Saturday, December 30, 2017

Blithe Spirit at the Guthrie Theater

A night at the Guthrie? Always a treat. A performance with Sally Wingert? An even more delicious treat. Noel Coward's classic, Blithe Spirit is currently playing at the Guthrie for the next few weeks and I highly suggest you see it. It's one of the most entertaining and comedic shows I've seen in 2017 and I'm so happy it was the last one I saw of the year.

Blithe Spirit takes place in the summertime and Charles Condomine is working on his latest novel. As part of his research he and his wife Ruth host a seance with an eccentric medium known as Madame Arcati. Soon the evening takes a supernatural turn when Arcati conjures Charles' deceased first wife who doesn't have plans on leaving. Throughout the rest of the show, Charles slowly believes he's losing his sanity as he tries to get read of his first wife while also ensuring Ruth he is actually sane.

Starting with the absolutely gorgeous and stunning visual elements of this production. Starting with the scenic designer, Jo Winiarski this set is amazing. The colors are beautiful and the dressing in details in simply superb. While the show is considered a comedy, with the elements of the afterlife you'd think maybe the set would be a bit darker but it's full of bright whites, blues, and grays. Meg Neville designs absolutely breathtaking costumes as well including Madame Arcati's fabulous seance garb.

The cast is a dynamite cast and all new to me (with the exception of Sally). As many Twin Cities Theatre goers know, Wingert is an absolute treasure and it really is a treat to see her in anything but this one takes the cake. She is zany and wild as she acts out the incredibly hilarious Madame Arcati. The best part of this performance by Wingert is she never goes too over the top. I can easily see many actresses taking this role too far but she is completely in her element and never goes too far to the point where it's not believable anymore. Her characterization as the misunderstood psychic is spot on.

Heidi Armbruster plays Ruth and is probably my favorite thing about this entire production. Her transformation from doting, kind, gentle and controlled wife to wild, yelling and slightly chaotic wife is hilarious. She never rushes comedic moments or the transformation as she slowly realizes her husband is telling the truth and he does, in fact, see the ghost of his dead first wife. Her chemistry with Quinn Mattfeld (who plays Charles) is marvelous and I'm thrilled to hopefully see her in a multitude of productions in the future.

At times the pacing felt a little slow. Whether it's a long show or the pacing is anyone's guess. This show is about 2 and half hours long with a normal intermission and a quick "stand and stretch" intermission. Personally, I'd rather they just keep going but that's just me.

Overall though this production is a must-see for the new year. It's entertaining, dynamic and hilarious for all ages. There really isn't much more to say about this production because I could really ramble for hours about it. The cast knows exactly what they are doing to ensure the audience is enjoying every bit, every second.

Blithe Spirit plays at the Guthrie McGuire Proscenium Stage through January 14th. You can get tickets here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Phantom of the Opera at Hennepin Theatre Trust

One of Broadway's longest-running and highest-grossing musicals (approximately over $1 billion) is back in Minneapolis and bigger than ever. That's right, Andrew Lloyd Webbers stunning masterpiece has returned and I honestly can't even handle how amazing it is. I saw the last tour and I was blown away from the back row in the balcony. This time I was even closer (sixth row) and was once again amazed by the sheer genius of this production. I think a lot of people underrate The Phantom of the Opera. It's a musical that a lot of theatre fans think "Yes. Phantom. It's a great show." But really when I see it or listen to it I can't help but geek out about it. The score is beautiful. The lyrics are stunning and (when done right) the set is superbly superior than many other musicals.

This production is a thrilling new production with newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design. It includes a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions currently on tour. For those who aren't familiar with the production, it is originally based off of the classic novel Le Fantome de L'Opera by Gaston Leroux. Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House. He falls madly and deeply in love with ballet dancer in the chorus and is also a young soprano, Christine. He devotes much of his time to nurturing her talents and teaching her how to be an incredible singer. However when a new creative duo purchase the Opera house and an old friend of Christine arrives, how far will the Phantom go to keep control?

Derrick Davis plays the Phantom and is stunning, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping--need I go on? He plays the Phantom with the perfect balance of romance and creepy stalker. At times you see his love for Christine and it feels genuine and other times you realize how much of a tortured soul he is. Davis is also the first African-American I've seen in the role and it's refreshing (similar to the Ordway's choice to cast Warbucks as an African-American male) to see. Davis has one of the most versatile voices I've heard in many years. He truly can sink to a rich deep tone while soaring above to new notes in a beautiful falsetto. 

Eva Tavares places Christine Daae and does so beautifully. Her acting is innocent until the end where she becomes even braver than she started. The most impressive thing by far is her soprano voice. I think a reason why I love this production so much is it lets actresses of a different caliber shine. It's not about how long and loudly they can belt and riff. It's just a nice change of pace between most of the type of musicals I see. She has absolute control of her voice with each note and phrase and it's absolutely breathtaking. What is better than these two separate? Well, when they are together, of course. The minute we hear that oh familiar organ playing the title song I can't but help to smile. 

Every single member of this cast is on fire including the ensemble. My absolute favorite song from this musical is Masquerade and this cast did not disappoint. It's a blur of fabulous costumes, beautiful set pieces, and fantastic harmonies. This song really shows off the whole cast very well especially leading into the Phantom's menacing entrance. 

Because of this show's rich and deep history, there are quite a large amount of fun facts that Hennepin Theatre Trust shared with us. They really make the show even more interesting to watch knowing these so I thought I'd also share them with you all:
  • This show incorporates most of the Maria Bjornson designs from the original production
  • There are a few pieces from the original production that are over 245 years old used in this production.
  • There are over 1200 pieces used during the show
  • There are over 75 local stagehands hired in ever market to load the production into the theatre
  • 20 trucks are used to move the production from city to city
  • The original cast recording, with over 40 million copies sold worldwide, is the best selling cast recording of all time
  • The show has won more than 70 major theater awards including seven 1988 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
  • The chandelier has over 6000 beads (632 on each strand) and it weighs 1 ton.

The Phantom of the Opera is a magically breathtaking production and should be seen by anyone who considers themselves a sliver of a theatre fan. Luckily this production runs a bit longer than a large majority of Broadway Across America productions with a three-week engagement. It runs through December 31st. More information, including how to buy tickets, can be found here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Annie at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

A classic and theatre favorite has recently opened at the Ordway and it stars a red-haired girl. That's right, Annie is here and performing through the end of the month. Now many of you who are reading this will ask "But hate Annie." It's true. Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Annie. I never have been BUT that doesn't mean this production wasn't good. It was great and the talent is beyond amazing. Annie is such an iconic musical because of it's countless of revivals through the stage and film. There are so many people who feel passionately about this show because it was one they were in when they were little, they remember playing the VHS over and over again or they remember belting the greatest hits from their shower. Annie originally opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for nearly six years. Since then it has had numerous national tours, revivals on Broadway (most recently in 2012 with Lilla Crawford starring as Annie and Jane Lynch as a replacement for Katie Finneran as Miss Hannigan), and countless of movie versions. That being said, the Ordway's production certainly can hold a flame to the candle of all the other versions.

Annie is the story of an orphan named, you guessed it, Annie who lives in a facility in New York City with other orphan girls. The facility is run by the villainous Miss Hannigan who treats the girls like unpaid maids versus orphans. Annie believes her parents left her there by mistake and are going to come back for her someday. In the meantime, one of the richest mans alive named Oliver Warbucks decides to let an orphan live at his home for the holiday season and chooses Annie. However, Annie still believes her parents will come back for her. After developing a strong bond with Annie, Warbucks begins searching for her parents with a large reward which brings out many frauds.
The best thing about this production is there are no weak links in the cast. The entire cast is on fire from the beginning all the way to curtain call. Oliver Warbucks, played by Lance Roberts, is a different type of Warbucks than we are used to. Granted it's been awhile since I've seen the show or movie but I remember him being more frightening with a booming voice. Roberts takes a different approach to Warbucks while making him more energetic and cheerful with a zest for life. Also perks to the Ordway for breaking the mold and casting an African American male to play Warbucks. Grace Farrell, Warbucks right-hand woman, is played by Ann Michels and brilliantly I might add. Her voice, both singing, and speaking, soar with an effortless air to it. Cat Brindisi and Britton Smith play Lily and Rooster, the brother to Miss. Hannigan. They are a comedic duo and their over the top shenanigans and dialogue keep the scene's light-hearted even at dark times through the show.

Annie is played by Carly Gendell who clearly has done her homework when it comes to vocal tone. She may be little but her voice is loud and echos throughout the large theater space. She is not only a fantastic singer but also an amazing actress as she perfectly captures the innocence of a young girl but also the wit and smarts that Annie has. She's fiercely strong and was forced to grow up at a young age and Gendell hits her mark perfectly. She is the perfect amount of maturity yet playfulness for the role.

While everyone was great, there was one that shined above the rest for me. As I said before, I am not a fan of the actual show, Annie but I am a huge fan of Miss Hannigan. I think the role is hilarious and I'd die to play it. Miss Hannigan is played by Michele Ragusa and she is very far the most entertaining part of this production. She's everything I think that makes a fantastic Miss Hannigan. She's the perfect amount of campiness that the role demands and her version of Little Girls was Carol Burnett level (who played Hannigan in one of the movies). Ragusa has a fantastic voice as well. She manages to sing wonderfully throughout the entire show while still adding a bit of Hannigan into her voice.

Other highlights of this production include:

  • The set is one of the few things I wasn't entirely enthused about. The props enhanced each scene but the backdrops for scenes like Warbucks house took me out of the production. I will say towards the end of the show there was one scene in his house that included a giant spiral staircase. It was beautiful and I wanted nothing more than to gracefully glide down it.
  • Hard Knock Life is the best-choreographed number in the entire show (by Lewis E. Whitlock III). It's sharp and precise and the ensemble in this number are all children actors. They do the choreography as if they've been doing it for years. Spot on.
  • Before the second act starts, a brief video plays about the importance of family and adoption. As one of the main themes of the show, I loved that the Ordway took a show and partnered it with a cause. There is one thing I love more than good theatre and that's theatre for a cause!

Annie is beautifully performed and nostalgic to many people with plenty of songs. It runs through December 31st and tickets can be purchased here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings at Lyric Arts

The lovely thing about living in the Twin Cities is not only seeing a ton of theatre, but also seeing the abundance of holiday-themed shows that open. A few weeks ago I saw my first one of the year which was How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Children's Theater and now I've seen my second. I absolutely love the holidays so I'm thrilled I was able to see another one joyful holiday production at Lyric Arts in Anoka, Minnesota. Lyric Arts is not only doing one but TWO-holiday shows. Lyric Arts is producing Coney Island Christmas (which runs through December 17) and also Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, which is the one I saw.

This was a very interesting show. Let me preface by saying it was delightful but unlike many shows I'm used to, especially musicals. The musical's plot is easy enough to understand. Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky are sent back to Earth from heaven on a secret mission. Through out the first act they don't know what their mission is as they get heavenly clues from up above. The sing various hits however clues from above let them know they aren't on the right track. They finally realize that they were sent to fulfill the needs of a holiday season by putting on a holiday show. I mention this a lot, but it's nice to see a show that doesn't involve thinking. The plot is simple and cute but the talent is huge and marvelous.

The cast is a quartet of men, all with their own special talents and shining moments. Starting with Christopher Vance, as Jinx. Christopher, a graduate of Viterbo University, I've seen perform before ironically enough. His performance as Abraham in Altar Boyz was great and it wasn't until after the show that I realized I had seen him before. His characterization as a nervous stage fright filled and shy performer was perfection and had the audience giving plenty of "Awww" through out the show. Especially when he broke through his stage fright and sang the lead in "Besame Mucho/Kiss of Fire."

Jake Speikers as Sparky
Next is Jake Speikers who played Sparky. Speikers is another actor I've seen perform before in a production of The Little Mermaid as Sebastian. He was peppy and a joy to watch on stage in that production and he didn't disappoint this time. Speikers is completely in his element during this production with his aggressively dynamic portrayal of Sparky. His funny one liners and sides to the audience often had me fanning myself with my program cause I was laughing so hard. Although what really impressed me the most was his voice. They all had fantastic voices and each had something different about them. Speikers has the type of musical theatre voice that fills a room, hits the back row and cuts through the audience. It's strong and lively through out the entire production, never dropping.

Armando Harlow Ronconi as Smudge
Armando Harlow Ronconi plays the worrier, Smudge, wonderfully. The character of Smudge is always worrying about the props, the show and what is going to come next. Harlow knows exactly what he is doing through this show and portrays this character with a perfect ten. Harlow is strong in all three areas of performing. His dancing is great and still stays in check with his character. I've seen Harlow perform in Lyric Arts previous summer production Anything Goes and he brings his tap abilities to this production. Now being the only character that taps, you'd think it'd be a short and fun dance but that is not the case. Harlow comes out with a powerful and advanced technique filled routine. It was one of the handful of moments that made me want to stand up mid-show and look at everyone in the audience to say "THAT IS NOT EASY! BRAVO!" Harlow is solo stage during one of the most beautiful moments of the show and it happens pretty early on. He recalls back when the Plaids were little that they had a dream to have their own holiday special. While he performs the monologue, he shows a tiny set of what their holiday special set would look like. Harlow shines through this moment and tenderly sings a stripped down version of "The Most Wonderful Time / Merry Christmas."

Maxwell Emmett Ward as Francis
Last, but certainly not least by a long shot, is Maxwell Emmett Ward who plays the leader of the Plaids, Francis. Francis is the caretaker of the group and by far the most confident in his abilities and Ward does this wonderfully. He is by far the most compassionate about the music and the group. Ward has an amazing voice and ability to make the audience laugh. Next to Sparky, he is by far the funniest of the group. Francis has asthma and Ward relishes in the scenes where he gets to play this bit up. During his solo scene, he monologues about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and how it's a horrible story about bullying. This was by far the funniest scene in the entire production and Ward plays is perfectly without going too over the top. His often high pitched rants had the entire audience roaring with laughter. Ward is exceptionally outstanding in this role and was born to play it.

As a quartet these men are fabulous. They really know how to share the stage with each other and let everyone have their moment. While one is shining, the others provide support without taking the spot light through beautifully sung harmonies and complimenting choreography. They have gorgeous voices, charming personalities and amazing on stage chemistry. Their voices are led by the onstage "band." Bradley Beahen plays piano (and was also the musical director) and plays next to Shannon Van Der Reck on an electric bass. Yes. That's right. An electric bass. Pretty bad (b)ass if you ask me. They even have a few bits through out the production that are pretty funny.

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings is a delightfully charming and talent filled production. Lyric Arts picked a winner this season and casts it perfectly for the holidays. The production left me smiling and ready for snow and more Christmas music (as I saw it on Dec. 1). It's a spot on show for the entire family to go see as we enter the holiday season.

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23. Tickets can be bought here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Waitress at Hennepin Theatre Trust

When I first heard that 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles was writing the music and lyrics to a new musical, based off the 2007 film of the same name starring Keri Russell, I knew I had to see it. I often don't spend time following a musical from rumor to workshop to Broadway but this one I did. I was ecstatic to hear that it would be touring and all my expectations were blown out of the water last night. Not only was it a stellar production but it really wasn't just a night out to see a show. It was a complete and full circle experience from the minute I walked into the historic Orpheum .

Waitress made headlines when it first opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April 2016. Not only did Sara Bareilles write the music and lyrics, but it also included an all-female creative team. Direction, writing, choreography, costume design, musical direction - all by women. While it did not win any of the four Tony Awards it was nominated for (Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actress and Featured Actor in a musical) it is still running on Broadway. One thing I get sad about after the Tony Awards is hearing about all the productions that will close after not winning, however, Waitress beat those odds. It is still going strong and included many popular stars in leading roles. Recently Bareilles even played the leading role for a limited engagement.

Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress at a local dinner in a small town. She is known for making countless of pies, fresh, each day for the diner. Her two best friends Becky and Dawn work at the diner with her and are some of her biggest supporters. While Jenna dreams of getting out of her loveless and abusive marriage, she discovers she is pregnant. A pie baking contest with a large prize and the town's new doctor give her a shed of light and may offer her a chance at a fresh start. She slowly starts an affair with the doctor. Soon Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life and finally put herself, and her soon to be child, first.

The book, written by Jessie Nelson, is beautiful. It's empowering, delightfully funny, charming and, honestly, perfect. All the characters are so down to earth and real. Many times we see musicals with out of this world personalities and scenarios that audiences would only see in a musical, however, Waitress gives a fresh new take on what a plot can be. Each character is struggling with their own problems that many audience members can relate to. It really does resonate with audiences and I think that's so important and noteworthy.

Bareilles writes a commanding and captivating score for this story. There is a nice variety of styles of music from quirky fun songs like "When He Sees Me" which is about Dawn feeling anxious and uncomfortable about going out on a date and "The Negative" which takes place in a bathroom with Jenna, Dawn and Becky as they wait for Jenna's pregnancy test. The music also features powerful songs like "She Used To Be Mine" which is sung by Jenna towards the end of the show. The scene in which she performs this easily tops my favorite performances I've ever seen. Yes, that's right. Ever. This leads me into how utterly remarkable Desi Oakley is as Jenna.

Oakley embodies what exactly what Jenna is. She is sarcastic but caring. She struggles but also is strong and courageous. She emotes on stage and commands the entire audience, even the back row, to feel what she is feeling. At times I completely related to her on a personal level. Am I in an abusive relationship and pregnant? No, but the way she connects with the audience you feel exactly what she felt. Her voice is a showstopper. She has the ability to effortlessly change from upbeat songs like "Bad Idea" to powerful ballads like "She Used To Be Mine." The longest and biggest note of the show is at the end of this ballad and for a moment I thought the audience was going to stand mid-show. The applaud certainly was longer than most and well deserved. I had goosebumps through this entire song.

The rest of the cast is completely on their A game as well. I really appreciated the role of Dr. Jim Pomatter, played by Bryan Fenkart. He's the definition of a-dork-able. It's refreshing to see a production where the male love interest isn't the brooding, muscular, strong, handsome man. But instead we get a dorky, bumbling doctor...who is also handsome. Nick Bailey plays Jenna's husband, Earl and is great at making the entire audience hate his guts. Becky, played by Charity Angel Dawson, has amazing comedic timing and plays well off of Oakley and Dawn, played by Lenne Klingaman. A fun fact was that Dawson actually played the hilarious role of Nurse Norma in the original Broadway Cast. A true full circle moment.

Overall, Waitress is a beautiful story. It has a variety of themes including friendship, being courageous, taking a risk and believing in yourself. The music is amazing, catchy and will have you rushing to download it. Each actor sticks out in their own way but when they come together as an ensemble they knock it out of the park. This production is literally wrapped up and baked in a beautiful pie and I highly recommend everyone see it. Opening night was in fact sold out, so be sure to get your tickets as soon as possible!

Waitress runs at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, Nov. 26. Performance times are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Children's Theatre Company

One of my favorite things about the holiday season isn't just the holiday music, the presents, spending time with your friends and family and the holiday cheer. Oh no. It is the plethora of holiday shows that open across theater's in the Twin Cities. Last week I saw my first one of the season and it was How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Children's Theatre Company. This production is for families and people of all ages. Whether you're taking you're a grandparent taking your grandchildren or a mother bringing her whole family, this is a perfect thing to do this holiday season. I'm 24 and I took my sister who is 27 and we both loved it!

For those who don't know, the story of the Grinch has been told in many different ways. It was originally a children's book by Dr. Seuss. Then turned animated movie and again into a real one featuring Jim Carrey. It's the story of a mean old Grinch who wants to keep Christmas from coming to the wonderful town of Whoville. He hatches a plan with his beloved dog, Max, to steal Christmas.

The Grinch is played by Children's Theatre Company member Reed Sigmund and CTC couldn't have found a better actor to portray this iconic character. He is a perfect balance of menacing and hilarious. Sigmund completely embodies the Grinch through his physicality, voice, and interactions with the rest of the cast. He was born to play the Grinch.

What makes this production special is the music as well. While it includes everyone's favorite "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" it also includes original music with lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin. These songs really made this production feel fresh and new. Everyone knows the story of the Grinch, so I was wondering what CTC would do to make this production new to people who've seen this story done many times. The music is what made it different. I absolutely loved it. Sigmund and Young Max (played by Natalie Tran) sang a song about how the Grinch was "One of a Kind" and it was by far my favorite song.

This production is visually stunning. It's everything you'd expect from a production based off of Dr. Seuss. Tom Butsch, the scenic designer for the show, really outdid himself. Everything in this production screams SEUSS. It's colorful, bright, fun and absolutely a joy to watch. This also includes the costumes by David Kay Mickelson. I think the costumes were quite possibly my favorite things, creatively, about this show. The set has a few other tricks and surprises that I don't want to give away but it certainly is spectacular.

Many families share a tradition in which they go to a movie theater and see the newest holiday-themed movies. I want to challenge that tradition. I want to challenge any family that does this and take the chance to see this musical instead. It's nostalgic and refreshingly new all at the same time. This production is perfect for any family who may just be dipping their toes into the theater, and it's appropriate for children of all ages.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is running through January 7, 2018 at the Children's Theatre Company. Tickets can be bought here. All photos are by Kaitlin Randolph

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sister Act at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

Last week I had my first full-blown Chanhassen Dinner Theatre and I think I'm in love. The entire evening was perfect from the minute I walked in the door. Chanhassen is known for their long-running productions, extremely talented casts, and their delicious dinner. I had an amazing time and I'd do it all over in a heart-beat. I'd even pay money to see this fabulous production again! Chanhassen Dinner Theatre is bringing back it's 2015 regional premiere production of Sister Act - A Divine Musical Comedy.

Sister Act is a hilarious musical comedy about Deloris Van Cartier, a wannabe diva whose life takes a surprising and frightful turn when she witnesses a crime. After seeing someone, from her boyfriend's group of thugs, murder someone. After running to the police for help, they hide her away in the last place anyone would expect - convent! Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she also rediscovers her own in a sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship.

Photo Credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp
This production was brought back by popular demand and for good reason. Everything about it is perfectly and expertly done. From the innovative and unique set design to the hilarious acting and to the outstanding vocals. The cast in this production is nearly all of the original cast from their 2015 production. Even Regina Marie Williams returns as the one of a kind Deloris Van Cartier and let me tell you...she's brilliant.

I've never seen Williams in a production before but she certainly won over a new fan that night. I spoke with another blogger who told me that she is pretty Twin Cities famous. Her portrayal of Deloris should be award-winning. She has impeccable comedic timing that would even make Whoopi Goldberg laugh her ass off (the one who originated the role in the movie). Her vocals were nothing short of stunning as well. Anytime she was on stage my mouth was either dropped in pure awe of her or smiling from ear to ear as to how hilarious she is. She is the definition of a powerhouse.

The rest of the cast is energetic and unforgettable. They each have their moments of shining whether it's a quick witty comment or a solo here and there. Sister Mary Robert, played by Britta Ollmann, has a voice that I'm surprised didn't legitimately blow the roof off. Norah Long, who plays Mother Superior, is strict, firm but kind and has a beautiful voice. I can't speak highly enough of this cast as they were one of the best group of singing nuns that I've ever seen.

Photo Credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp
Not only was the performance heavenly but the dinner was sinfully delicious. It really does make the experience unforgettable. Our waiter was superb. He anticipated each and every one of our needs, was just amazing. Both of our dinners were cooked to perfection and I'd drive all the way to Chanhassen just for the tiramisu again as well!

Chanhassen Dinner theatre is not just a theatre. It is not just a stage. It's a destination and an experience. Anyone who loves theatre should treat themselves to a night out and see this production. It's one of the best things I think I've ever seen or at least is easily in my top three favorite productions.

Sister Act runs through February 24, 2018. For reservations, call Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's box office at 952-934-1525 or visit their website here.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dracula at COLLIDE Theatrical

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I don't like to go out of my comfort zone. Whether that's in life, at work or with theater. In this case, I was ready to jump outside of it and see something I wasn't used to seeing or reviewing and it paid off. I saw Dracula at the Ritz Theater. It was performed by COLLIDE, a performing arts company that focuses primarily on dance. According to their website, they are rooted in classical musical theater jazz dance and are inspired by the influence of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse (who doesn't like Bob Fosse!?).

Many of you know the story of Dracula and this story follows the same idea but in modern time. The story takes place in New York City. After Dracula catches a glimpse of Mina Murray, he obsesses over her in hopes to make her fall in love with him. The story is unique because this production was done through song and dance. There were no scenes with dialogue however the music pushed the plot along. The songs were also modern songs that you knew including "Heads Will Roll," "Bad Girls," "Somebody to Love," and "Every Breath You Take" which was by far the highlight of the production.

The set and lighting were pretty spooky upon walking in. It definitely had "Halloween/Warehouse" vibes and I was living for it. A small band consisting of a keyboard, bass, drums, trumpet, and a guitar. The band was lead by the impressively talented Katie Gearly who sang a large majority of the songs. At times, the cast would sing along including a few solos by Michael Hanna, who played Dracula. When he sing "Every Breath You Take" I legitimately had goosebumps. His cover of the iconic song was absolutely amazing. His deep rich tone and longing looks towards his love were one of the best parts of the production.

As an ensemble they were all completely in sync with each other. You can really tell as an ensemble that they worked hard and have bonded. They are completely and always in check with each other even in some of the less choreographed scenes. The variety of styles of dancing kept the production high energy and interesting. It kept my complete and undivided attention through the entire production.

 Overall, COLLIDE offered an unexpected and amazing evening. I absolutely loved taking a risk and seeing a completely new form of performance that I often wouldn't get a chance to see. COLLIDE clearly knows what they are doing and I can't wait to see many more productions from them.

Visit their facebook page at:

Friday, November 3, 2017

Finding Neverland at Hennepin Theater Trust

Peter Pan is the one character who easily has an entire empire of spin offs, prequels, sequels, books, merchandise and plenty of Broadway plays and musicals about him. With all of these things, you'd think people would get sick of the story of Peter Pan, however that is not the case with this. Fairy dust and magic has been discovered in the Orpheum Theater's newest touring production, Finding Neverland.

Finding Neverland is a semi-original musical based off of the the 1998 play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee and then turned movie in the 2004 adaptation Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, The original Broadway production starred Matthew Morrison (Glee) and Kelsey Grammer (Cheers, Frasier) and ran for about 17 months before going on tour in October 2016.

The story itself is a beautiful story not only about Peter Pan but the man who created him, Playwright J.M. Barrie. J.M. is in search for inspiration for his newest play and he is under a tight deadline. While writing in the park one day, he meets four young boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia. Completely enchanted by the boys make-believe adventures, he is inspired to write a new play about a make believe place called Neverland where mermaids exist, people never grow up, and fairies help you fly.
Billy Harrigan Tighe as J.M. Barrie and
John Davidson as Captain Hook

I had absolutely no expectations going into this musical. I'm always blown away by just about anything and everything that is brought to Hennepin Theater however when it came to the story I didn't know how it would hold up. I can confidently say that my expectations were not only blown away, but they were shoved in a cannon on Captain Hooks ship and blown miles away. It was an absolutely charming, surprisingly touching, nostalgic musical.

This musical is victim to one of my least favorite things about touring productions, sadly, and that is the changing soundtrack. One of my favorite things about seeing a touring show is then going and listening to the soundtrack and reliving it while I write. However this musical has a few (minor) changes about the soundtrack from the original Broadway production to the touring cast. I was immediately drawn in to the musical with one of the opening songs "Welcome to London" and was disappointed that it was not in the original recording. However when you look at it, that is almost a compliment in saying that this touring production was better than the original!

The cast of Finding Neverland
The cast is absolutely divine and stands out in their own way. In a production of this magnitude there are usually one or two actors that rise to the top and are the clear stars of the production, even if they aren't the leads. Not the case with this musical. Everyone from the oldest to the youngest are all special and stood out to me. Billy Harrigan Tighe plays the lead J.M. and is magnificent. He had the rare ability of being able to switch his personality on a dime. From playing make believe and being full of a child like energy at times and then turning into a completely charming gentleman for Sylvia. Not to mention his voice made everyone melt in their seat! John Davidson plays Charles Frohman who is the owner of a theater that J.M. writes for. His role was surprisingly humorous at times. He took it to another level when he turned into Captain James Hook. Hook was and funny through out his limited scenes.

Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
Lael Van Keuren plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and made me legitimately cry multiple times through out the production. She is new to the role but performs it as if she has been doing it for years.She was able to do what all actors strive to do and that was to take me on a journey. She made me completely forget I was in a theater on a cold day in Minneapolis but like I was sitting right there with her and going through these experiences. That is one of the highest compliments an actor can receive and she did it wonderfully. Her rendition of "All That Matters" made me want to stand mid show for a standing ovation. The power she had in her voice while also emoting to the song was incredible and it filled the space in a tender and beautiful way.

Finding Neverland is a cleverly written as well. While it is more so about the creation of Peter Pan, there are plenty of little subtle Easter eggs through out the production that often made me smile from ear to ear. If you're a big Peter Pan fan you'll certainly see them. Everything from a thimble being mistaken for a kiss to one little boy running around in a top hat and an umbrella. It's unbelievably nostalgic and made me feel like a kid again, which is one of the biggest themes of the show.

Finding Neverland is a show that is perfect for not only people of all ages but families who are veterans or new to theater. It's full of magic, thrilling adventure, catchy tunes and a beautiful lesson to never take life too seriously. Sometimes it is ok to let loose, let your imagination run wild and have fun especially in this crazy and dark world we live in now. The show is nothing short of magical.

This production is only here for a limited run through Nov. 5 so be sure to get your tickets as soon as possible before they sell out!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Music Man at Artistry

The Music Man is a timeless classic that has been produced by many professional and amateur theater companies, adapted into a television movie and a film. The show's success led to a long-running 2000 revival on Broadway. It was also made into a television adaption, film adaption and countless of professional and amateur theater productions. Basically, it's a favorite among many and a staple in anyone's musical theater CD collection. Artistry Theater in Bloomington, MN has picked this production for their 2017-2018 season and has already had massive success. The production is sold out and it runs from Oct. 14 - Nov. 5.

Michael Gruber as Harold Hill
The Music Man, directed by Angela Timbermann, takes place in River City, Iowa. The fast-talking con-man Harold Hill creates quite a buzz when he comes to town. Swiftly, he convinces the town's parents to pay for a variety of uniforms, instruments and more for the children of River City to start a band. He offers them classes and to direct...however he knows nothing about starting a band. While he plans his departure from the town with his reward, he unexpectedly falls for the town's young librarian. This production has an unforgettable score including Broadway favorites such as Goodnight My Someone, Ya Got Trouble, Marian the Librarian, Shipoopi and my personal favorite Til There Was You.

The thing about this particular production is that it is nothing short of an impressive production value. The cast, dancing, set and lights are all fabulous. The set was minimal but served its purpose. The actors are all talented and dance wonderfully with Michael Gruber's choreographer (who also played Harold Hill). It's energetic at times, silly at others and engaging for the entire audience.

Michael Gruber as Harold Hill and Jennifer Eckes as Marian Paroo
The acting by Harold Hill and Marian Paroo (played by Jennifer Eckes) were the exact leads that Artistry needed to lead this show. Harold was and is the star of the show. The tone of his voice is rich and beautiful even after intense dance breaks. While Harold is suave and charming, Marian parallels with being typically uptight but with a golden voice. She effortlessly hits the highest of notes throughout all her solos.

Artistry is clearly doing something right because, at the time of seeing this production, it was completely sold out. They continuously produce well-known musicals that resonate with their core audience and knock it out of the park. However, this production was not my favorite. The only thing wrong with this production is that it's The Music Man. No matter how talented the cast is I just am not a fan of the actual script. Personally, I think it drags a bit and can suffer from pacing issues and this one did.

As I mentioned before the cast is stellar and that should not take away from the fact that I didn't like the actual show. Artistry is an amazing theater that produces extremely high-quality theater. Even though The Music Man is sold out, be sure to stop by their website because Artistry is producing so amazing pieces later this year and next including The Last Five Years and Follies!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Recently my blog was accepted to become an affiliate Goldstar member. This was a huge step for me because it allows me to share a ton of tickets for theater, dance, opera, comedy and even sometimes concerts at the Xcel Energy center!
Today I have an exciting opportunity to share with you! The Goldstar Comp Train starts today for 48 hours! This promotion offers complimentary tickets to events across the Twin Cities for only a small service fee.

Goldstar highlights events from coast to coast with everything from family-friendly theater to comedy shows to orchestra tickets and more. You can check the reviews for events and locations before you purchase your tickets, which keeps you from wasting your time and money. Their customer service is pretty awesome, too!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Flavio Betrayed -- A Commedia at Lyric Arts

If you're a thespian and haven't seen a commedia dell'arte show, go see one. Go see this one. Just educated yourself in the ways of commedia. I had the pleasure of actually performing in a commedia while studying theatre in college. It's different, physical, hilarious and extremely entertaining. Lyric Arts is making a bold choice by not only producing a commedia but also a new script by Resident Director, Scott Ford.

First a little background about commedia. Commedia is an early form of professional theatre and originated in Italy. There are many things that go into this form of theatre including masks, stock characters and improv. The performances were based off of sketches and scenarios with very little to the actual script. Now in modern times, theatres often use this as a chance to implement modern references and updated jokes from pop culture or politics for audiences to enjoy.

Flavio Betrayed - A Commedia (FB) is filled with disguise, deceit, insults, romance, and friendship, which is the basic formula for most commedia. It involves mistaken identities, misunderstandings and plenty of laughs. This romantic romp tells the story of our hero, Flavio, whose best friend, Oratio, is trying to steal the hand of his beloved Isabella. However while this happens, Isabella's father is attempting to marry her off to another suitor.

Katie Strom-Rozanas as Isabella and Kyler Chase as Flavio
The brilliant thing about watching a commedia is the acting. The acting is everything. Most of the time, as it is encouraged, the sets do not need to be extravagant. When commedia was first discovered in Italy, they often used very quick sets or sheets to depict scenes as they were usually traveling around, performing from city to city. Lyric Art's scenic designer, Peter Lerohl, does this well as he creates three two dimensional type buildings, two houses and an Inn. They are bright and colorful with the doors replaced with curtains, which the actors use often for plenty of bits. The top of the two houses include windows for plenty of other comedic bits. They pay homage to what real commedia is and I respected it greatly.

Since commedia has to do a lot with acting, you need an all star cast who is ready to work hard and willing to try anything. Lyric Arts has done just that with plenty of returning Lyric Arts favorites like Brendan Veerman, Nykeigh Larson, Kyler Chase and Katie Strom-Rozanas (to name a few) along some new ones along with way including one of my new favorite Twin Cities actors, Neal Skoy.

Brendan Veerman as Pantalone
In the spirit of true commedia, I must say that many of these actors were spot on in their portrayals. The entire cast was really on fire the entire performance, never letting energy fall which is extremely important in this stylized type of theatre. Brendan Veerman played the stock character Pantalone (Flaminia's father). The Pantalone is known for his greed and sticking his (usually) large nose in his neighbors business. The Pantalone has a stance that most actors mimic which includes large strides and a hunched back (to protect the money bag that usually is connected to his hip) and Veerman nailed it. His commitment to the part, hilarious physicality of the character and vocal energy had me begging for him to come back onstage every time he left.

Neal Skoy as Pedrolino
Neal Skoy played Isabella's servant Pedrolino was by far the epitome of what commedia should be. Neal has had quite the amount of practice after reading his bio and hearing that he was actually a Professional Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Clown. Translation? This role is perfect and was written for him. While all actors had an impressive amount of energy, his never fell. From the pre-show before the start all the way to the curtain, his jokes and physicality were absolutely superb. Skoy makes this show.

Other notable mentions include two Lyric Arts alum, Katie Strom-Rozanas as Isabella and Nykeigh Larson as Flaminia. Both of their comical over-dramatic interpretation left many in stitches. It's always an absolute pleasure seeing both of these ladies on the stage, but together is even better! I wish they were in more scenes together because these two both command the stage anytime they are on. Maybe Scott Ford should just write another play about these two characters and have Strom and Larson lead it? Can I start the poll for this?
Nykeigh Larson as Flaminia
FB is a hilarious new script that also celebrates Scott Ford's 10 years of theater making at Lyric Arts. I've had the pleasure of working with him before and he is an absolute gem to Lyric Arts and the surrounding theater scene. Lyric Arts recently posted a blog post talking more about his work which you can find here. You can also hear him talk more about the production on their "Director's Take" post found here. I applaud Lyric Arts for successfully producing a hilarious stylized commedia show that not many theatre's in the area would take the chance doing. It was a big risk but obviously payed off.

Flavio Betrayed - A Commedia plays through Sunday, Oct. 29.
For GoldStar discounted tickets, visit this link!
For more information about the show, visit their site.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Nether at Jungle Theatre

For those who don't know, I recently moved to Minneapolis. Since I moved I've been trying to attend not only a ton of productions but also explore and reach out to theatres that I haven't been to. I am delighted to say I was able to attend my first production at the Jungle Theater and second time seeing this play. I saw the intense, crime drama, sci-fi thriller, The Nether by Jennifer Haley. Yes I did just use all those adjectives as well, because it is all of those things...and it was amazing.

Think of an episode of Black Mirror and how mind boggling some of the episodes are. Now imagine seeing all of that unravel in front of you live. At times I felt myself holding my breath, despite already knowing the entire plot as it was my second time seeing it. Without giving anything away, this is a great show that is even better the second time around. Mainly because the writing is that good. It's a show that has a great twist which makes the second time watching it all the better.

The nether is the future (literally). The Nether is similar to an online virtual reality where people can log in, choose an identify and indulge in their every whim. People can create their own worlds that are so realistic, the world must reevaluate what is ethical or not. When Detective Morris uncovers that The Nether has been used for what would be considered illegal activity in the real world, she triggers an intense battle between technology and human desire.

Stephen Yoakam as Sims/Papa and
Mo Perry as Detective Morris
photo credit: Dan Norman
I'll start with my favorite part and that easily is the set designed by Lee Savage. There are two primary locations that the show takes place in. The first is in an interrogation room (shown on the right). With large black walls, two seats and light ropes, it may seem simple. But I was drawn to it. Especially the way they used cameras in real time to show their faces on the stage. While the stage transformed as we logged into The Nether, it completely changed from all black and minimum color to colorful costumes, intricate set pieces and costumes that use more than just black. This was "the hideaway" which is the virtual world that Sims created.

The acting is absolutely superb. It's really hard to tell you why these actors are all so talented because I'm genuinely afraid I'll spoil something from this intricate and amazing plot. However let me start with Mo Petty, who played Detective Morris. She was absolutely divine as she held her ground as she interrogates two of the characters. She manages to hold the audience captive in her interrogation room which is no easy feature when her space was so limited on where she could walk. JuCoby Johnson is remarkable as Woodnut and handles each scene carefully as his character uncovers various plot developments. Ella Freeburg played Iris and is marvelous. At the mere age of 12 she was brilliant in portraying a character who the audience may think knows nothing, but secretly knows everything...I'll leave it there without spoiling something. Honestly the entire cast is amazing and completely in tune with each other.

Stephan Yoakam as Sims/Papa and Jucoby Johnson as Woodnut
photo credit: Dan Norman
This is an important of piece because it really is a play that can spark so many discussions. What was the final scene about? Where and when does technology go too far? Is technology advancing quicker than humans can analyze the pros and cons of it? The play really takes a look at the issues and ethics concerning virtual reality and technology. College students? Pay attention to this show, it'd make an excellent research paper.

Overall, The Nether is a thought provoking piece for this technology filled era. It will have you guessing each twist through out the entire production and will also keep you thinking until days after. I know some of you may be confused or frustrated at how little of the plot I can give away, but that is how much I care about the surprises in this show. I really would hate to ruin it for anyone! You can get your tickets here.

*UPDATE: Twin Cities theater fans are in luck as well because the Jungle Theater has just announced that due to high demand, this production will be extended through October 21.

*NOTE: This show contains strong language and mature sexual content. The production does have themes involving the discussion of pedophilia as well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Disney's Aladdin at the Orpheum Theatre presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust.

It's always a pleasure and treat to see a production at one of Hennepin Theatre Trust's many stages. They bring in some of the most sought-after and must-see musicals every year and this year is no exception. With big well-known musicals like Waitress, The Phantom of the Opera and Chicago, it gets even bigger when not only Disney brings magic to the season but also opens it as well.

Disney's Aladdin is a musical version of the original animated movie. There are minor changes and the Genie ever admits it in the finale song by singing "It's the plot that you knew,/with a small twist or two/But, the changes we made/were slight." It's a story we all know too well about rags to riches and the boy getting the girl. Aladdin (played by Adam Jacobs who originated the role on Broadway) is a "street-rat" who lives by stealing off the streets. His three faithful friends Babkak, Oma, and Kassim (played by Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Mike Longo) are by his side and are the replacements for the animated monkey Abu. Yes in this version there are no animals or puppets but humans who take their place. Aladdin meets and falls in love with Princess Jasmine (played by Isabelle McCalla) however evil is afoot to try to keep them apart.

Let's get one thing straight. This musical is absolutely charming and nostalgic of the original movie. As I mentioned before, it has all of your favorite songs, moments and even lines verbatim from the movie. Fun fact: The movie won the Academy Award for Best Original Score with the hit song "a Whole New World." But I want to focus on the actors, set and changes of this production that sets it apart from the movie. Because that's what it is. It isn't the movie. It's a new group of actors who make the roles their own in an already well-known script. Speaking as an actor, that's a hard thing to do and I think they hit it out of the park. 
Finale of "Friend Like Me"
Photo by Deen van Meer

As always I really like to talk about sets and this one was superb. Shifting from the streets of Agrabah to Jafar's evil lair to the exquisite Cave of Wonders, there was always something to see. Whether it was small details on the street or intricate designs on a scrim, it was amazing to look at. I often found myself looking at the sheer detail in some scenes and completely forgetting to pay attention to what was happening on stage. A number of layers, detail and shine in the set for Cave of Wonders was amazing and mesmerizing all at the same time due to the magic that was happening on stage. 

The special effects of the theatre are one of my favorite things. I love magic and illusions. As a theatre fan sometimes I don't want to know how a production pulls off certain scenes and that was the case with Aladdin. I want to be in the dark and believe it really is, in this case, Disney magic. There were plenty of magical moments throughout the production that had me, a 24-year-old college graduate, saying "HOW DID THEY DO THAT!?" As the Genie moved around the set during the hit song "Friend Like Me" there were constantly sparks going off, disappearing and reappearing acts and plenty of other surprises I won't give away. Even during "A Whole New World," as Aladdin and Jasmine took a ride on the magic flying carpet, many audience members were left scratching their heads on how it was flying in front of their eyes. I even looked at it more closely to see if I could see wires and I saw none...which only leaves one explanation. Disney magic. 

Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) and Jasmine (Isabelle McCalla)
Photo by Deen van Meer
The touring cast of Aladdin is in the production for a reason. There were so many talented actors including Adam Jacobs, who played the title role Aladdin, who brought back so many fond memories of the movie. While he makes the role his own, his voice is so reminiscent of the original it fits nicely even in the new songs that the musical brings including "Proud of Your Boy." Isabelle McCalla plays Jasmine and brings a little bit more spunk and sass to a princess who was already so ahead of her time, and I applaud her for it. At one point she complained to the audience about how it was time for a woman to rule the kingdom, which was met with an enormous applause. Jasmine doesn't let her father push her around when he tries to impose sexist laws against her. She stands up for herself and one of my favorite lines made it in the musical which is when she yells "I am not a prize to be won." I can literally hear Olivia Pope in my head from ABC's Scandal yelling "If you want me, EARN ME." Jafar (played by Jonathan Weir, is creepy in a conventional Disney musical sort of way. I felt he could have gone a little further with his interpretation of the villain. 

Genie (played by Anthony Murphy)
Photo by Deen van Meer
The standout star of this production is easily Genie, played by Anthony Murphy. How can anyone top the wonders that is Robin Williams in this role? I'm not trying to compare the two but the nice thing about Murphy is I never once thought "Williams did it this way and I liked it better." To be honest I didn't even think of Williams voicing the original Genie until after I left the production. Murphy is completely in his element, owns the role by completely making it his own and commands the stage every time he is released from his magic lamp. His performance in "Friend Like Me" had by far the longest applause of the entire night which was nice for him to catch his breath from the almost 8-minute long song!

Aladdin Fun Facts (courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust)
  • There are over 111 moving lights in the show with special pyrotechnic effects, 38 tons of flying scenery and a magic carpet that actually flies (Shhh! It's Disney magic.)
  • It takes 75 people to deliver each performance of Aladdin on tour including the cast, stage crew, musicians, dressers, hairstylists and make-up artist.
  • All of the 337 costumes in teh show are custom made by hand especially for the show and were created by 342 people in 26 different shops. 102 of the costume changes take place in less than one minute!
  • Jasmine's wedding dress weighs 12 pounds because of all the crystal beading. 
Genie leading the ensemble in a group number
Photo by Deen van Meer

Aladdin is a fun night for families and friends of all ages. It is the epitome of Disney and theatre magic. Whether you were a kid when the movie was out or a group of friends who want to be reminded of the golden age of Disney, this is a perfect musical for you. While we all know the story and how it ends up, it's truly a magical experience to sit in the audience and watch this production take place. 

Aladdin is playing now through October 8 at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets can be found here with the option of a VIP package.