Thursday, April 27, 2017

Prometheus Bound at Uprising Theatre

It's always fun to see a show at a new theatre. I haven't seen anything by Uprising Theatre Company but I really love what they stand for. Before I jump into my review, I wanted to take a second and talk about their community partners. For this show, they had community partners with Women's Prison Book Project, Minnesota Freedom Fund and Neighborhoods Organizing for Chance (NOC). What do I love more than theatre? Theatre with a cause! I love when an organization raises money or awareness for something like this.

Prometheus Bound is a greek tragedy by Aeschylus. It is about a god who broke the law and gave the gift of fire to humans. Prometheus is punished by Zeus and is chained to a rock for all eternity. On Uprising Theatre Company's website, they discuss how the show is relevant in this time with the fact that many Americans in prison are serving unjust and long duration punishments for small crimes.

The show was personally not my cup of tea. I am hesitant with classical plays however I try to see as much as I can because of the lengths companies can go with them. Because there is not a lot of direction in the actual text, theatre's can be very creative with the messaging and themes they portray along with the setting and time periods and that is something I commend Uprising Theatre Company for. However I think they could have gone even further with this theme.

Prometheus was cast as an African-American woman which I absolutely loved. The show certainly spoke to this time period with the fact that she was a character who had two white males constantly oppressing her and telling her what she could and couldn't do. I thought this was a smart choice in casting and certainly was a theme they were trying to go for (especially being a theatre with a Black Lives Matter poster hanging in the window).

Often times I found myself wanting more. Wanting more from the set, the costumes and even the actors. I felt that some of the actors maybe were almost in a different play or mindset as some of the other actors. I felt at times they could go even bigger with their choices they made. Classical theatre can be intimidating to audiences like Greek and Shakespeare. The question always rises of "Will I be able to understand what's going on?" This is crucial and important for actors to not only tell the story but understand the story so well that the audience understands it as well. Even as someone who has seen, performed and studied theatre, at times I felt lost. Not knowing exactly where or what was going on.

I'm looking forward to seeing another show with Uprising to see how they change up other classical pieces along with adding community partners. I think when theatre combines with a philanthropic efforts, it makes it that much more impact.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Year with Frog and Toad and Children's Theatre Company


Matthew Rubbelke, Traci Allen Shannon and Autumn Ness
as birds in the ensemble (Photo by Dan Norman)
"A Year with Frog and Toad" makes its triumphed return to the Twin Cities this Spring and it's absolutely wonderful. It has been a very very long time since I've seen a production at Children's Theatre Company (CTC) and this show will certainly have me coming back for more productions. It was a wonderful afternoon of theatre.

This musical was commissioned and created by Children's Theatre Company and originally debuted at CTC in 2002. Transferring to the New Victory Theatre (Off-Broadway), and then the Cort Theatre (Broadway), it was nominated for three Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. That same year, Children's Theatre Company won the Regional Theatre Tony Award, marking the first time a theatre for young audiences won the honor.

It's the story of, you guessed it, Frog and Toad and based off of the children's books written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. Waking from hibernation in the spring, the perky Frog and the worrywart Toad plant gardens, swim, rake leaves, go sledding, and learn life lessons through four, fun-filled seasons. The amphibian odd couple celebrates and rejoices in their differences that make them the best-est of friends while joined by a colorful cast of birds, mice, turtles, and that slo-o-ow snail with the mail (summary from CTC website).

Matthew Rubbelke as Snail (Photo by Dan Norman)
No matter how great a show is, sometimes I may have one little nit-picky thing that I disagree with but not this show. It was all too perfect. The actors truly are at the top of their craft with this production. Each actor embodies these larger than life animals. What's so enjoyable about their performances are how they perform for the kids but each and every adult was completely engulfed in the production as well. Bradley Greenwald as tidy Frog, Reed Sigmund as the impatient Toad, and an ensemble of Traci Allen Shannon, Matt Rubbelke and Autumn Ness who play a multitude of animals including squirrels, a mouse, lizard, turtle and a trio of fashionista birds. Matt Rubbelke also has a standout performance as the snail (who delivers mail...get it...snail mail), who's performance was quite possibly my favorite. 

Bradley Greenwald as Frog and
Reed Sigmund as Toad (Photo by Dan Norman)
The set is quite possibly one of the most magical things I've seen on a stage in quite some time. At times it is simple and only has two beds on it, but other times the set has large cattails fly in that really make you feel like you're apart of the performance and are the same size as these animals. The set was even designed by Arnold Lobel's daughter, Adrianna. 

On a more personal note, what I loved even more about the show was seeing and hearing all the giggles from the countless amounts of children in the audience. I only wish I would have found theatre at that age. That was more than enough for me, to see how happy these kids were. And speaking as a former actor, that's why we do it. To get that lovely audience feedback.

"A Year with Frog and Toad" is charming, entertaining and just downright delightful. It is a show for families and theatre lovers of all ages. You'll be humming the tunes all night. It runs through June 18, so there is absolutely no excuse not to be able to catch it before it hops off stage! Ticket information can be found here.



Sunday, April 2, 2017

Side Show at The Chameleon Theatre Circle


Let's start by saying, if a theater company around you is ever producing Side Show you should certainly see it. I say this because it doesn't seem to get produced often. No this is not a Fringe musical rendition of American Horror Story: Freak Show. It is a beautiful story about courage,
love, sisterhood and what it feels like to be an outcast. The musical is based on a true story about conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton and their journey from freak show performers to vaudeville stars in the 1930s.

Side Show originally opened on Broadway in October 1997 starring Emily Skinner (Daisy) and Alice Ripley (Violet). Sadly only after 91 performances, it closed. A fun fact about their performance is that it is the first and only time that two actresses were co-nominated for Best Actress in a Musical as a team, however, they lost to Natasha Richardson that year in Cabaret. A revised version of the musical ran in 2014 which "incorporates new songs as well as additional biographical details of the Hilton twins' life and historical figures of the era." This is the version that Chameleon produced.

Logan Bitz Daum as Buddy
Walking into the space, I was intrigued yet excited almost immediately because it was a musical in a black box theater. Now what I love about a black box theater is how intimate the space can be. During the first song "Come Look at the Freaks," the show really felt like being in a carnival because the actors broke the fourth wall and looked right at you as they performed. That being said, it's a shame that some of the more intimate scenes and songs were staged in a way that pretty much had them performing only to the center audience members which left the ones on the sides completely in the dark and unable to see what was happening.

A lot of the performers all stood out in their own ways throughout the show but the ones who I really would like to highlight are the four main actors. Starting with the two supporting male lead characters, Terry (played by Jeremy Johnson) and Buddy (played by Logan Bitz Daum). Both had wonderful singing voices, despite some issues from Terry's microphone, he continued to perform without being phased. Logan certainly stands out from the entire cast as the best dancer with energy and that specific kind of pizzazz that felt like a throwback to vaudeville performances. He has a particularly fun little song titled "One Plus One Equals Three" with some of the other ensemble members and the Hilton twins. It was campy, cute and certainly was one of my favorites that night.

Julia Ennen as Daisy and Anna Larranaga
as Violet
When it came to the Hilton twins...can you say perfect casting? Daisy (played by Julia Ennen) and Violet (played by Anna Larranaga) I feel is what keeps companies from producing this musical. If you don't have these roles perfect, the show will fail but these two actresses compliment each other so well I would go back and see it again just to see them perform "Ready to Play," "Who Will Love Me as I Am," and one of the best female duets ever, "I Will Never Leave You." As you have to be with these roles, Julia and Anna were in perfect sync through the entire show almost as if they really were connected at the hip. They do a phenomenal job of letting each other have their individual moments without stealing the spotlight from each other. When the scene is clearly about Violet, Julia remains in character but still gives all attention to Anna and vice versa. Their voices individually are delicate and tender when needed and together they are powerful and full of emotion especially in the productions Act II finale "I Will Never Leave You." Not only singing, but they are both outstanding actresses.

This is a wonderfully told story. I thoroughly enjoyed the performances and this was my first time seeing a Chameleon Theatre Circle production as well, and I'm excited to go back.

Side Show leaves Burnsville Sunday, April 23rd so there are plenty of chances to still see this production. More information on ticket information and performance dates can be found here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

As You Like It by Classical Actors Ensemble at the Crane Theater

After previously working on As You Like It by William Shakespeare at my alma mater, it was a pleasure to return to this wonderful script almost a year later with the Classical Actors Ensemble. This is certainly one of my favorites Shakespeare's and it's always enjoyable to see how a theater takes a script that is more than a few centuries old and still makes it interesting. This was the first time I'd seen a production with the Classical Actors Ensemble and the first time I attended anything at the Crane Theater space.

As You Like It is a romantic comedy that includes many typical Shakespeare themes including the play ending with a few couples getting married. The play is one of Shakespeare's most beloved and features the romantic and resourceful Rosalind who is banished from her uncle's court and must flee to a nearby forest. Accompanying her is her cousin Celia and their friend Touchstone in this light-hearted comedy of betrayal, disguise, utopia, and romance. A more in-depth summary of the show can be found online, pretty much anywhere if you want more specifics.

The Cast of As You Like It
This production was set in the 80's with vibrant colors, padded shoulders and even ratted hair (sometimes in a side pony). This accompanied by the vibrant and minimalistic set was enjoyable to watch. Many of the actors were very talented in interpreting the script. Any actor who tackles Shakespeare deserves an award for the sheer amount of work it goes into memorizing and understanding the text. Even with the 80's theme, the cast stayed true to the text and told the story.

On that note, each time a theater company does Shakespeare, there is the question of "How can we make it our own?" This is not relating to the question of "What time period are we going to put it in?" but literally what set's this production apart from another As You Like It production. CAE decided to add music to theirs. Not just any music, but the music of the 80s. It did seem a bit...awkward at times. Some of the actors came out to sing these songs while people were still filing into their seats and with at least 7 minutes before the show was to start. It felt weird because I didn't know if this was a part of the show and if I was supposed to sit down, turn my phone off and get into "audience mode" or if it was supposed to be music to just casually enjoy before the show starts. More songs from the 80's were intertwined through the production as well as actors would finish a scene, walk over to the microphones stage right and sing. I personally wasn't feeling it but I was feeling it when Megan Daoust sang.

Daoust, played Phoebe, was phenomenal. All around just a joy to watch on stage. It's a shame that Phoebe is such a small role in this play because I wanted more! The shepherds and folks who lived in the forest weren't entirely 80's themed but almost Canadian. While I didn't understand the correlation between the 80's court and Canadian forest people, Daoust made it work. She had the accent, the wit and even a hilarious physicalization of the character. She sadly only sung a small bit of one of the songs but I wish she would have sung all of them.

As You Like It runs February 17th-March 5 at the Crane Theater.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Peter and the Starcatcher (Theater Latte Da)

I loved this production so much that my first sentence of this review needs to solely include the words "See this show if it's the last thing you do because I certainly am going to see it again." Now that that is covered, let's get into the details, shall we?

The play Peter and the Starcatcher is originally based off of the 2006 novel of a similar play by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson adapted for the stage by Rick Elice. It opened on Broadway, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, on April 15, 2012 and was nominated for 9 Tony Awards and won 5. With 18 previews and 319 regular performances, it closed on January 20, 2013. It later re-opened Off-Broadway and included two national tours.

Pearce Bunting as Black Stache and
Tyler Michaels as Peter
Photography by Dan Norman
There is nothing I love more than a wonderfully written origin story and this script does that. The story provides audiences with a backstory on how Peter became Peter Pan (along with a few other explanations including why our favorite crocodile is constantly ticking). It hints at the story we all know and love which brings up plenty of happy, warm and nostalgic emotions for everyone in the audience. This is certainly a new story however I think anyone going to see it should really try not to look up anything about it. I went into this production with no prior knowledge, other than it was simply a Peter Pan origin type story. I'm so glad I did because not knowing anything about it, made it that much more magical to watch.

This is my second time seeing a Theater Latte Da production, however it is my first time seeing a show at their new space, The Ritz Theater. It really is a wonderful and beautiful space. The stage is large and spacious yet the seating and audience space is close and intimate, really allowing yourself to be whisked away into the story. The set, designed by Joel Sass who also directed, is marvelous to look at as it included plenty of trinkets that crawled their way up the proscenium line, all leading up to a beautiful abstract blue octopus that loomed over the stage. This junk yard chic look gave me plenty to look at and observe before the show started. Later in the show, audiences discovered lights that were hidden inside the structure that changed for certain scenes.

Theater Latte Da has consistently produced some high quality productions including some all star casts. The cast of Peter and the Starcatcher brings a whole new meaning to the word "ensemble" as they are constantly in tune and in check with one another. At times actors, who are not directly involved with a specific scene, can be found on a ladder, a stool or somewhere else on the stage acting as a foley artist (one who creates sound effects). The sound effects came in perfectly every time whether it was replicating the ocean crashing against a ship or a more silly sound for a chest opening.
The cast of Peter and the Starcatcher
Photography by Dan Norman

The cast shine as an ensemble and as individuals through out the entire performance, all portraying more than one character at times. Each actor has their moment in the spotlight in which the other actors provide support without stealing the scene. We see Tyler Michaels play the title role of Peter, and of course he did not disappoint. I've had the pleasure of seeing Tyler perform many times and the way he molds into each character is truly inspiring. He dedicates not only himself to the character but the way he interacts with the rest of the cast, never dropping even a hint of energy.

The rest of the cast is equally talented including Pearce Bunting, who had me in stiches from laughing over his hilarious portrayal as the hilarious and flamboyant pirate captain, Black Stache. Megan Burns plays the strong headed and spunky, Molly. Craig Johnson had the audience eating from the palm of his hand the entire night, effortlessly changing characters from Mrs. Bunbrake to Grempkin and even a quick role as a beautiful salmon colored mermaid. Ricardo Beaird is also hilarious in his role as the know it all, self-declared leader of the boys. Silas Sellnow as the orphan Ted, whose persistent search for good food is something we call can relate to.

Peter and the Starcatcher is by far one of the best productions I've seen in quite sometime. It's heartwarming, funny, imaginative and is a shining example of how the Twin Cities performing arts scene is in a league of their own. It is the perfect show for the whole family to see...or even for adults who wish they'd never had to grow up. I certainty can't wait This production runs at the the Ritz Theater through February 26th. Tickets can be found here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What's Your Damage, Heather? (Heathers at Twin Cities Community Theatre)


"Heathers: The Musical" is a rock musical with music, lyrics and a book by Laurence O'Keefe (Batboy: The Musical and Legally Blonde: The Musical) and Kevin Murphy. The musical was in development for quite sometime including a sold-out Los Angeles tryout and a concert version before finally moving to Off-Broadway in 2014. The story is about Veronica (played by Winona Ryder in the movie) who manages to become a part of the most popular clique in high school, but she disapproves of the other girls' cruel behavior. When Veronica and her new boyfriend, J.D. confront clique leader Heather Chandler and accidentally poison her, they make it appear a suicide. Soon Veronica realizes that J.D. is intentionally killing students he does not like. She races to stop J.D. while also clashing with the clique's new leader, Heather Duke.

As a fan of the original 1988 American cult black comedy film, I was ecstatic to hear that they were adapting this movie into a musical. It had a rather short run off-Broadway, which is unfortunate because it's a great campy adaption and an even more wonderful score with killer lyrics. They even manage to sneak in all of the iconic lines such as "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?" and my personal favorite "Fuck me gently with a chainsaw."

I saw the Twin Cities Community Theatre production on Thursday, February 4th and it had some ups and some downs. Many of the actors took their parts a little too realistically and didn't embody the dark comedic elements that the original movie had. The exception to this was Lily Cornwell, who played Heather Chandler. I also appreciated Dylan Cima approach to the role of J.D. It felt like his own but at the same time honoring Christian Slater, who played the original J.D. in the movie. The singing in this production had some notable performances including Tommie Hollingsworth who played Veronica Sawyer. Her belting in the popular song "Dead Girl Walking" was fantastic and she had a wonderful tone to her voice. I think one of the hardest songs to sing in this production is possible "Candy Store" sung by the Heather trio. It needs to evoke power and a serious ear for the harmonies that the three sing. The three Heather's sang this song well but they were just shy from hitting the harmonies perfectly.  While many of the actors still had me laughing at times, I credit most of that to the actual book and lyrics.
J.D. and Veronica during the song "Freeze Your Brain" 
Often I don't blog about technical elements with a show, however I really want to give praise to Matt Jansen (Light Design) and Toniy Hamernick (Light Engineer) to the impressive light show they created for this production. The lighting was absolutely beautiful and really brought some depth to the show visually. I enjoyed that there was an actual permanent structure on stage for this production. Last fall I saw Legally Blonde: The Musical here and was slightly disappointed at the constant roll on set pieces. However the structure for this show gave it some height and more levels for the actors to play with.

If you're a huge fan of the movie, I still recommend going to see this production. It has just about everything that you loved from the movie and is an almost scene by scene adaptation of the movie but with music. This musical is not produced often by many theatre companies s, so I applaud Twin Cities Community Theatre for taking on this show, especially with its questionable content matter.

"Heathers: The Musical" plays Feb. 2nd-Feb. 12th.
Tickets are available online at www.tcctheatre.com
*Twin Cities Community Theatre uses Paypal if you wish to purchase tickets ahead of time.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Fun Home: THIS IS IMPORTANT!



Fun Home played at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis December 13th through the 18th. This 2015 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical is based off of the autobiographical best-selling graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The musical tells the story of famed cartoonist Alison Bechdel and what growing up was like living in a funeral home (which her siblings named "The Fun Home), having a strange, often rocky, relationship with her father and realizing at a younger age she was different. The musical is narrated by Alison as an adult as she looks back at herself as a young preteen (refred to as Small Alison) and college student referred to as "Medium Alison," where she comes to grips with identifying as a lesbian.
Alison, Medium Alison and Small Alison
Pictured: Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan, Alessandra Baldacchino
Let's start by just saying that the musical was fantastic. The story, the music, the actors, the message and themes, everything. I absolutely loved it. What made Fun Home so outstanding was how beautifully the songs and funny dialogue are weaved effortlessly into a pretty serious plot. The song "Ring of Keys," which many were introduced to at the Tony Awards where Sydney Lucas gave us all chills, a lot of LGBTQ members can relate to. The song depicts a moment in Small Alison's life when she can't quite form the words that she feels after seeing an "old school butch." It is a moment of emotional and sexual awakening for her. The song was moving and the performance was amazing. Read here how the song writers approached writing the song.

Whether you're apart of the LGBTQ community or not, everyone can relate to a lot of the themes from this musical especially the one that comes across in one of the last songs "Telephone Wire." As Medium Alison is visiting home and goes on a car ride with her father (although during the scene, the older Alison acts the scene out) she is continuously lost for words as she tries to come out to her father in person. Previously in the musical, we discover that her father is also gay and while they each know about one another, they fail to say it out loud or confront it head on. The song is relatable to everyone as many can remember having a secret you want to tell your parents but can't manage to say it. The moment when you think you're going to and then bail out by bringing up a different topic.
Alison and her father during the song "Telephon Wire"
Pictured: Kate Shindle and Robert Petkoff
Now without getting too political, let's point out the title of this specific blog post. Big capital screaming letters saying "THIS IS IMPORTANT." It is an important show for many reasons, one being the representation of the LGBTQ community. They have been underrepresented and now within the last few years have finally been included in the media and entertainment. So what makes this coming out and coming of age story different than the others? Fun Home is an important piece of musical theatre, not only because it shows the very personal and intimate struggle of realizing your sexuality but also because the leading character is a lesbian and that was a breath of fresh air. It is not about a rugged gay male or a teenage boy coming out and realizing he likes RuPaul more than monster trucks. It's about a girl. A lesbian. She isn't a supporting character either. She is the main character. Earlier I did say that the LGBTQ community is finally being represented more and more in entertainment, however I should have said the G in LGBTQ is being represented more. I thoroughly enjoyed that the story was about a young gay woman and I can't wait to see some sort of similar musical come out within the next decade about a trans* person. 

While this musical has left the Orpheum Theatre, it is still on tour. I highly recommend anyone and everyone to see it. It's also fairly short, and only runs about an hour and 45 minutes.