Thursday, April 27, 2017

Prometheus Bound at Uprising Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Side Show at The Chameleon Theatre Circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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