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.

Coffee Talk with Brett is apart of the Twin Cities Theater Blogging group.
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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.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hairspray LIVE: Did it fall flat?


I am not going to lie. I’ve been very unimpressed with NBC and their live musicals. When the idea first came forward. with The Sound of Music, I was excited. That was true until I heard that Carrie Underwood would lead (I only managed to watch 30 minutes of it). I was not impressed with Peter Pan and never managed to see The Wiz, despite hearing pretty decent things about it. However I felt maybe NBC had finally figured it out with Hairspray. Maybe they were ready to do it right especially with the fact that Fox had successfully taken the broadcasted live musical crown with their production of Grease. So did Hairspray stand up or fall flat?
The cast of "Hairspray LIVE"

Let’s start with the two biggest technical issues: cameras and microphones. I honestly thought Maddie Baillio (Tracy Turnblad) forgot some of her lines in the opening song “Good Morning Baltimore” because her microphone kept going out at times when I couldn’t see her face. The microphones continued to be a problem in big numbers where cheering from the audience, or the music was still being played, drowned out the actors singing or speaking. During the performance I was also extremely confused on many of the camera angles. I know nothing about producing but half of the time I was extremely confused as to why some of the angles looked like a hidden camera in a shady bootleg recording of a Broadway production.

Hairspray is a musical. Cast people who know how to sing. As a big budget musical, I understand they need to cast stars that will bring people in, but Derek Hough (Corny Collins) could not sing and was given three songs. He’s a very talented dancer but I was not impressed with his singing or even Garrett Clayton (Link Larkin) despite being very easy on the eyes. Some casting choices I just did not understand including Jennifer Hudson (Motormouth Maybelle). Now before you sharpen your pitchforks, I will say I am a fan of her singing. She’s certainly talented and don’t get me started on how she had me crying during her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been.” However I think NBC missed an opportunity in casting a bigger girl for this role, especially because her first song is titled “Big, Blonde and Beautiful." Next to race, one of the biggest themes of this show is being an outcast, or in Tracy and Edna’s case a “big girl.”

Kristin Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle

While some could not sing, or weren’t exactly what I was hoping casting wise, others most certainly were both including Tony-Award winner Kristin Chenoweth . We all knew she’d rock it, despite getting her bow cut off at the end (WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THIS!?). Her portrayal of Velma Von Tussle was hilarious, engaging and she made the part her own. When it came to singing I think the most underrated performance of the night was Dove Cameron who played Amber Von Tussle. For many, this was our first exposure to her and I felt like she nailed it. At times I felt she was a little too whiny to be the “mean girl” but I guess you can’t have it all, she was still fantastic.


These were some of my biggest pros and cons. I could ramble on more about how I felt Link and Tracy had no chemistry once so ever or how I thought the “behind the scenes” before commercial breaks totally broke the illusion but as I said before we can’t have it all. Overall, Hairspray was enjoyable. It had some very talented singing by some, dancing and in general it’s a musical with some catchy songs. NBC has done one thing that you cannot deny and it is that it is bringing more people into the world of live theater. With productions like these, theater is able to reach and introduce themselves to a wider national audience and I think for the theater industry that’s fantastic. I hope that with these live musicals, smaller theaters across the nation start getting more business and exposure

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Legally Blonde: Guilty or Innocent?

When I walked into the Twin Cities Community Theatre (recently renamed and originally the Coon Rapids Community Players)  production of "Legally Blond: The Musical" at the the Sabes Jewish Community Center, I'll admit I was a bit nervous. There are musicals out there that if a theatre plans to do, they better make sure they have the time, resources and cast to not only do it, but do it well. There is no way to hide inexperience singers, a bad set or just plain bad acting with a show like this. It's also based on an iconic movie, originally starring Reese Witherspoon. The musical does a fantastic job of adapting the movie to the stage with our favorite lines (What like it's hard?) and turning moments like the "bend-and-snap" into a hilarious number.

Cast and Crew (taken from TCCT Facebook)
However the two biggest things, in my opinion, you need is a phenomenal actress to play Elle Woods (Spoiler Alert: Mary Burchill played Elle and was phenomenal) and solid vocals for the entire cast especially the greek chorus girls. I will say there were many times in which the ensemble/greek chorus felt hesitant in many of the numbers in which they came in rather sheepishly and then sang louder after. However that being said they were often in tune and sounded great especially the three leading greek chorus girls Serena, Margot, and Pilar (Tynelle Marschall, Brogan Deblieck and Haley Sister) were total scene stealers. They sounded great and always brought in so much energy and kept that energy through out the entire production despite having some very intense choreography. A crowd favorite was also Paulette (Anne Brown) the crazy and hilarious hair stylist that Elle befriends. She did a great job on honoring the role of Paulette (from the movie) while at the same time making the character her own. The females, owned this show while honestly the males were a little lack luster and not very memorable compared to the force that the woman brought on stage.

Rehearsal Photo
While I was quite impressed with the vocals that these performers had, I was a little disappointed with the set. Maybe it was a directors choice however some parts just did not make sense to me. For example when Elle was in her dorm room there was a door, a bed, a rolling set piece with a vanity and chair (all with plenty of props and detail) however while she was studying for the LSAT or meeting her classmates in the courtyard at Harvard Law, there was only a bench or chair. Nothing else. It seemed strange to me that some scenes and so many pieces to show the audience where they were while others lacked really anything. I also found some tiny things in the set to be unfinished. Many times doors simply would not stay shut and opened during the middle of a scene. Another thing that I continuously would zone in on was the fact that the door in the salon was an empty door frame. There was no screen in the door, glass or even some plastic or plexiglass. I often saw actors stick their hand through it while they opened or closed the door and that really takes you out of the show and the world that the actors have created.

Overall it was an enjoyable performance. The music, book and characters are funny and charming and I look forward to seeing their next performance as the Twin Cities Community Theatre will be producing "Heathers: The Musical" February 2-12, 2017.

Twin Cities Community Theatre Website: Link
Twin Cities Community Theatre Facebook: Link
** Twin Cities Community Theatre uses Paypal if you wish to purchase tickets ahead of time.


Friday, March 27, 2015

The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible




The Illusionists was by far one of the most engaging shows I've seen in a really long time. I can't count how many times I was on the edge of my seat during this show. I have always been a fan of magic tricks however the entire time I was at this show, I was convinced none of these acts were tricks. The tag line for The Illusionists is "witness the impossible" and that is exactly what I saw. The show was not only spectacular features in magic however entertaining in many ways including humor and theatricality. Coming from a theatre background I loved this aspect.

The amount of sheer talent between these seven illusionists was unreal. I was stunned the entire time. However there was one illusionist that had my attention the entire time and that was Dan Sperry. His role within the show was the "Anti-Conjuror" and he was amazing. His eccentric personality, wit and humor mixed with his magic was what kept me begging for more. I would pay money to watch a show entirely made up of him, just him. His abilities can be seen on youtube and I highly recommend you search it. He conjured birds (and a cockatoo named Spike). I think I held my breath the entire time...however not as long as Andrew Basso, the italian escapologist who kept the entire audience motionless. 


Andrew Basso's part of the show was much more than a magical illusion...because it was pure talent. He is known as the Escapologist. His act mimics that of his hero, Harry Houdini. Andrew Basso was locked in handcuffs and submerged (see picture on left) in a tank of water, UPSIDE DOWN! The time varies, however during the show I saw he managed to unlock himself from the handcuffs, get his feet loose and get out of the tank in under four minutes. This was an interesting part about this section of the show. It wasn't an illusion. It was completely real and absolutely amazing.

If you get a chance to see this show, I highly recommend it. It was great for many ages (most of the adult humor is too witty for children to understand). If you don't get the chance, check out their website or look them up on youtube.

Ordway Center for Performing Arts
345 Washington Street
Saint Paul, MN 55102

Ticket Office: 651.224.4222
Groups: 651.282.3111
ordway.org

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