Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Abominables at Children's Theatre Company

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!

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