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.

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

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.
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: https://www.facebook.com/collide.theatrical/
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!
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!

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.

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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 o...
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! http://bit.ly/2fTgmbW
For more information about the show, visit their site. http://bit.ly/2yQYsSX

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.

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. 

The Children's Theatre Company was named #1 Children's Theatre in the nation by TIME magazine. It produces, year after year, some of the highest quality of production for young audiences, in the state and country. Their commitment to inclusion and diversity, educational programs, educating through performance and, for this production particularly, new play development, makes them one of the most ambitious and successful theatres in the Twin Cities. For goodness sake, they are the only theatre for young people to win a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre!

This fall, CTC opens with Minnesota's very first hockey musical, The Abominables. The musical is produced in association with New York City theatre company, The Civilians. It's written and directed by Steve Cosson with choreography by Joe Chvala. The music and lyrics were written by the late Obie winner Michael Friedman, who tragically passed away a few days before its opening. You can read CTC's statement about his passing here.

Photo by Dan Norman
The Abominables musical takes place in Prairie Lakes, Minnesota and is centered around multiple families who are all somehow involved with youth hockey. A new family moves in town who has a young boy, Harry (played by Ryan Colbert), as well...however, he isn't like the others. He is a yeti (not abominable snowman, a yeti as they say). He is tall, strong, roars and is an amazing hockey player. He even has white fur! When Harry makes the "A-team" and Mitch gets booted onto the "B-team" it feels like his whole life is falling apart. Ahh, teenage angst, don't we all remember it too well? However, he has a plan to get back on the "A-team."

The Abominables features an all-star cast from the youngest all the way to the oldest local talent of the Twin Cities. Each cast member perfectly encompasses the culture around a Midwestern family that is completely intertwined with the craziness that is youth sports. Let's start with my favorite, all the mothers. Let me also preface by saying that I never played hockey, however, I did grow up in Andover, Minnesota so I've met a few hockey moms in my day. These women did their research because they perfectly capture the spirit, love and...we'll say strong commitment to their children's teams...was extremely spot on.

Photo by Dan Norman
Autumn Ness plays Mitch's mother, Ellen. Her slight hint of a Minnesota accent, without going full Fargo, was brilliant. Her body language and comedic timing was superb. Elise Benson plays Judy, Harry's mother. Her portrayal of Judy's naive-ness to the basics and culture of youth hockey is like a glimpse into my future if my children decide to play some sort of sport. Stephanie Bertumen manages to portray multiple roles to round out the rest of the different types of hockey moms. Put these three together on stage and they blow the ceiling off. Even if you're a parent and not a sport parent there are still a lot of relate able aspects of the musical. For example, in one scene the parents are freaking out and constantly refreshing the online page where the teams will be posted. While I didn’t play hockey, my mother later admitted to me that she had flash backs of when I would hang around the drama department call board waiting for the cast list to go up. Same anxious feeling just different activity!

Photo by Dan Norman
Let's also talk about the amazing set designed by Andrew Boyce. The entire floor set was extremely lifelike of a hockey rink. The floor literally looked like ice as the actors skated across it. When you look above there is a gorgeous wood finish that gives it a real "up north" feel, which gives it a nostalgic feel for the Minnesotans in the house. Can I let you in on a little secret though? After attending a behind the scenes event of the production a few weeks ago with some other influencers, I was informed that it's not even wood finish! It's Styrofoam with an amazing paint job! While the set included large moving pieces and plenty of flats to transform the rink, including bleachers on the back and sides for parents to sit, they all moved very smoothly. Never once was I feeling that awkward feel that theatre-goers are all too familiar with when we think "Are they done changing the scene? We've been sitting in this black out for awhile." Kudos!

As I mentioned before the actors who played hockey players were literally on roller blades! This was an ambitious move on CTC's part and it paid off. It really elevated the entire performance as actors flew in and off the stage in full hockey gear, chasing an imaginary puck. During our behind the scenes tour a few weeks ago, I learned that only two of the actors knew how to skate and the rest had to learn while in rehearsals! That's pretty impressive for how fast and skilled they were.

Photo by Dan Norman
Another notable feature of this musical were the songs. They were brilliantly written and sung by the cast. The beginning of the musical even features a song about being Minnesota nice with a perky and staccato feel. It had the entire audience laughing because…well it was true! Even if we are sometimes extremely passive-aggressive, we are ultimately very “Minnesota nice.” I am anxiously waiting for CTC to release a recording of this musical! Hopefully they will in the future!

The Abominables is an extremely fun musical for audiences of all ages and interests. I’m not even a hockey fan and I loved it! The cast is an all-star cast and features some very notable and recognizable faces from the Twin Cities Theatre scene.The set is absolutely beautiful and works in every scene. The production has multiple messages for audiences as well including never giving up, trying your best and being yourself. The Abominables runs through October 15 at CTC. Be sure to get your tickets or enter my contest (info below) to win two free tickets to any performance! You can also get tickets here.

Comment on the blog post or Facebook post about who you’d take to see The Abominables, and why, if you won the two tickets! Contest entry ends Friday, Sept. 22 at 12 p.m. (CST) and the winner will be decided via random draw. If you have any questions, please email me at BrettDBurger@gmail.com.
Good luck!

When I heard the Ordway was producing their own production of "In the Heights" I was pretty excited. It was a musical I knew maybe a song or two but that was pretty much it. I knew it was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote Hamilton, but I hope you already knew that) and it was rooted in Hispanic stylized music. Other than that, I really didn't know too much about it so I was thrilled to be able to attend.

Even after seeing the show, I still can't quite describe what it was about. Was it a love story? Yes, there was a bit of love. Was it a story about struggling artists? Yeah, it was. Was it simply just about the lives of a group of relatable people who live in Washington Heights? Yes, that's exactly what it was and that is ok. For someone who sees a lot of theatre, sometimes a big huge overcomplicated plot with a hero, villain and a typical story of a boy getting a girl to fall in love with him gets very overdone and very boring...very quickly. That is why I felt very drawn to these characters. They were relatable. Each had their struggle that many of us feel day to day. Whether you're someone struggling in college, trying to find money to pay rent, or just living life and don't know how to overcome typical struggles, everyone can relate to at least one character.

Debra Cardona as Abuela Claudia and
Justin Gregory Lopez as Usnavi
The show opens with the title song "In the Heights" and we are introduced to the entire company. Usnavi, played by Justin Gregory Lopez, narrates the show. He owns a small bodega that many of the characters visit daily which how is how we are introduced to the close-knit neighborhood within the almost 7 and a half minute long song. As the lights turn on and the sun rises on the day we see the full lit set, designed by Anna Louizos. It is extremely charming and has a homey feel to it, almost like Sesame Street. Also, I would have loved to have walked up on set just to admire the sheer amount of detail from Usnavi's bodega to Daniela and Carla's salon.

Emily Madigan as Carla, Lauren Villegas as Daniela,
Aline Mayagoitia as Nina and Val Nuccio as Vanessa 
Speaking of Daniela (played by Lauren Villegas) and Carla (played by Emily Madigan), easily my favorite element of the production. Daniela and Carla work in the salon that Vanessa (played by Val Nuccio) also works in. These two ladies were one of the best dynamic duo's I've seen in a while. Talk about comedic timing because these two ladies had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands the entire night. Their song "No Me Diga," involves the girls talking about how they know pretty much everything that happens in the neighborhood, was my absolute favorite in the entire show.

The voices were unique with each soloist having their own strength. Abuela Claudia (played by Debra Cardona) had a passion in her voice that was like none other. Vanessa had an unbelievable amount of power behind it. Nina often held long gentle notes for multiple measures. While sustaining these note (hello breath support!) her voice was so pure.

Lauren Villegas as Daniela and the cast
While soloists were pretty impressive, I felt some acting was a little static. I appreciated Nina's version of "Breath" due to the high notes she hit, however, I felt it could have gone further. The sheer emotion in that song could have been heightened even more than what she was giving the audience. That is really my only critique.

One of my favorite things, next to "No Me Diga," (yes I loved it that much!), was the choreography. After seeing the Ordway's production of West Side Story, I knew we were in for a treat with In the Heights. Choreographer James A. Rocco is completely in his element and knows exactly what he is doing in the group numbers. Each group number was beautifully constructed and superbly executed by the performers. I had so much fun just watching them, I can't imagine how fun it is dancing it.

In the Heights is the must-see season opener across the entire Twin Cities. The music will have you dancing in your seat and the dancing will make you want to get up and join the performers on stage. It is a stellar production about family, friends, never giving up and never being afraid.

In the Heights has a limited run through Sept. 24. Tickets can be bought here.
*All photos provided by the Ordway and are by Rich Ryan.

Are you a fan of country music? Do you like musicals based on real events? What about a show led by two women? Well, have I got the show for you! Lyric Arts, in Anoka Minnesota, opened their 2017-2018 season with a remount of their 2016-2017 sold out production of Always...Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley. That's right! It was so good and there was such a high demand for it during its original run that they brought it back for round two!

Always...Patsy Cline about the life and friendship between Louise Seger (played by Lyric Arts and personal favorite Kate Beahen) the famed country singer Patsy Cline (played by last years superstar Gracie Anderson). This simply charming and beautiful story is told through the eyes of Louise Seger and her unlikely friendship with Patsy. The show itself is told in a very interesting format. Louise often breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience while Patsy performs directly to the audience as if you are the audience of the infamous Grand Ole Opry. It's an interesting model and makes for a fun and unique experience, plus it's a jukebox musical so many people recognize a good amount of the songs.

Kate Beahen as Louise Seeger
The talent of these two actresses is simply divine. Beahen, who I've had the pleasure of seeing perform in multiple productions, is perfect in this role. The character she plays invites us into her life and memories of experiencing and meeting Patsy Cline. Beahen commands the stage with off the cusp conversations with audience members and hilarious imitations of other characters within the show. Beahen can make the entire theatre roar with laughter with nothing but a look, and that's one of my favorite things about her acting. She is one actress that I would go to see in a show any show.

Gracie Anderson, who plays Patsy Cline, is so good it's scary. The musical features 24 songs including "Honkey Tonk Merry Go Round," "I Fall to Pieces," "Back in Babys Arms," "Crazy," and one of my personal favorite "Walkin' After Midnight." Her distinct voice is nostalgic of the real life country singer before her untimely death. Anderson's voice hits those smooth and rich tones that Patsy did with the same emotional pull. Patsy Cline had a contralto voice, the lowest of the female voices and Anderson nails it. While her singing is strong, her acting is another thing that perfectly wraps this show up in a beautiful bow. She embodied Patsy and also made us feel like she was an old friend.

Gracie Anderson as Patsy Cline
Another notable mention is the use of a live band that is incorporated into the show, which I absolutely love. They sit on a raised stage through out the entire show and even are incorporated in a few scenes. The Bodacious Bobcats Band are made up of all characters with the variation of the name "Bob" including Joe Bob (Louis Berg-Arnold), Billy Bob (Herb Reinke), Jay Bob (Daniel Anderson), Jim Bob (Steve Schmidt), Bobby Sue (Samantha Kuhn Staneart; who also designed the costumes), and of course...Bob Bob (Drew Berg).

This show has a particular fondness to me because of my dad. My dad is a huge Patsy Cline fan (and yes he saw it last year and again this year...and he might see it again.) and I remember him humming her hits through out the house all the time. Becuase of him, I grew up listening to the country legend. This musical was nostalgic for me, personally, not because I'm old enough to have listened to Patsy while she was on the radio, but because it reminds me of my dad. (Disclaimer: My dad is still alive.)

Always...Patsy Cline is a fantastic, heartwarming production about two strong women and their beautiful friendship. Whether you're a long time fan or new to Patsy Cline's music, I guarantee you'll love this show. It has a little something for everyone and the two stars are a force on stage together.

Always...Patsy Cline plays at Lyric Arts through October 1. Tickets can be bought here. This show most likely will sell out, so get your tickets quickly!
Recently I moved from the north suburbs to the Twin Cities because I work in Bloomington. Since moving I've been seeing a lot more theatre and I recently saw my first production at Artistry. I had always heard that Artistry performed some high-quality theatre so I was excited to experience it for myself. I sadly failed to see Little Shop of Horrors at Artistry so I was determined to see Joseph.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a very well known musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical, mostly sung-through, is based on the "coat of many colors" story of Joseph from the Bible's Book of Genesis. Joseph is one of 12 brothers and sons to Jacob. After receiving a coat of many colors from his father, the rest of the brothers become jealous of Joseph and he is sold into slavery by them. However, through his story, he goes through a story of rags to riches as he rises to become the Egyptian Pharaoh's royal vizier. The story is also about "overcoming odds and fulfilling one's destiny." *Disclaimer for anyone who hasn't seen this production, it is not a super "churchy/religious" vibe to it, so don't let that stop you from seeing it.

Brandon Jackson as the Pharaoh and the Company
Photo Credit: Devon Cox/Artistry
The set was a fairly basic set and the staging did not include too many props with the exception of a few chairs for some dance numbers. There were about 3 panels on each side of the stage with hieroglyphics on each panel. The panels were white so that the lights that shined on them could easily illuminate the entire panel with a variety of colors, similar to Joseph's coat. The center included a long staircase that went up stage. The costumes were not the traditional costumes you'd see at a production of Joseph. They were a mixture of browns, greys, blacks with an almost grunge/post-apocalyptic vibe to it. I was not a huge fan of the costumes that the company were wearing. At times they felt inconsistent however I do appreciate the risk they took in not designing the traditional Joseph style costumes.

The cast in this production is unreal. The ensemble, known as "the Company," is strong in both acting and singing. There are also a lot of notable members of the company who play other characters including Brandon A. Jackson who plays the Pharoah. He had me rolling with laughter and also roaring with applause and his ridiculously high vocals. The entire company owns the stage with their non stop dancing. Michael Matthew Ferrell does a fantastic job of using a variety of levels on the stage mixed with his choreography.

Jennifer Grimm and John Jamison (Narrator and Joseph)
Photo credit: Devon Cox/Artistry
When it came to the leads let's start with Jennifer Grimm, the Narrator. She was absolutely stunning. I was amazed at the unbelievable amount of control she had in her singing. I could have listened to her riff, sing and belt all night. Hey Jennifer! When is your album coming out? Cause I'm first in line for pre-ordering it. John Jamison was Joseph and let me just say...wow. His rendition of "Close Every Door" was hauntingly beautiful. The way it was like no other version I've seen. His falsetto gave me goosebumps because it was so beautiful. Plus huge perks to Artistry for casting an African American actor to play Joseph. Jamison is the type of actor that I would go to a show just to see him if he's performing in it. He commands the stage with his presence and commitment to his character through the entire show.

I'm not the biggest fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber or the show Joseph however this production specifically made me a fan. The casting is spot on and it is not the normal Joseph that people are used to. This production runs through August 27th and tickets can be bought here.