The Play That Goes Wrong Goes Extremely Right at the Old Log Theatre

Photo By Old Log Theatre

The Old Log Theatre in Excelsior MN launches it’s first play since the Covid-19 shutdown with the hysterically funny, The Play That Goes Wrong. Excelsior may sound like it’s a ways to travel for a show, but it’s really just a 30 minute drive from the cities and believe me, this production is worth the trip. I was a big fan of this show when the touring company came through a few years ago for the Broadway on Hennepin theatre season. I liked it so much I took it in twice in it’s one week run. I was worried how well Old Log Theatre would be able to stage this much loved show. My fears were groundless, Old Log Theatre have pulled off the production perfectly, which is ironic given the nature of this play.

This is basically a play within a play, in the tradition of Noises Off. Like that modern classic, it relies on split second timing to work. It’s not a show for a timid cast, as much a highwire act as it is a performance. The conceit of the show is that we, the audience, are attending opening night of an amatuer theatrical society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor. What we are there to actually see is a performance of a play in which everything that can go wrong does, and then some. To describe the specific mishaps that occur would rob you of the enjoyment in store but they range from set and prop malfunctions to missing performers. And while a tremendous amount of humor comes from things the cast cannot control, it also comes from the characters themselves. From hammy actors to reluctant stagehands, they all share one thing in common an unwavering belief that the show must go on. The fact that they’re an amatuer theatre group is key. They know enough to stay in character but not enough to cover over errors in a way that shields the audience from the mishaps. Instead of altering course to get the play back on track, they simply plow ahead. For example, if they are sent into a room to get a pencil, and cannot find one on the desk, they simply pretend to pick up a pencil as a professional performer would do. They feel like they must pick something up from the desk and pretend it’s the option they were sent for so for a pencil, they pick up the keys. Of course the keys will be asked for next but those being gone, something else will be taken instead. Their blind commitment to the the script and blocking turn singular mishaps into snowballing catastrophes. One thing you can say for this group of “actors” is, they will not quit.

The cast is a true ensemble and all of them work together to keep the mistakes coming at a breakneck pace. Neal Beckman as Perkins the Butler, brings a comic verbal quality to his role that goes beyond his characters penchant for mispronunciation. Audrey Parry as Annie one of the stagehands, provides one of the best nonverbal moments of the show when she has to take the place of a piece of the set that has broken. Michael Terrell Brown plays the actor with a double role in the show within a show, he plays two distinct characters but still allows us to see the same attention seeker actor playing both. Carl Swanson and Luke Aaron Davidson are put through the ringer physically particularly their time in the library, to say more would be to spoil the fun. Emily Scinto is surely the most bruised performer after each performance showing a true gift for taking bumps and milking them for laughs. The cast is rounded out by Greg Frankenfield and Neal Skoy doing their best to keep the show on track, usually in giggle inducingly and misguided ways.

As I said this is a true ensemble cast, there is no star but if there was, it would be the set. The set was the aspect of the show I was unsure they would be able to pull off. I’m happy to say that Erik Paulson’s scenic and lighting design is worthy of the star role. Assisted by Technical Director Evan Sima, Sound Designer Nick Mrozek, Costume Designer Amber Brown, Props Designer Abbee Warmboe they recapture the essence and the functionality of the very polished touring version. It is an environment that is a marvel to watch disintegrate before your eyes. A key to getting the most out of your attendance at this show is to get there early and watch the stagehands get the set ready, also make sure to pay attention during intermission. This is a show that is as much about the behind the scenes of putting on a play as it is about telling a story. There are easter eggs for the observant audience member. The show was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, & Henry Shields who have made a franchise out of these productions with “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” and a TV series, “The Show That Goes Wrong”. This production was directed by Eric Morris who finds the right balance for his cast of “staying in character” while also trying to communicate as the “actor ” with each other while on stage. He does a great job of keeping a clarity of what is happening at any given time in what could be a very confusing play.

This is a favorite show and I cannot recommend it enough. I suggest sitting as centered as you can and as close as possible to the stage, front row is not to close. I don’t usually have dress suggestions for readers, but if you have a weak bladder you may wish to invest in some adult undergarments. I had moments where I had trouble breathing I was laughing so hard. If you’ve been waiting for a fun show to head back to the theatre, this fits the bill. It’s hard to imagine a show that will give you more fits of laughter and sheer delight than The Play That Goes Wrong.

The Play That Goes Wrong play through February 26th 2022 for more information, for Covid policies, and to purchase tickets go to http://oldlog.com/Shows/The-Play-That-Goes-Wrong

Disney’s Frozen is a Triumphant Return of Broadway to Hennepin Avenues Orpheum Theatre

Caroline Bowman (Elsa) and Caroline Innerbichler (Anna) Photo by Deen van Meer

I was lucky enough to attend opening night of the first Broadway on Hennepin production since the theatre shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What an audience to experience a show with. The energy in the auditorium was electric as evidenced by the cheers, whoops, and hollars that greeted the onstage welcoming of the audience back into the Orpheum. We all knew we were in for a treat and it felt like we were all in it together. Disney’s Frozen did not disappoint. A spectacular production that brings the beloved animated film to life before our very eyes. Featuring Production Design and Special Effects work that make the magic of the story seem real. A refreshingly diverse cast that grounded the fantasy in a way that made this storybook world relatable. The film touched a generation of kids the way The Little Mermaid did 25 years before it, along with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Pinocchio did before that. It has the opportunity to create that same spark of fascination in this generation for what live theatre can do. The five year old, for whom Frozen was their first film in the theatre, is now the perfect age for it to be the first large scale theatrical experience. What a perfect way to nurture a new theatre audience.

I grew up at a time when there might be one or two childrens shows that would tour around the country reenacting a TV show or film live. These usually featured performers in big costumes, lip synching to prerecorded audio track with neat special effects, but not frequently on ice skates. In 1994, Disney decided to change that. With a Best Picture Academy Award nomination for Beauty and the Beast they made the decision to try and transform that beloved film into a legitimate Broadway musical; not just a cash grab outing for parents to get the kids out of the house between animated film releases. That show ran for 13 years on Broadway. Their next outing The Lion King won six Tony awards. We are a long way from Disney on Ice here folks. Frozen continues that tradition and while it is not the risk taker that Beauty and the Beast was in 1994, or the the groundbreaking creative endeavor of The Lion King in 1998, it stands as a fully realized Broadway Musical far removed from civic centers filled with light up wands and cones of cotton candy.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last eight years, you know the plot of Frozen. The production doesn’t stray from the film. The key to these adaptations is not the changes you make but the talent you gather to realize the source in a new medium. We know Disney has the resources and the “emagineers” to create a spectacular production, and I will touch on that as well. The most important aspect of any successful show are the actors, dancers, and puppeteers on stage. Frozen’s cast is top notch from top to bottom. The two leads Caroline Bowman as Elsa and Twin Cities own Caroline Innerbichler as Anna, are perfectly cast as the two princesses. Bowman is up to the challenge of what is undoubtedly the most complex role. An arc that moves from a socially distant, frightened, and hesitant Princess, to a self-banished but newly self-realized Ice Queen, back to something more reflective of the more carefree little girl that the show opens on. We feel the reluctant determination of Elsa to keep Anna distant in order to protect her. We also feel her power and authority when her powers are unshackled and she is allowed to be who she is inside, the joy that comes and the confidence of not having to hide who she is any longer. A powerful singing voice that commands the stage in her rendition of “Let It Go” at the end of Act 1. Innerbichler as Anna is full of impulsivity and humor. She plays Anna as a girl bursting to be out exploring the world interacting with everything but who has been stuck inside, separated from all the things that make life so enriching. Sound familiar? She is wide eyed, determined, and plays all of the humor with the pitch perfect timing. Speaking of pitch, she has a beautiful singing voice that skillfully embodies the emotions of the character, the wonder, excitement, and yes, humor. I cannot wrap up my reflections on the two princesses without acknowledging the endearing work of the children playing Young Anna, Olivia Jones and Young Elsa, Natalia Artigas. I’m always amazed at the talent of these young performers, the confidence, acting, and the singing. You know you are watching talented kids when you forget you are watching kids but see the characters, both of these young women accomplished that feat from the moment they took the stage.

The cast is rounded out by Austin Colby as Hans. He perfectly conveys the dual nature of the role, making his characters big change later in the show feel fresh despite the familiarty most will have with the story. He sells both sides of the character brilliantly. Mason Reeves as Kristoff bringing to the stage a looseness and energy that feels very welcome; along with, the camaraderie of Innerbichler’s Anna and his Reindeer best friend Sven feels playful and natural. Which brings us to two of the cleverest and unfortunately under utilized performances. First off Sven, the Reindeer performed by Collin Baja, is an amazing physical performance. It’s more than a man in a horse costume, there is a height and structure to the costume that defies immediate understanding of its structure. There are certainly extensions on the limbs of the animal giving it a quality that completely removes it from reminding one of a human on all fours. The role is alternated nightly I would assume due to the sheer physical stamina the role demands. The movement of Baja in the role is an art unto itself and the costume design with eyes that blink is brilliant. I’m not sure who to credit Sven’s design to, Christopher Oram the Scenic and Costume Designer, or Michael Curry the Puppet Designer. I do know that we can credit Michael Curry for the Olaf the snowman puppet, which is the other standout non-human role of Frozen. F. Michael Haynie is Olaf and as such, is required to voice the character as well as perform the movements of the puppet that represents the character. This is not a new technique for bringing to life such a character but it is the most effective and I think the most rewarding as well. Could Disney have created some sort of robotic Olaf to be used on stage? Yes, we actually get a hint briefly of that idea, but they don’t go that route and I think that illustrates an important choice. By going the puppet route they are inviting young audience members to see a creative answer to how to bring something imaginary to life. There are enough “Wow” moments in the show created by Special Effects Designer Jeremy Chernick, where young people will be amazed and wonder “how did they do that?”. It’s nice to show them as well something they can understand that is also very effective. That, and it allows us the pleasure of Haynie’s performance which is one of inspired comic relief and one of the joys of this show.

Collin Baja (Sven) and F. Michael Haynie (Olaf) Photo by Deen van Meer

Disney’s Frozen adaptation features a book by Jennifer Lee from her screenplay for the animated film. In addition to their original songs from the film Kristen anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have written around a dozen new songs for the Musical. Unfortunately, none of the new songs really capture our imagination like the originals do. The two exceptions that do add to the show are “A Little Bit You” performed by the Young Anna and Young Elsa, and “Hygge” which is a fun little showstopper that doesn’t add much to the story but definitely adds some laughs. The show itself will delight children of all ages, whether they are just getting into Frozen or if they were fans when they were younger. It also plays well to adults, there is much talent and creativity on display, amazing effects, and spectacle. If you enjoy theatre, you’re going to have a great time with Frozen!

Disney’s Frozen is part of the Bank of America Broadway on Hennepin Season from the Hennepin Theatre Trust. The production runs through October 20th at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis for more information and to buy tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/frozen-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2021/

Run, Don’t Walk (it’s a chase after all) to the Thrillingly Hilarious “The 39 Steps” at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka

Brendan Veerman, Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan, Zoe Hartigan, Kyler Chase Photo by Justin Cox

Lyric Arts Main Street Stage has made a very smart choice to open their theatre season with The 39 Steps. People are out of the habit of attending live theatre, putting on a dark drama or tragedy is not what people are looking for after having lived through it this last year and a half. What will entice people to come out is something fun, something that will thrill and make you laugh. The 39 Steps is just the ticket. A show that will help you forget the dark days and have you laughing and cheering away those endless days of isolation. It’s just what the Dr. ordered, a laugh filled pursuit to chase away the blues. Let me commend the Lyric Arts leadership and staff for their handling of Covid-19 protocols. All patrons had to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test as well as picture ID. In addition, masks must remain on at all times, an extra step that I really think shows their dedication to keeping the audience and the performers safe. Lyric Arts policies are as practical and as safe as they could be. They’ve done the smart thing even if it turns some people away, they understand their responsibility to try and keep everyone as safe as we can while we begin to go back to the things that give us joy.

The 39 Steps has had many incarnations. First, a novel by John Buchan written in 1914 it has been adapted for the screen several times over the 100 plus years since it’s publication. The Most famous of which is undoubtedly, the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock. The basic story is of an innocent man thrown into a world of intrigue when he is mistaken for a murderer. His only chance to clear himself and to do his part for Queen and Country is to find the real spies who committed the murder and discover what are the 39 steps. And so begins his journey from London to Scotland and back again, all the while trying to elude the police and the foreign agents also on his trail. This stage adaptation by Patrick Barlow is based more closely on the plot of the Hitchcock film than the novel. Whereas the novel and the film both emphasized thrills and suspense, the play puts the focus squarely on comedy. With a cast of four actors portraying what must be over 100 different characters. A fact made even more astonishing when you take into account that one of the performers plays just one character and another only three. It’s from this conceit that much of the humor flows. One aspect of the humor stems from the scripts acknowledgement that it is a play. With a few planned miscues and intentional mistakes, the author tells us from the beginning, we all know it’s a play. This accomplishes several things at once. First, it allows the audience a larger capacity for suspending disbelief; we’ve acknowledged and go with the idea that three trunks which were just used as seats on the train are now the top of the train. Secondly, the intentional errors made for laughs, can actually help to cover any real mistakes that may take place during the show. Thirdly, much of the humor comes from the high wire act that is trying to play so many different roles, sometimes even simultaneously. That cannot realistically be carried out. If you tried, it would certainly fail but add a wink and lean into it, not just as a way to tell the story but to add humor, the audience is with you.

A show like this succeeds or fails with the cast. This production soars due to the talents of it’s four actors. Kyler Chase plays the lead Richard Hannay, he’s as close as the play gets to a straight man, but he is allowed to also play for laughs. Handling both duties with equal aplomb, he’s not only playing the hero on the run, but on a second layer the dashing matinee idol. He is always playing at two levels, the character and the actor playing the character, which is also a character. Zoe Hartigan portrays three roles, Annabella, the spy and murder victim who sets everything in motion. Margaret, a Scottish farmers wife who aids Hannay in his flight. And finally Pamela, the love interest who at one point is handcuffed and on the run with Hannay. She makes the most of all three roles. The first two are overtly comical characters and she uses her face and body movement to optimize the effect for both. Whether the scene calls for verbal or physical humor she delivers every time. The remainder of the cast are Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan as Clown 1 and Brendan Veerman as Clown 2. There’s not enough space in this review to attempt to cover the various roles they play, each becoming 50 plus characters over the course of the show. The humor of the show lies as much in their performance choices as it does in the script. They are both masters of dialect and physical transformation. The characters are frequently played for humor but that doesn’t make the accomplishment less impressive, they truly make each character distinct and believable. Sullivan and Veerman have a gift for making each role, no matter how minor, feel like a real person even when it’s cartoonish and that, is the secret to comedy. This is one hilarious production.

The production directed by Scott Ford is fast paced without ever jeopardizing our understanding of what is happening. The production designers are: Kyia Britts (Lighting Designer), Emma Kravig (Costume Designer), Peter Lerohl (Scenic Designer), Katie Phillips (Props Designer), Julie Zumsteg (Sound Designer) along with the Choreographer Hannah Weinberg-Goerger. Ford and his collaborators take us into a world where trunks can turn into a train car and a picture frame can become a window frame. All elements of design work together to create enough of an illusion for our perfectly primed brains to fill in the rest. The aforementioned chase along the train cars is a great example of all of the creative elements working together to sell a scene. The actors using motion and wardrobe to create the sense of the wind rushing past them. The lighting, the sound, and props all adding to the illusion allowing us to see it for what it is representing but also laughing at how they are creating it. Again just like the actors, the designers are working on two levels, the representation of the scene in the story, but also the artifice of a theatre company employing creative tricks to accomplish this. This is a production where all departments are working at the top of their game and blending perfectly into a cohesive whole.

The 39 Steps is playing through Oct. 17th at the Lyric Arts Main Stage in Anoka. The 39 Steps is a wildly funny and enjoyable night of theater and the perfect show to relaunch your live theatre going. It’s perfect for a family night out or date night. For more information and to purchase tickets visit: https://www.lyricarts.org/ .

Theatre Elision in Crystal Offers something new and refreshing in Islander

Photos by Jessica Holleque

Islander is a two woman show that intimately creates an entire island community and soundscape far beyond that of what one would think possible. Music and Lyrics by Finn Anderson and Book by Stewart Melton, Islander Won Musical Theatre Review’s Best Musical award at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It weaves together the story of of a Scottish island going through an economic crisis and island myths of a long separated race that live in the seas. The songs are heavily influenced by Scottish folk music and have a beautiful lyrical quality to them. Though the two performers each play multiple roles, the two main characters are Arran played by Deidre Cochran, and Eilidh played by Christine Wade. Emily Dussault understudies both roles and performs them at some performances. Eilidh is a young islander who has stayed behind on the island with her Granny when her mother had to move to the mainland for work. A lonely girl, the last young person left who must do “distance learning” because the school has been closed. Arran is a girl around the same age who has washed ashore and is not what she appears to be.

The thrilling and unique aspect of Islander is the use of a looping machine, to expand the soundscape beyond what two performers would normally be capable on their own. Not only does the use of this technology add layers to the songs and sounds being heard but it amplifies the always present risk inherent in any live performance. The creation of the loops and layers of sounds is all done live and it adds a level of appreciation to what you are experiencing. What’s almost as fascinating as the beautiful sounds this produces, is the fact that watching them create it doesn’t take you out of the story but actually draws you further in. It becomes less an act of watching a performance and feels more like hearing storytelling as it may have been done hundreds of years ago around a fire with words, characters, and songs. It’s as if modern technology has created a pathway back to an earlier time of storytelling, where myths and reality intermingled.

Cochran and Wade’s voices are perfectly tuned to one another, the music they make together is wonderful. I used the word lyrical earlier and at times that can also lead to a monotony or a lulling to tiredness, but that is never the case here. No songs ever wear out their welcome and they all add resonance and mood to the story being told. The dialogue moves the story along adding humor in just the right amount. People who live on the island can be hard set in their ways, but they also know how to play a trick and have a laugh. There is also an environmental message in the show. It doesn’t beat you over the head. But for my money acknowledging what we have done to the planet is something that should be discussed and brought into our stories and entertainments. Both performers shine in their main roles. Wade’s Eilidh has the most stage time of any single character and as such seems the most fully formed, with Wade capturing the spirit of a young girl who as the last child on the island has more or less free rein but it also very lonely. Cochran really gets a chance to sparkle as Eilidh’s Granny, providing the perfectly timed moments of humor and also wisdom.

Islander runs through July 31st at the Elision Playhouse in Crystal. The runtime is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission. for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.simpletix.com/e/islander-tickets-68313

Stages Theatre in Hopkins offers outdoor family fun with a pleasant production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, MN is staging the Peanuts based musical You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Adapted from the popular comic strip by Charles M. Schulz with Book, music, and lyrics by Clark Gesner and additional material written by Andrew Lippa and Michael Mater. It is basically a series of vignettes that play like reenactments of the daily comic strips but with songs along with the through line being Charlie Brown’s struggles with his self esteem. It’s pleasant as with the cartoons the source material has also spawned, there are jokes for the older audience and those for the smallest. None of the songs are going to make it onto your showtunes playlist, but they also do not drag, they’re pleasant. It’s a safe show to bring everyone to and the venue makes for an enjoyable night out.

Most of your favorite characters get a chance to shine; however, of the favorites Peppermint Patty and Marcie get the least to do but they fare better than Pigpen who is present, but unless I missed it, that’s it. One of the interesting aspects is that there are two sets of casts, The “Joe Cool Cast” and the “Flying Ace Cast”. I saw the “Joe Cool Cast” and was pleased with the talents on display*. It’s a great idea to have two casts for a summer show like this where the performers are all between the ages of 12 and 18. It gives more young people the opportunity to be in the show and it allows the cast time off in the summer as well.

As for the production itself, there are a lot of challenges built into the job of director Sandy Boren-Barrett. Firstly, two separate casts of young actors to rehearse and stage. Secondly, staging the show outside of the Theatre where you would have had more control. One can imagine the little vignettes working more effectively with the use of spotlights and a darkened stage. The trade off, after a year of isolation and some lingering uncertainty when the production was planned concerning Covid, the outdoor venue probably weighed heavily in that regard. Plus, it’s nice to be able to safely gather outdoors for a live performance. I also want to point out the scenic design by Jim Hibbeler, it captures the comic strip perfectly and the white panel frames used periodically to frame characters like panels in the strip are well designed and utilized. Costumes by Christa Ludwig also capture the look of the characters we all know so well and that is the right choice, straying from what we expect in this case would have been the wrong call. Laura Mahler’s choreography was well chosen it allowed for all the performers to succeed and gave those with perhaps an extra bit of experience a place to shine from time to time.

The musical is being staged outdoors at Hopkin’s Downtown Park. There are hills to place blankets on and some benches but most of the audience wisely brought their own camp chairs. The show runs about 60 minutes and is recommended for all ages. Performances run through August 8th. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/.

* In general I do not review the performances of young actors. I feel it is important for young people to take part in the arts. I want them to participate in theatre because they love doing it, not for the feeling they get when someone praises what they have done. On the flip side, I don’t think they need to hear criticism of their performances at such a young age. A negative comment can be hard on a mature performer but it goes with the territory. As an adult actor you have to develop a thick skin and accept that not everyone is always going to like what you’ve done. But young artists are not always equipped to deal with that yet. Be sure that if the acting was terrible it would be reflected in the quality of the production itself, which is what my review will be. As a rule, in a show dominated by young actors I will tend to simply avoid performance discussion in general including the adults in the cast.

Collide Theatrical’s WonderLand is a Unique and Entertaining Twist on Alice In Wonderland With Some Real World Gravitas.

Photo By Wells Film & Photo

Collide Theatrical Dance Company Is staging a dance interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at two outdoor locations. The show runs 5-15-21 thru 5-31-21 outdoors at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul before transfering to the Mill City Museum for shows 6-5-21 thru 6-20-21. The seating is socially distanced which limits the size of the audience per show so it’s recommended that you purchase your seats early. For more details and to purchase tickets go to https://www.collidetheatrical.org. I think of this as phase one in getting back into the theater for shows. It’s spring and with summer on the way, hopefully by fall we are able to gather indoors for shows regularly.

I was looking for something special to mark my return to reviewing shows. Readers of the site will probably be familiar with the name Miranda Shaughnessy. A young dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, videographer who wowed this reviewer from the first time I saw her perform very early in this blogs existence. When I was alerted to her attachment to WonderLand, I realized this was the show to begin phase one with. WonderLand was created by Regina Peluso, directed by Peluso and Heather Brockman, and choreographed by the company. Shaughnessy who plays Alice displays the physical talents which originally brought her to my attention over a year and a half ago. Precision dancing accompanied by a stage presence and facial expressions that telegraph to the audience exactly what we need to know about her character in the moment. She is surrounded by a talented cast of dancers Jarod Boltjes, Rush Benson, Renee Guittar, Chelsea Rose, Patrick Jeffrey, Heather Brockman, and in a voice over roll Ryan Colbert.

The twist of this production is that the setting is a mental Health inpatient facility. The familiar characters from the well known tale all representing different psychological issues. The characteristics that we identify with those characters fit well into these diagnosis and the company also finds ways in which to make their dance styles accent them as well. The White Rabbit for example suffers from anxiety manifesting itself in his frantic tap dancing. The doctor who is trying to treat them all by remaining calm and in control performs ballet. The dancing and musical choices are fun and energetic and the reveals of each characters backstories are well done. What struck me most surprisingly was the contrast between these moments of energetic dance with moments of real pathos as the root causes were revealed for each character particular difficulties. The reveals for the White Rabbit and the Red Queen sticking out as especially well realized. If you enjoy dance and are missing your regular theater fix, you will not be disappointed by Collide Theatricals WonderLand.

HoliDaydream 2020: A Very Covid Christmas The Annual Minnesota Dance Collaborative Holiday Treat Arrives To Send 2020 Out With A Much Needed Smile On Our Faces

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HoliDaydream Poster designed by Miranda Shaughnessy

HoliDaydream is a unique annual holiday production by the Minnesota Dance Collaborative (MDC). For seven years HoliDaydream has followed the character of Marie played every year by Miranda Shaughnessy. She was 10 when the show began and is now 17 going on 27, more on that later. HoliDaydream was created by and is written and directed by Shelli Manzoline who is the Artistic Director of MDC. Each year we follow Marie a year older on a different adventure. In the past the adventure has all taken place over a 24 hour period. This year, like so many things in our world it is different, taking place this year over a period of months. The other big change is that obviously we cannot attend this show in the theatre so the team behind HoliDaydream made the decision to tell the story through a video production. Born of necessity the approach has its drawbacks, but the end result is an entertaining and effective way to keep the tradition alive.

This years storyline follows Marie and her friends as the try to find Ms. Marta, played by Shelli Manzoline, the head of their dance studio who has gone missing. They look for her around the city and eventually decide they will have to get going on creating their Holiday show themselves. They meet regularly and discuss ideas and talk about what they hate about Covid, how their lives have changed, and what they are missing like proms, graduations, leads in school plays, etc. Culminating in what could be read as a farewell to HoliDaydream, I hope not. Basically the Storyline doesn’t really matter and is the least engaging aspect of the show. They are also the segments that reveal the shortcoming of the video approach. Dialogue that plays fine in the theatre as a set up for a dance routine takes on a level of reality in video that isn’t as easily glossed over. Time isn’t spent to make much of those intersong scenes work, which is fine, the dancing should and does take centerstage.

The video approach is a double edged sword though in terms of the dancing as well. One of the joys of seeing a dance heavy production, like I did with last years Holidaydream 2019, is taking in the dance sequences performed live and uninterrupted. I remember being amazed last year at the skill and precision along with the shear athleticism and stamina of these dance routines. The downside of video approach is that it is edited, you still get the skill, precision, athleticism, but the stamina is lost as well as the thrill of seeing it live. They were forced to make a decision of do you just set up a camera and shoot the dance sequences start to finish, or do you basically make a movie musical, or a series of music videos. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I think in a theatrical world populated by Zoom productions and one camera static wide shots of stage productions, they made the decision that is much more engaging and inviting of a rewatch. They made some sacrifices but overall what they ended up with is a better treat for the audience and I think we all need one right now.

In total there are 14 musical numbers in the show shot in 13 different iconic location in Minnesota. Another benefit of the video approach they chose was opening the show up. They are reminding us of all these incredible places in our area, many of them places we cannot go right now, but we will, we will. There are numbers at the MN State Fairgrounds, the Sculpture Garden, Rice Park in downtown St Paul and many others. My favorite was the dance to David bowie and Queens “Under Pressure” at the Minnesota State Capitol. This segment had the best camerawork and editing. Many of the segments I felt were edited to heavily, this one while equally heavily edited worked, there were only a couple of shots I wish had been held longer. But as a piece it worked from start to finish and was a singularly impressive work of filmmaking as it was of the performances of the dancers, everything clicked. Other favorites were the Ramones “I Want to be Sedated” shot at Keg and Case a dance number that just put a smile on my face and had an energy then conveyed the fun the dancers were having with the number, which translated to the audience. “A Lovely Night” Shot at the Saint Paul Hotel is a duet between Noah Coon, one of three Male dancers in the troupe and Miranda Shaughnessy. It has a nice classy romantic feel to it making nice use of the location. There were a couple of just plain fun numbers that were enjoyable and made great use of locations. “National Pastime” Featuring Grace Sjolander doing a fun Marilyn Monroe pastiche shot in the Saint Paul Saints Stadium. Cade Kaiser has a fun featured part in “Barry Is Going to Prom” from the musical The Prom shot at the Calhoun Beach club.

I said we’d touch more on Miranda Shaughnessy earlier. Last year I took notice of her talent and stage presence as a dancer in a show at Minnsky Theatre. That notice turned into admiration when I saw HoliDaydream 2019, when I learned that at 16 she had also choreographed several of the dance numbers. I was bowled over and realized this was a person whose career I should follow. This year as always her talent in performance and dance are as amazing as ever. When I watched the credits at the end my jaw dropped to the ground. Many theatre fans find zoom and other video performances to be very hit or miss. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out. The Story sections are very much locked down cameras recording dialogue. The dance segments were another matter. My suspicion as the show progressed was that they had shot the sitting in a room dialogue stuff and a few other side items on their own, but had a professional or video student shoot and edit the dance segments. The Director of Photography was Miranda Shaughnessy. Camera Operators were Shelli Manzoline and Miranda Shaughnessy. Edited by Miranda Shaughnessy. Music/Sound Editor Miranda Shaughnessy. Last year she choreographed or co-choreographed 4 of the numbers, this year she choreographed seven solo and co-choreographed one additional. When I reached out today as I was pulling in the image for this review I asked who to credit for the poster design featured above. The reply, “We took the photo ourselves and Miranda did the edit”. This young artist is 17 years old. I don’t know if I have ever used the word artist more appropriately than I did in describing miss Shaughnessy just now. I don’t think there is anything more to say, perhaps a moment of silence to let this all sink in.

HoliDaydream: A Very Covid Christmas is available to stream by going to this link http://www.mndancecollaborative.org/new-page A $20 donation is recommended, but the show is pay what you can so that everyone can enjoy it. Clearly a lot of time and work went into this and it is important to support artists at this time as much as we can. It will be available through January 30th 2021. DVD’s are also available.