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BWW Reviews: Mixed Blood Theatre's HIR is a Challenging and Rewarding Look at Changing Family Dynamics and Gender Roles and Identities Review BWW Reviews: Mixed Blood Theatre's HIR is a Challenging and Rewarding Look at Changing Family Dynamics and Gender Roles and Identities
by Jill Schafer - March 01, 2015

The English language is in need of a gender-neutral pronoun. Firstly to eliminate the awkward 'he or she' and 'his or her,' but also to refer to people who don't identify with either, or in cases where gender really doesn't matter (which is most cases). The title of the new play HIR (pronounced here) is playwright Taylor Mac's suggestion for an alternative to her and him, with ze replacing he and she. But to say that HIR is about transgender and gender issues is to simplify it too much. In fact, it's difficult to put into words just what it's about, but I'll do my best. It's epic and brutal and funny and heart-breaking as it explores ideas of not just gender, but also class, domestic violence, the changing order of things, and the effects of war on soldiers and those left behind. It's one of those plays that will rip you open, lay your emotions bare, and perhaps leave you with a bit of a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. But this beautifully done, perfectly cast production at Mixed Blood Theatre, known for its challenging and rewarding work, is well worth it. (more...)


BWW Reviews: POP UP MUSICAL at the Plymouth Playhouse is a Delightfully Irreverent Ode to the Love of Musical Theater Review BWW Reviews: POP UP MUSICAL at the Plymouth Playhouse is a Delightfully Irreverent Ode to the Love of Musical Theater
by Jill Schafer - February 27, 2015

Musical theater is just the best thing, isn't it? If you agree, head west to the Plymouth Playhouse for the latest incarnation of the delightfully irreverent tribute to the love of all things musical theater, aka POP UP MUSICAL. Four friends, who just happen to be super talented local music-theater artists, created this show for the Fringe Festival a few years ago. It was so successful that they've expanded it and continue to bring it to various venues in the area (including the Jerome Hill Theater, where I saw it in 2013). While belting out showtunes, the cast also shares fun bits of trivia in the VH1 Pop Up Video style, using signs and video projections. It's truly a must see for anyone for whom the great American musical theater cannon holds a special place in their heart (and their iTunes). (more...)


BWW Reviews: PIPPIN is High Flying Fun Review BWW Reviews: PIPPIN is High Flying Fun
by Kristen Hirsch Montag - February 19, 2015

Tony Award-winning PIPPIN is an acrobatic, twisty, flying, leaping, twirling revival that wowed the Orpheum Theatre crowd in Minneapolis and provides thoughtful insight into the thing called life. (more...)


BWW Reviews: The Guthrie Theater's Magical, Mystical, Mischievous MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Is A Midwinter Delight Review BWW Reviews: The Guthrie Theater's Magical, Mystical, Mischievous MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Is A Midwinter Delight
by Jill Schafer - February 17, 2015

Yesterday I sat on the famous thrust stage of the Guthrie Theater and watched a bunch of soldiers, lovers, and fairies dance, sing, fly, converse, love, hate, and generally cavort around in a bare circular space. Or was it all a dream? Such is the Guthrie's latest production of perhaps Shakespeare's best loved romantic comedy, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, that after three hours of spellbinding theater, you're not quite sure if what you saw just happened, or perhaps, as Puck suggests in his epilogue, it was all just a dream. Artistic Director Joe Dowling has returned to an old favorite in his final season at the Guthrie, assembling a gorgeous and talented cast of local favorites with a few national talents thrown in. It's no wonder that he returned to this show; this MIDSUMMER is a dream of a production, with plenty of spectacle in the form of dancing, flying, singing fairies, humor in the form of typical Shakesperean hijinks, and heart in this sweet romance that ends with a neat happily ever after. Everything about it is truly a delight. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Ten Thousand Things' Sparsely Lovely THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN Gets Right to the Heart of the Sweet and Inspiring Story Review BWW Reviews: Ten Thousand Things' Sparsely Lovely THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN Gets Right to the Heart of the Sweet and Inspiring Story
by Jill Schafer - February 16, 2015

No one does musicals like Ten Thousand Things does musicals. And even though it defies everything we know about musical theater, after seeing a TTT musical I think that maybe that's the way musicals should always be done. The music, like everything else about the show, is stripped down to the very basics, extraneous layers removed to reveal the very heart of the matter. A one-man orchestra provides the minimal accompaniment, and the small cast imperceptibly transitions from speaking to singing, so that you can't even tell where songs end and begin, it's just all one seamless story. And above all else, Artistic Director Michelle Hensley and all of the artists at Ten Thousand Things are storytellers. Whether it's Shakespeare or a classic American musical, they share the story in a pure and unadorned way so that all of their audiences, whether prisoners or seasoned theater-goers, can hear it and see themselves in it. One such masterpiece is their latest musical venture, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, a reprise of their very first musical venture 15 years ago. It's lovely, spirited, sweet, funny, moving, heart-warming, and real. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust Collaborate on a Spectacular and Poignant Re-Imagined OLIVER! Review BWW Reviews: Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust Collaborate on a Spectacular and Poignant Re-Imagined OLIVER!
by Jill Schafer - February 11, 2015

Theater Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust have formed a beautiful partnership called 'Broadway Re-Imagined,' in which they combine the resources of the Trust with the creativity and innovation of Latte Da to produce a Broadway-sized musical with all local talent and that special Latte Da twist. After the powerful rock musical Aida and the brilliant Ivey Award-winning Cabaret, they return this year with Oliver!, the 1960 musical based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. But don't let all those adorable moppets dancing around the stage and singing upbeat tunes fool you. Oliver! is not a light and fluffy happy musical, well, not solely anyway. It's also a dark and somber look at such serious issues as child abuse and neglect, the desperation of poverty, and violence. But fortunately, after all the death and darkness, the curtain call ends with a reprise of a happy number, so we can all leave the theater with that happy musical feeling. But perhaps we also leave with a deeper thought about the relevance and seriousness of what we just saw, wrapped up in a gorgeous musical theater package, to ponder further at a later date. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Penumbra Theatre's BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK - A Timely (and Very Funny) Look at Black Actors in Hollywood Review BWW Reviews: Penumbra Theatre's BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK - A Timely (and Very Funny) Look at Black Actors in Hollywood
by Jill Schafer - February 08, 2015

In BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK, now playing at Penumbra Theatre as part of their 'Womansong' season, the title character is a black actress in 1930s Hollywood who gets her big break playing a loyal slave in an antebellum Southern melodrama. She imbues the stereotypical role with as much humanity and depth as possible, and so begins a long and successful career, until she mysteriously disappears from the spotlight. Vera is a controversial figure because on the one hand her characters perpetuate the stereotypes seen in movies, but on the other hand she makes her characters as real as possible and has built a successful career for herself and opened doors for black actors in Hollywood. The play examines these issues in a funny, entertaining, innovative way, jumping across time and using video of Vera's first movie. (more...)


BWW Reviews: The Monthly Cabaret Series MUSICAL MONDAYS Features the Twin Cities' Top Talent in a Fun and Informal Evening of Musical Theater Review BWW Reviews: The Monthly Cabaret Series MUSICAL MONDAYS Features the Twin Cities' Top Talent in a Fun and Informal Evening of Musical Theater
by Jill Schafer - February 04, 2015

Musical theater loving friends, if you're not at Hell's Kitchen on the first Monday of the month, you are missing out. This is when Sheena Jansen and Max Wojtanowicz gather a few of their friends, who just happen to be among the most talented musical theater artists in town, for a little cabaret show. They've been doing it for over two years now, and it just keeps getting better and better. Each month has a theme, and this being February, the theme for this month's show was love. It was a fabulously entertaining night of musical theater, and it also served as a preview for shows to come this spring and summer. Read on for highlights and to find out where you can see the cast on stages around town. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Transatlantic Love Affair Brings Their Trademark Inventive Physical Theater Style to the Exquisitely Lovely THESE OLD SHOES Review BWW Reviews: Transatlantic Love Affair Brings Their Trademark Inventive Physical Theater Style to the Exquisitely Lovely THESE OLD SHOES
by Jill Schafer - January 30, 2015

I'll never forget the first time I saw Transatlantic Love Affair. It was the 'Audience Pick' show at the end of a long and exhausting 2012 Fringe Festival. I was tired and crabby and fringed out, but from the moment the lights went down on ASH LAND, TLA transported me to another world, a world so specifically and beautifully created on a bare stage by a group of performers using nothing but their bodies, voices, and souls to communicate the story. I've seen them a number of times since then, both at the Fringe and as part of Illusion Theater's 'Lights Up' series, and they continue to move me beyond what just 'ordinary' theater is able to do. TLA returned to Illusion Theater last night with a remount of their 2013 Fringe hit THESE OLD SHOES, a touching story of time, memory, regret, second chances, and long lost love rediscovered. In everything they do, TLA is nothing less than exquisite. But disappointingly, the theater last night was not as full as it should have been. My goal in writing this piece is to get as many people as possible to go see THESE OLD SHOES. You cannot call yourself a true Twin Cities theater fan if you've never seen Transatlantic Love Affair, and there's no better place to start than with this achingly lovely show. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Variations on a Theme - Three Musicals, THE COLOR PURPLE, CALVIN BERGER, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, All Speak to Beauty and Self-Worth Review BWW Reviews: Variations on a Theme - Three Musicals, THE COLOR PURPLE, CALVIN BERGER, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, All Speak to Beauty and Self-Worth
by Jill Schafer - January 27, 2015

At first glance, the musicals THE COLOR PURPLE, CALVIN BERGER, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES may not seem to have much in common. The settings couldn't be more different - the rural South in the early 20th century, a modern day high school, and a drag club in 1970s France. But since I happened to see them all on the same weekend, I couldn't help but draw parallels between them. All three musicals all speak to themes of beauty, identity, self-worth, and having the courage to be who you really are, despite what the world is telling you. In THE COLOR PURPLE, a young, poor, black woman is told that she's ugly and worthless, but after a lifelong journey she arrives at a place of strength and self-love. CALVIN BERGER sets the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac in a modern high school, where a young man feels that his large nose prevents him from getting what he wants in life and chooses to hide behind the handsome popular guy, both of whom eventually learn it's better to be loved for who you are. Finally, in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, a middle aged man who feels more comfortable dressed as a woman is asked by his own son to hide who he is, but confidently declares 'I am who I am!' Another thing these three musicals have in common is that they can all currently be seen on Twin Cities stages featuring talented local casts. Read on for more details on each, pick one that suits your fancy, and go see a local musical that just may inspire you to love you you really are! (more...)


BWW Reviews: Loudmouth Collective Closes their Third Season with A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, Another Smart, Intense, Funny, Beautifully Acted and Directed Play Review BWW Reviews: Loudmouth Collective Closes their Third Season with A BRIGHT NEW BOISE, Another Smart, Intense, Funny, Beautifully Acted and Directed Play
by Jill Schafer - January 19, 2015

Loudmouth Collective is closing their third season with another show that is firmly in their wheelhouse of smart, deep, intense, often funny, always thought-provoking, small cast, beautifully directed and acted plays. I've been with them since the beginning, when the surprisingly sweet and touching GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES landed on my favorites list that year. Since then they've done a couple of stellar one-man shows, an absurd comedy, and a Fringe show about talking cats. A BRIGHT NEW BOISE fits in well with that group of plays and helps to further define Loudmouth's point of view, one that's definitely worth paying attention to. It's a beautifully complex play, at times funny, at times utterly devastating, and completely engrossing. I know it's only mid-January, but this is by far the best thing I've seen so far this year. (more...)


BWW Reviews: 2 SUGARS, ROOM FOR CREAM is a Hilarious, Poignant, and Relatable Look at Life, Friendship, and Coffee Review BWW Reviews: 2 SUGARS, ROOM FOR CREAM is a Hilarious, Poignant, and Relatable Look at Life, Friendship, and Coffee
by Jill Schafer - January 12, 2015

Next Sunday, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two of the funniest women in America, will host the Golden Globes. Until then, we have Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool, two of the funniest women in the Twin Cities, presiding over a delightful evening of comedy, friendship, and coffee. Their 2008 Fringe hit 2 SUGARS, ROOM FOR CREAM has gone through many incarnations, won an Ivey Award, and has now landed on Park Square Theatre's new Andy Boss thrust stage. Even though this is the third time I've seen it and many of the scenes and characters are familiar to me, it still makes me laugh until I cry, and marvel at the universality of life experiences, and the thing that binds us all together - coffee. From bad church basement coffee to the gourmet stuff at fancy coffee shops, it's a running theme in many of our lives and helps us get through the day, and the long cold winter. This show is a celebration of that, but more so a celebration of friendship and laughter. (more...)


BWW Reviews: 7th House Theater has Created a Quietly Stunning New Original Musical in JONAH AND THE WHALE Review BWW Reviews: 7th House Theater has Created a Quietly Stunning New Original Musical in JONAH AND THE WHALE
by Jill Schafer - December 23, 2014

Friends, the future of Minnesota theater, and perhaps American theater, is here. It can currently be seen in the Guthrie Theater's 9th floor Dowling Studio, where a group of smart, talented, ambitious, dedicated, hard-working young music-theater artists have created a beautiful new original musical, based on the biblical story of Jonah. It's everything I want theater to be - fresh, innovative, delightful, heart-breaking, inspiring, genuine, and epic. This is 7th House Theater's fourth production in less than two years, and they continue to explore new ideas and push the boundaries of what theater can be. They've proven themselves with three low-budget but high-quality productions, and now have the resources of the Guthrie behind them to expand even further in this production. The result is beautiful and breath-taking. If 7th House is the future of theater, we're in good hands. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Children's Theatre Company's HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is a Silly, Sweet, and Heart-warming Tale of Redemption and Love Review BWW Reviews: Children's Theatre Company's HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is a Silly, Sweet, and Heart-warming Tale of Redemption and Love
by Jill Schafer - December 01, 2014

'Tis the season for stories of sad, lonely, grumpy people who experience a change of heart and learn to love their fellow citizens, whether of London or Whoville. After a double bill of CHRISTMAS CAROLs last week, I saw a similar story this week in Dr. Seuss' classic fable HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. Like Scrooge, the Grinch hates Christmas, people, and dogs. Also like Scrooge, the Grinch learns how wrong he was, not from ghosts but from one sweet open-hearted little girl. Where A CHRISTMAS CAROL is the perfect image of a Victorian Christmas, THE GRINCH takes place in the fantastical rhyming world familiar to anyone who's read Dr. Seuss, or had it read to them, as the case may be with much of Children's Theatre Company's audience. It's a bright and colorful, silly and funny, sweet and heart-warming tale of redemption and love. (more...)


BWW Reviews: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS Review BWW Reviews: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS
by Kristen Hirsch Montag - November 28, 2014

IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS is a tap dancing good time at the theatre. The classic movie-made-into-a-musical has plenty of charms, but it truly shines when Jeremy Benton & Kaitlyn Davidson are dancing. (more...)


BWW Reviews: The Guthrie Theater and Lyric Arts Present Two Different Versions of the Heartwarming A CHRISTMAS CAROL Review BWW Reviews: The Guthrie Theater and Lyric Arts Present Two Different Versions of the Heartwarming A CHRISTMAS CAROL
by Jill Schafer - November 23, 2014

Charles Dickens' novella A CHRISTMAS CAROL has become a staple of holiday traditions. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that this classic story can currently be seen on multiple stages in the Twin Cities. The biggest of these is the Guthrie Theater; this is the 40th year that the Guthrie has produced A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I think it's safe to say this is one of their most popular shows every year, with many families incorporating it into their annual traditions. Lyric Arts is also producing the show on their Main Street Stage in Anoka. I was lucky enough to see these two different interpretations of this classic story on back-to-back nights. And while I do have a clear favorite between the two, it's really unfair to compare them too closely. Both are entertaining and creative interpretations of Charles Dickens' heartwarming story about the rich-in-money poor-in-friends businessman who learns through the visitation of four ghosts that it's better to be kind than rich. (more...)


BWW Reviews: One Final Weekend to See the Salty, Sassy Princesses of the Hilarious Musical Satire DISENCHANTED Review BWW Reviews: One Final Weekend to See the Salty, Sassy Princesses of the Hilarious Musical Satire DISENCHANTED
by Jill Schafer - November 19, 2014

The princesses of DISENCHANTED will cast their spell on you in a whole different way than their Disney predecessors. While Disney portrays such fairy tale princesses and historical figures as Snow White, the Little Mermaid, and Pocahontas as sweet, mild-mannered, passive ladies waiting for a prince to come along and save them, the salty, sassy princess of DISENCHANTED are smart, strong, and unwilling to put up with crap from anyone! This new musical comedy by Dennis C. Giancino is currently in its second production here in the Twin Cities. Casting Spells Productions has brought back three of the princesses from last year's fantastic production at the Ritz Theater, added a few new and equally fabulous princesses, spiffed up the costumes, and included a few tweaks by the creator. It's still a super fun show for anyone who loves and/or hates Disney princesses. These are the kind of princesses little (and not so little) girls should emulate! (more...)


BWW Reviews: ON GOLDEN POND at the Jungle Review BWW Reviews: ON GOLDEN POND at the Jungle
by Kristen Hirsch Montag - November 10, 2014

ON GOLDEN POND at the Jungle Theater is a quiet, sweet play that shines the spotlight on two theater veterans and the relationship of the elderly lovers who are realizing the changes they're beginning to face in their sunset years. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Park Square Theatre's 33 VARIATIONS Combines Fascinating Music History with Poignant Family Drama Review BWW Reviews: Park Square Theatre's 33 VARIATIONS Combines Fascinating Music History with Poignant Family Drama
by Jill Schafer - October 31, 2014

33 VARIATIONS is part fascinating music history, part poignant family drama, and part classical music concert, which adds up to an entertaining evening of theater. Park Square's production of the Moises Kaufman play satisfies on several levels - intellectual, emotional, musical - and features a great seven-person cast (plus one talented pianist) who bring the past and present together in an intriguing way. This is just one of two shows currently playing at Park Square; St. Paul is the place to be for quality theater. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Bloomington Civic Theatre's Brilliant Musical NEXT TO NORMAL is Beautiful and Heartbreaking Review BWW Reviews: Bloomington Civic Theatre's Brilliant Musical NEXT TO NORMAL is Beautiful and Heartbreaking
by Jill Schafer - October 21, 2014

Diverging from the usual feel-good classic musicals, Bloomington Civic Theatre is currently presenting NEXT TO NORMAL, one of the few musicals to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama and perhaps the most brilliantly written musical of this century. Unlike shows like Guys and Dolls or Singin' in the Rain, you won't leave the theater feeling happy and carefree. You'll leave feeling emotionally exhausted and perhaps continuing to think heavy thoughts for several days. NEXT TO NORMAL is not an easy show to watch, but it's such a rich and rewarding experience. I couldn't be happier that there are not one but two local productions if it this season, at BCT now through November 15, and at Yellow Tree Theatre next spring. This was my fifth time seeing NEXT TO NORMAL, and BCT's production is as beautiful and heartbreaking as ever. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Ten Thousand Things' Minimalist Production of ROMEO AND JULIET Brings the Classic Story to Life in a Unique Way Review BWW Reviews: Ten Thousand Things' Minimalist Production of ROMEO AND JULIET Brings the Classic Story to Life in a Unique Way
by Jill Schafer - October 19, 2014

No one does Shakespeare like Ten Thousand Things. They manage to boil the text down to its bare essentials, and convey the heart of the story in a way that feels fresh and modern. This season they bring their unique Shakespeare style to perhaps his most well-know play, the story of star-crossed lovers that inspired all others, Romeo and Juliet. In the typically minimalist production (since TTT performs on location at prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers, the paid public performances are also in a small, fully lit room with little in the way of sets and costumes), director Peter Rothstein and his fantastic cast of eight playing multiple characters bring this familiar story to life in a unique way. (more...)


BWW Reviews: In Theater Latte Da's Magnificent Production of MASTER CLASS, Sally Wingert Embodies the Legendary Maria Callas Review BWW Reviews: In Theater Latte Da's Magnificent Production of MASTER CLASS, Sally Wingert Embodies the Legendary Maria Callas
by Jill Schafer - October 14, 2014

I don't know opera, and I don't believe I had ever heard the name Maria Callas before seeing Theater Latte Da's MASTER CLASS. But I have been educated. I now know that Maria Callas was one of the most talented, dedicated, and fascinating artists of the 20th century. Her paintbrush was her voice, her canvas was the stage, her creation was opera. She sacrificed everything for her art, and had very strong opinions about what art is and what it isn't. She shared those opinions in a series of master classes at Julliard in the early '70s. Playwright Terrence McNally used those classes as the backdrop against which to tell the story of who this woman was in his 1996 Tony-winning play. Her attitude towards art may not lead to the healthiest and happiest of lifestyles, but it does in some cases lead to some exquisite art, both in her singing, and in this magnificent production by Theater Latte Da. (more...)


BWW Reviews: EATING RAOUL Serves Up Murderous Madness Review BWW Reviews: EATING RAOUL Serves Up Murderous Madness
by Libby Ryan - October 13, 2014

With a last name like "Bland," you'd never pick Mary and Paul for sinister scheming. But plotting abounds in Eating Raoul, the musical adaption of the 1980's cult classic at the New Century Theater. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Children's Theatre Company Brings the Novel SEEDFOLKS to Life in a Mesmerizing One-Woman Show Review BWW Reviews: Children's Theatre Company Brings the Novel SEEDFOLKS to Life in a Mesmerizing One-Woman Show
by Jill Schafer - October 09, 2014

'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.' This Margaret Mead quote greeted me upon exiting the theater after seeing Children's Theatre Company's SEEDFOLKS. I don't know if this quote is always in their lobby, or if it's specific to this show, but it is the perfect summation of this beautiful play. Paul Fleischman's 1997 novel tells the story of a vacant lot in Cleveland being transformed into a community garden from the perspective of multiple different characters. In CTC's adaptation, all of these characters and more are portrayed by one woman - Sonja Parks. She brilliantly transforms from a young Vietnamese girl, to an elderly Romanian woman, to a Guatemalan boy, and everything in between in the course of just over an hour. It's an epic journey of a neighborhood that transforms from one of fear and distrust to one that, while it might still have those things, is more deeply connected and supportive, all due to the growing of plants. A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens change the world, or at least their small corner of it. (more...)


BWW Reviews: Walking Shadow's GABRIEL is a Chilling and Captivating Look at a Little Known Facet of WWII History Review BWW Reviews: Walking Shadow's GABRIEL is a Chilling and Captivating Look at a Little Known Facet of WWII History
by Jill Schafer - October 07, 2014

As I left the theater yesterday afternoon, I clutched my sweater close around me to ward off the chill. Not the chill in the crisp fall air, but the chill from the play I had just seen - Walking Shadow's GABRIEL. This story about a little known facet of WWII history is so captivating, horrifying, chilling, and completely engaging that it hangs with you well after you leave the theater. The excellent cast and realistic set make you feel like you're right there, as this family fights for survival on a Nazi-occupied British island. It's only playing for one more weekend, but it's well worth it if you can make it. You won't soon forget this beautifully done, powerful play. (more...)