciting journey. Background was given about both men and their introduction to each other took place. Then we moved. We were told to follow musicians and we made our way up an incline to the open expanse of the hilled center of the park. It was a perfect location as the two men made their way towards us, while also having a conversation. Were they using microphones? No - the ensemble was standing on a platform behind the audience, and they were speaking for the gentlemen, creating sound effect of the breeze, eating an apple, a swarm of bees, etc. Once the men got close enough, they did start to speak themselves but it was a very imaginative way to have a scene in an open space and yet still keep everything natural.

When that scene ended, we moved as an audience to another location in the park. This happened four or five times through out the piece and each of the four locations was perfectly suited to the action of the play. Eventually we ended back at the "little church" for the final scenes.

This is the start of the tour. TigerLion has collaborated with parks, arboretums, universities and various communities across the country in a way to reconnect with the natural world. From Minneapolis, this tour moves to Park Rapids, Alexandria, Grinnell, St. Johns/St. Benedicts, Gustavus, and ends in Carleton. After seeing the show at the park, I must confess that there is a part of me that wants to follow the tour so that I can see how each location is used. Along with that, the ideas spoken to in this show are worthy of more thought. With that in mind, I provide the following links.

Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson -
The Walden Woods Project -
The Thoreau Reader -
The Thoreau Society -

If you have a chance to see this work, please do so. It is lovely and simple, so well performed and such a joy to experience. It is recommended to bring a portable chair or blanket as seating is not provided except at the "little church." I would also suggest a bottle of water, and possibly bug spray.