Sunday, December 11, 2022

nimbus Presents A Count Up to Christmas

Over on the Hallmark channel, they've been counting down to Christmas with their holiday movies since, oh I don't know, JANUARY. We've been leaning hard into the comfort of these cheesy tales of love and redemption and fake snow and public domain Christmas carols, so we were super excited to check out nimbus theatre's holiday show.  

But wait, you say. nimbus?

Annick Dall, Derek Dirlam, and Tara Lucchino. Photo by Emily Barrera.

The same nimbus theatre whose collaborative, experimental, and devised work tends towards the spooky and serious around the holidays? It's true! In 2022, they have decided to embrace the holiday, and they have gone all out with A Count Up to Christmas, a funny, romantic show that pays a loving homage to the holiday tv movie genre while simultaneously sending it up. 

The show description should sound rather familiar to Hallmark Holiday Movie fans: 

When an Overworked City Person finds herself dumped and unemployed right before Christmas, she heads to a Quaint Small Town in the Heartland to regroup. But things in the Heartland aren’t all jolly and bright as the beloved town Christmas Fair is in danger. Can the town be saved? Can an Overworked City Person find love again? Will there be a vintage truck and a gazebo?

WHAT WILL HAPPEN??? You'll have to go see the show at the Crane Theater through December 18 to find out if there will be a happy ending. No spoilers here!

In all seriousness, nimbus has definitely embraced the holidays with their new show. From the moment we walked into the Crane, we knew we were in for some serious Christmas cheer. There is some serious holiday decorating going on--I think I counted fifteen Christmas trees! Plus, we were encouraged to grab a holiday bingo card on our way in (see pic).

Author's photo

Josh Cragun's script perfectly sends up the Christmas movie genre, and the cast is wonderfully committed to the concept under Liz Neerland's direction.  

Tara Lucchino balances out the weirdness of the townspeople with her "Big City" sensibilities until she too is drawn in by the Christmas Spirit. Derek Dirlam as Deputy Buck Sterling perfectly embodies the aw-shucks small-town lawman and potential romantic lead who has a few rather unusual crimes to deal with. His eager helper is eight-year old Reggie, hilariously played by the adult Alex Stokes. He's EIGHT and has some of the best throwaway lines in the show. 

Christy Johnson, Annick Dall, and Jane Hammill play a variety of delightfully unique townspeople, and Jeffery Goodson is a hoot as the quirky Christmas-enforcing mayor. In addition to the main story, we're also treated to commercials for other holiday movies, which are little gems of holiday weirdness. Three words: Yule Log Lady.

The lavish scenic design by Gaea Dill-D'Ascoli encompasses indoor and outdoor Christmas scenes, and some inventive surprises. Kudos to property designer Ursula K. Bowden for rounding up a perfectly excessive amount of holiday decor. Everything else contributed to the atmosphere, from costumes by Rubble&Ash, lighting by Jon Kirchhofer and sound by Jacob M. Davis. And a shout out to stage manager Alyssa Thompson and assistant stage manager Kelley Yount for keeping the production moving at an impressively brisk pace.

We could share more details, but it's much better--and funnier--if you see it for yourself. So go to the Crane Theater by December 18 to see this festive and charming comedy!

Monday, December 5, 2022

Striking 12 at Minneapolis Musical Theatre

Let's be honest: We LOVE Minneapolis Musical Theatre and their mission of producing "high quality yet affordable works of musical theatre never before – or very rarely – seen by Twin Cities audiences."

Thanks to MMT, we've seen a variety of delightfully quirky and challenging musicals, and in recent years, such outstanding productions such as High Fidelity (at the Electric Fetus!), Daddy Long Legs (at the James J. Hill House!), and Hands on a Hard Body (at a car dealership!)

Minneapolis Musical Theatre kicks off their 2022-2023 season with Striking 12 (at the Gremlin Theatre from December 2-18). It's a fascinating entry into the Twin Cities holiday theater scene. 

Based on Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl (sort of), this musical is about "a grumpy, overworked New Yorker who resolves to spend New Year’s Eve alone in his apartment when an unexpected visitor brings some much-needed cheer." Well okay, then! 

Striking 12 plays out on a bare stage, with minimal props and costume changes. The presence of strings of twinkle lights in the intimate Gremlin Theatre space is one of the only physical nods to the holiday setting. The cast play multiple roles (and sometimes instruments) and view and comment on the on-stage activity. There's a meta, self-referential feel to this musical from the very first songs, which incorporate the traditional "turn your cell phone off" messages and point out musical motifs that will reappear. 

The ensemble of Striking 12. Photo by Unser Imagery.

The synopsis of the show refers to the "eclectic score that combines pop, rock, jazz, showtunes, and more." It's a quite unusual musical and sent us online to learn more. Thanks, Internet! Written by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda (of the band Groovelily) and Rachel Sheinkin, whose theater credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Striking 12 was produced off-Broadway in 2006. (It was a NYT Critic's Pick!) 

Clocking in at just 80 minutes, this quirky but heartfelt musical benefits from an extraordinarily charming cast. At the center of Striking 12 is the heartfelt telling of The Little Match Girl. The story is being read on New Year's Eve by the aforementioned cranky guy. His attention to and interest in the story is touching, and the interjections from the ensemble provide commentary on the narrative. 

The surrounding story is not nearly as strong as the Little Match Girl part, but the energetic and talented cast are a joy to watch even when the material is a little undefined. Each ensemble member has a unique individual presence, but easily step in and out of their multiple characters in the show. Madeline Kadlec winsomely portrays the match seller and plays the bass, which seems like it wouldn't work, but it does, beautifully. Charlie Morgan, Abigail Chagolia, and Antonia Perez alternate as narrators who have definite opinions about what happens in the story, as well as playing other roles. Nick Manthe plays the grumpy guy with relish, and Rachael Furgiuele is sweet as a modern-day analog to the Match Girl. Kyle Camay, Umar Malik and Paul Stanko (also on drums) and Laura Potratz (violin) round out the ensemble, with musical support from Josh Shaffer (guitar) and music director Jean Orbison Van Heel (keyboards). 

Striking 12 is a refreshing alternative to the usual holiday shows and well worth seeing for its excellent ensemble (who we'll be definitely keeping an eye out for). 

Pro tip: If you liked this show, MMT has a rare opportunity to credit your ticket purchase toward a Season Subscription. (Email them at to find out how!) The other two shows are also contemporary takes on classic literature (Faust and Othello) and sure to be must-sees.