Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations at the Orpheum Theatre

Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane
from the National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud. Credit: © 2021 Emilio Madrid.

Ain’t Too Proud... is a jukebox musical in the vein of Jersey Boys which played The Orpheum earlier in the season. Both follow the formation and rise of a famous 1960’s, well let’s call em what they would be considered today, boy bands. That these are two of the greatest boy bands in history means that the shows will be filled with great music, but the similarities don’t end there. For each follows the age old trajectory of success leading to excess. They both even contain the tragic death of one of the members children. You also get the sense that both of these groups should have had a lot more money then they did. I suspect the reason the record companies are not raked over the coals in these shows is that they have to grant use of the music. The Temptations musical has so many songs to feature that it’s weakness is that it doesn’t have time to perform many of these classics in full. In fact, I’m not entirely sure there is ever one song that is actually performed start to finish. So less of a rock concert than a two hour medley of hits. The performance of the songs, and the songs themselves, are so good that we forgive their abbreviation.

The book for this musical does what it needs to in order to tell it’s story but if the show lacks something it’s a better understanding of where we are chronologically and how they actually got their start. We move very quickly from Otis Williams, the sole surviving member of the original Temptations and the narrator of the show, release from Juvenile Detention, to his putting together a band. He lures new members by pointing out they already have a manager and paying gigs. But how did that happen? Once the group gets connected to legendary Motown Record label founder Berry Gordy, it stops feeling like things are being omitted as much. Like the Four Season, I know the music of The Temptations but next to nothing about their personal story and lives. It makes for an interesting history lesson and also a cautionary tale. It’s amazing how familiar the broad strokes are of these tales of celebrity, the egos, the drugs, the infighting. One wonders if anyone is capable of navigating fame without self destructing. Of course there are, and Otis Williams is one of them, assuming he’s a reliable narrator, remember history is written by the victors or in this case, the survivor.

A show like this, just as with Jersey Boys, has to cast with exceptionally talented performers. They have to be able to sing in a reasonable facsimile of some very iconic and impressive voices. The cast here is all supremely gifted vocally and their dancing choreographed by Sergio Trujillo is perfectly timed and executed. Jalen Harris as Eddie Kendricks was the most impressive vocally of the Temps, one can see his casting as Michael Jackson when MJ the Musical gets ready to tour. The one character whose voice is supposed to be so good, that there are worries about replacing him when his behavior becomes to erratic is David Ruffin. At the performance I attended, he was good, but nowhere near the best voice on the stage, this may be because it was the understudy Harris Matthew in the role that night. What’s exciting is that the performers who briefly appear and sing as some other motown groups like The Cadillacs, The Supremes, and The Five Satins are just as great vocally as the Temptations. The one performer that really embodies the show with its heart and soul is Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams. Of course he’s a great singer, but it’s his acting that really draws us to him. He isn’t volatile, he’s deliberate and reasonable, like his character he’s the backbone of the ensemble. He’s trying to do the right things and move everyone forward, he’s the survivor and we can see the toll that surviving takes on him. He reminded me of a young Denzel Washington, there is a power to him that somehow comes across without being showy in the least.

If you are a fan of the music of The Temptations, Ain’t Too Proud… is going to be well worth your time. The showmanship on display is very impressive, each performance has its own unique choreography and the vocal performances of so many great songs is almost an embarrassment of riches. I had a blast with the production numbers and was captivated my the lead performance by Marcus Paul James. Ain’t Too Proud… runs through July 10th at the Hennepin Theatre Trust Orpheum Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/aint-too-proud-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2022/

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Emma at the Guthrie Breaks the Fourth Wall and in Doing so, Breaks Down Any Defenses to it’s Charms.

Front and center Amelia Pedlow as Emma Woodhouse. Photo by Dan Norman

This isn’t my Grandmother’s Emma nor is it my Emma, that was called Clueless back in the day. This is something that bridges those two versions with a dash of Moonlighting for good measure. While it is instantly recognizable as Jane Austen’s classic tale first published over 200 years ago, it nevertheless feels fresh and modern. Kate Hamill’s new adaptation, making its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater, stays true to the plot and spirit of Emma. It’s less of what it’s about, but more as how it goes about it. Inherent in the material are questions of gender politics and class, Hamill leans into those themes in a way that it speaks to our modern world, but never at the expense of the entertainment. Besides, surely enlightened politics make for enlightened entertainment. For all the romantic comings and goings, the misunderstandings, the twists of affections, this Emma is as Emma has always been, about it’s narrator, Emma. At the center of this production is Amelia Pedlow who will from this point on be “the” Emma, by which all others are measured. The Guthrie should have a summer hit on its hands with Emma, irreverent, joyful, witty, and with a central performance that assures you no one else could possibly have been cast.

Emma is a 21 year old woman who, when the play opens, is basking in self-adulation at her powers as a matchmaker, having in her mind been the sole instrument in bringing about the successful marriage of her tutor Anne Taylor and Mr. Weston. Being an intelligent woman, if not always a wise one, Emma needs something to occupy herself with and decides she is a brilliant matchmaker and shall proceed to make other matches. Emma’s main fault is that she never doubts herself, as such she is sometimes blind to what the realities of the world and the people around her are. Her first match will be for her newly acquired friend Harriet, whom she has decided should reject the man she is currently courting and in love with and instead be paired with the Vicar Mr. Elton. Because she has decided that Mr. Elton fancies Harriet, she is oblivious to the fact that he actually has his sights set on her. The only one who calls out Emma and implores her to stop meddling in other people’s affairs is her old friend Mr. Knightley. The story is populated with various characters, Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s son who has long been thought of as a good match for Emma, though they have never met until now. There is Miss Bates, who never met a silence she couldn’t fill, she looks after her elderly mother Mrs. Bates and runs a boarding school for girls. Her Niece, Jane Fairfax, is Emma’s one jealousy, not because she is smarter of prettier than Emma, but because others praise her, and Emma has a bit of trouble sharing the spotlight. Intelligent girls of a comparable age growing up in such close proximity of each other, they should have been best friends, but neither has any time for the other. This is a tale of romantic entanglements populated by group of strong characters usually at cross purposes with each other.

In a show as well cast as this one, you find yourself discussing who your favorites were after the show and you realize you’ve listed everyone but one, and then you realize that’s just because you forgot about that character momentarily, but they were really good too! Honestly, Sun Mee Chomet as Miss Bates constantly shouting things over and over to her mother is truly hilarious. Ryan Colbert as the Popinjay Frank Churchill is a wonderfully charming and sexy wild card. David Kelly, whom I’m just now realizing played both Emma’s Father Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Weston. Mr. Woodhouse is a wonderfully eccentric gruel enthusiast, but a slight man. Mr. Weston seems to be a man of normal size and a hearty disposition. I never for a moment connected the two. Well done Mr. Kelly, well done. Samantha Steinmetz is the broadly comical Harriet Smith, her performance choices help to illustrate in shorthand the difference between how Emma sees the world and how it really is. Seriously, I have to stop because there’s nothing more boring than a list of every actor and how good they are. But I have to leave some room to sing the praises of Ms. Pedlow whom would surely have stolen the show if it wasn’t already hers. It’s hard to describe what it is about Pedlow until you realize it isn’t one thing, it’s everything. She gets this character, it would be easy to play Emma one way, but she plays her as a multifaceted person. Emma on paper can be unlikeable, the power of Austen’s writing and the successful portrayals of her is that her unlikeable characteristics are those she is unaware of, it’s her niavate that’s usually responsible for her worst behavior. Austen shows us her thoughts and so we see that she isn’t being thoughtless or unfeeling just oblivious to a point of view other than her own. In a performance the actor needs to bring an immense amount of charm and charisma. We have to get caught up in Emma’s enthusiasm, we have to believe in the moment that she is as infallible as she believes she is. Pedlow has us eating out of her hands the entire show. She is equally at home speaking directly to us in the audience as she is dancing like she’s in a nightclub. Her Emma has wit, intelligence, beauty and wields them all in service of her own belief that she is the best and brightest.

Meredith McDonough directs Kate Hamill’s brilliant script with the confidence of Emma herself. The show is perfectly paced, no scenes out stay their welcome nor does it ever seem rushed, though there is a sense of exhilaration and quick give and take in many scenes. Lex Liang’s Set Design and costumes help to place this in the past and the present simultaneously. I loved the background design of the houses on the hill and the clouds in the sky giving it the feel of a storybook or a Wes Anderson film. All in all one of the less elaborate sets I’ve seen at the Guthrie but it suited the production perfectly. I loved the look and feel of it and let’s face it, when you have Pedlow in the central role, you’re probably just throwing money away on elaborate sets, no one is going to take their eyes of her for long. Paul Toben’s Lighting Design nicely complimented the set, the changes in the sky were nice little touches of beauty.

Emma runs through August 21st in the Wurtele Thrust Stage for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.guthrietheater.org/shows-and-tickets/2021-2022-season/emma/.

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Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins

Stages Theatre Company (STC) in Hopkins continues to do the good work of engaging a new generation in Theatre. From their summer camp programs, which my Niece and Nephew just completed, to their productions like Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. that opened this last week. STC produces shows that are not only for young audiences, but also give young actors real experience putting on a professional level entertainment. I believe the future of theater depends on creating new audiences as much as it does on creating new performers. STC creates quality entertainments with enough creativity and spectacle to fire up the imaginations of its young audience members. Once you expose someone to a thrilling theatrical experience you’ve begun to create a future theatergoer. This production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. has what it takes to show young people the path to become lifelong audience members, and perhaps future performers as well.

This is a paired down version of the classic Disney animated film featuring many of the songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman with some additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. It’s been many years since I last watched the animated classic but to my memory it faithfully follows the films plot. It’s truncated to fit an hour runtime, and while at times it feels a little rushed, I think they do a nice job of condensing without losing anything important. Director Sandy Boren-Barrett keeps things flowing along nicely, knowing that if you lose a young audiences attention it will be nearly impossible to get it back. I think moving too fast is better than moving too slowly in these situations. From a technical perspective it was a showcase of what I’ve come to expect from STC, which is inventiveness and creativity. The set Design by Holly Windingstad smoothly transitioned from underwater locations, to the deck of a ship, and dry land, each well realized. With nice added touches such as banners that dropped from the ceiling to represent seaweed growing up from the ocean floor and bubble makers that helped create the illusion of being under the sea. The lighting Design by Karin Olson, helped create the environments as well, especially effective in creating a sense of darkness and danger in Ursula’s domain. Costumes and Make-Up by Christa Ludwig successfully transformed the actors into fish, crabs, and merpeople. Putting Ursula on rollerblades was an inspired choice giving her the illusion of moving like a squid.

All of the performers young and older were up to the challenge. Sophie Farrell as Ariel carried us through the story, but her singing voice was a little unusual, she looked the part of Ariel but her singing was a little deeper in register than we expect from the character. It wasn’t bad, just different. Almost as if she was just recovering from a cold or her voice had been a little overworked and was showing the strain. Jordan Kueng as Sebastian the Crab was very enjoyable and frankly gets to perform two of the best songs “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl“. The standout performance though was Laura Mahler as Ursula. She was over the top in the way a Disney villain needs to be, when she was on stage all eyes were on her.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid Jr. will enchant younger audiences while also entertaining their parents. When the temperatures rises into the 90’s again, rather than turning on the TV, take the kids to Stages Theater Company in Downtown Hopkins. The show runs through August 7th for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/disneys-little-mermaid/

Coming Next Sunday to Park Square Another Visit From the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society!!

I swear, I’m not on the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society (MORLS) payroll, I’m just a really big fan of theirs. When I started The Stages of MN it was because I wanted to share my love for the live theatrical experience. It was born specifically from two shows I attended in the spring of 2019, Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production of Be More Chill and Theater Latte Da’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Both of those shows I enjoyed so much that I attended them multiple times, each time bringing other people with me. These were shows that gave me so much joy that I had to share them with others. I knew that if I didn’t bring them, they were going to miss out, if I didn’t tell them about it, they wouldn’t even know it was happening. I wanted to find a way to share with more people the joys that were to be had from actually being in person at a live show. As I thought about the idea of starting a blog I also looked around at audiences and noticed a couple of things. First, they skewed old. Second, some of the more creative things I was seeing were not well attended. Over time as the site has grown and I’ve met and interacted with my peers, I’ve been introduced to more and more theatre companies and stages and have found that some of the best shows are ones I never would have heard of as a casual theatergoer. And so, when I find a performer or Theater Company that I really connect with, it reminds me of why I started this in the first place, and I want to share them with people. I especially love finding those shows that can appeal to all audiences and that I can feel confident in encouraging parents to take their children to, so that new generations discover theater in a positive way that makes them want to continue to attend throughout their lives.

The MORLS is one of those groups that hits a lot of the buttons that align with my mission. I love these monthly appearances at Park Square Theatre. The performers for these shows are Eric Webster, Joshua English Scrimshaw, Shanan Custer, and Tim Uren. Once a month they perform live a double feature drawn from old time radio scripts. While acting out multiple voice rolls, the four also create all of the sound effects and music cues live, creating theater of the mind. I’ll frequently close my eyes for stretches and just listen and let my imagination create the visuals. These performances are always entertaining, the stories that held audiences glued to their radios in some cases more than 80 years ago, frequently still have the same effect. But besides the stories it’s also fascinating to see how these shows were produced all those years ago, it’s a view into a different time when radio was to people what TV is today. I always like to encourage parents to take their kids to these shows and talk about the experience on the way home. Whenever possible bringing the grandparents and kids, can you imagine what that car ride home would be like? The grandparents reminiscing about the old days but in a way the grandkids could relate to and have at least in the moment and interest in. My Dad introduced me this theater of the mind first through cassette tapes of Bradbury 13 a radio adaptation in the mid early 1980’s of Ray Bradbury stories. Once I was hooked, We listened to cassettes found at book stores and gas stations of shows like Suspense! and The Inner Sanctum. I, in turn introduced my kids to Bradbury 13 and others, and now through these wonderful performances by the MORLS at Park Square Theatre.

This weekend’s performance is on Sunday June 26th at 2:00 PM the title of the show is “More Best of the Worst” and the the description of the show from their website is:

The Society brings you two more frightening flops from the Golden Age of Radio; stories so delightfully absurd you have to hear them to believe them!

“Battle of the Magicians” from Lights Out (1934) – What do magicians, airplanes, and zombies have in common? Absolutely nothing. But logic is no defense against this madcap mystical mash-up from the mind of legendary radio writer Wyllis “Quiet Please” Cooper.

“The Cup of Gold” from Dark Fantasy (1942) – A sports reporter’s investigation into the death of a golf pro leads to a series of shocking revelations! Scott Bishop’s murder mystery turned Surrealist manifesto will keep you guessing (or at least scratching your head) until the bitter, inexplicable end.

https://www.ghoulishdelights.com/

If you enjoy these performances or want to have some idea of what you are getting into before you buy tickets,. the MORLS also have a podcast which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts by searching for The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society, there are over 250 episodes with new ones being added all the time or click on their website in the quote above. Those podcasts are different from the live shows in that for the podcast they chose one old radio show episode for which there is an existing recording they play the actual broadcast recording and then they come back and discuss whether the show stands the test of time, if it’s a classic, and if it is of historical interest. They also engage in some funny banter, which is the shows secret charm and keeps you listening to episodes even if you don’t care for a given program, what they say about it will be worth the listen. Aside from this they also perform other types of shows, recently they finished a run at Open Eye Theater with a show called Rattus Rattus which was staged performances of two different stories that featured rats. I attended that and brought a group of friends along and we all enjoyed it. This was my first time seeing Webster, Scrimshaw, and Uren perform not just as voice actors and I thought they were great! Uren opened the show with his one man show called The Rats in the Walls which was a vocabulary junkies wet dream. How Uren managed to retain and recite that script, filled as it was with entomological antiquities, was a wonder to behold. The second was an adaptation of one of the all time great radio plays Three Skeleton Key.

For tickets to either attend live or stream this Sunday’s performance got to either https://www.ghoulishdelights.com/ or https://www.parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/shows/2021-2/mysterious-old-radio-listening-society/

Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, on your computer from the home page on the right enter your email address and click subscribe, on your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.

Theatre Coup d’Etat Prepares to Sail Off into the Sunset With Pyrates

Photo credit Smousehouse Photography

The Stages of MN was less than a month old when I received an email from James Napoleon Stone, Artistic Director of Theatre Coup d’Etat, telling me about his Theatre Companies upcoming production of Rogue Prince. I reviewed that production in Oct. 15th 2019. Now over two and a half years later I have a chance to review the companies final production in the Twin Cities. I’m told they are off to Chicago, we wish them well, but must also acknowledge that we are a little saddened by the news. MN will be losing a very creative theatre company, one that specializes in creating an immediacy with it’s audience that makes for a wonderfully engaging experience. Thankfully they are leaving us with one last production, Pyrates, which was written and directed by Stone featuring a cast that brings it all to life beautifully. Filled with everything you expect from a pirate story: ships, sword fights, and rum drinking, but with equal amounts of things you don’t expect in a pirate story, such as debates about preexisting conditions, Gender non-conforming sailors, songs, and a lot of swearing. Well okay, maybe you do expect that in a pirate story as long as it isn’t preceded by the Words Walt Disney Presents.

The Story is set in the 1680’s and we open as the crew of a Spanish ship is plotting to mutiny against their tyrannical captain and seize control of their own destinies. The group is led by Tanith, who uses they/them pronouns, though many of the other characters do not comply with that preference. They are aided by their mother Trix who is the ship’s Apothecary, the ship’s boatswain Bones, and their rival for the captaincy the French sailor Bouchere. The crew successfully takes control and after it is decided through a vote that Tanith will be the new captain the first order of business is to decide what the rules of the ship will be. This is where the discussion of preexisting conditions comes in as well as deciding that the penalty for sabotage of the ship will be death, the execution of which will fall to the captain. With rules decided the crew heads to English controlled Jamaica to try and sell their captive captain and negotiate terms with the now Governor, but former Captain, Morgan. After tense negotiations the crew is sent on a mission to overtake a Spanish ship conveying gold and silver to the new world. They are provided by Morgan a Spanish speaking translator named Corbin. Will they capture the ship? Will Morgan keep up his end of the deal if they do? You’ll have to see the show for yourself to find out.

Pyrates is performed in the middle of the ground floor of an old firehouse. Chairs are set up along the sides of the room and at one end where the band is also set up. The set is made up of crates, trunks, wooden barrels, a moving stairway, and ropes. Stone directs the scene changes very effectively, the cast repositions the set pieces and changes the rope configurations while singing. It plays not like a scene transition but as if we are watching the crew going about their jobs of rigging the sails, which itself creates a sense of the passage of time. I love when a company without a huge budget doesn’t allow itself to be hindered by that fact. There is never a sense throughout the show that the company is making due with anything. They embrace what they have and find inventive ways to make it work. The scenic design and props were handled by Michaela Lochen and as spare as they are, for what the show requires it is every bit as effective as the The Guthrie’s elaborate set for A Raisin in the Sun. Sometimes the less you have the more creative you have to be, and creativity feeds itself and that sense of inventiveness translates to the audience. Also worthy of praise were the costumes by Chelsea Wren, top notch, in fact I’d venture to guess that half or more of the below the line budget was on the costumes. My daughter wanted to take Tanith’s coat home with her, but every role was well costumed even the ensemble characters that didn’t have a line were top notch.

Lastly, the cast. The biggest surprise for me was how well they sang. This isn’t a musical, but there are probably six songs sung during the course of the play, such as the pirate classic “What do you do with a drunken sailor” among others, many of them having a bit of a celtic feel about them. I was expecting passable pirate chanty singing from actors not hired for their vocalization skills, but damn, they sounded good. Several of the best singers were in the ensemble and I’m sorry I cannot single them out by name. My favorite performer and a really nice singer was Kaz Fawkes as Bones. Other standouts in the cast were Meri Golden as Trix and Alex Berchem as Bouchere. Brian Joyce plays Morgan with a nice balance of anxiety producing charm, pragmatism, and hidden reserves of both coldness and warmth. Taelyn Gore as Tanith is where it gets a little wobbly, but just a little. When she’s good, she’s great, unfortunately when she’s struggling with a line her confidence departs momentarily and in this close proximity, we are all too aware. I imagine her confidence will increase as the run continues, opening night jitters I suspect. She need not have them, as I say when she’s confident she’s great.

Pyrates runs through June 27th at Fire Station 24 which is located at 4501 Hiawatha Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55406. One word of warning, there is a lot of construction right in front of the building, your best bet is to approach the building from the rear finding street parking one block east of Hiawatha Ave. Also, the building is not air conditioned, I cannot in good conscience recommend anyone go to this show on Sunday or Monday, 100 degree weather in that space with no AC would be unbearable. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatrecoupdetat.com/#/pyrates/.

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Twelve Angry Men: A New Musical at Theater Latte Da

Photo by Dan Norman

Twelve Angry Men started life as a television script in 1954 then was quickly adapted into a stage play and in 1957, a film starring a cast of recognizable actors led by Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. I am very familiar with the film version having first seen and fallen in love with it in junior high. It has now been about six or seven years since I last saw the film and I consciously chose to avoid watching it before seeing this musical adaption. I didn’t want my reaction to this new take on the material to be constantly hung up on noticing changes in details, but give it as much room as I could to allow it to breathe and be its own thing. After seeing this production I asked myself, does it need to be a musical? My honest answer is no. But, unlike some other plays or movies that we’ve seen given the musical conversion, it doesn’t hurt or cheapen the story either. It’s a powerful script, performed by some of the best actors and singers in the Twin Cities. As a retelling of this classic, the casting decisions and the lense through which we view it today adds to what was already a powerhouse of a play. Those aspects, much more than the songs, added to the original in a way that feels relevant and important.

With a book adapted from Reginald Rose’s original play by David Simpatico and music and lyrics by Michael Holland, Twelve Angry Men makes minor tweaks to the details of the story and characters, but they always work. Those changes add meaning to the story in a way that reflects its cast and the our perspective as a modern audience. The original play holds up today, this adaptation builds on what was there and results in a production that even more powerful, which is quite a feat. Simpatico’s contributions enrich the narrative, whereas Holland’s simply reinforce them with a few exceptions. It’s hard to write about specific songs from the show when a list of songs isn’t available, but there were a couple of songs that conveyed a deeper understanding of what a juror was trying to convey. One example and probably the best song was sung by T. Mychael Rambo as Juror #9 about what it’s like to be elderly and forgotten, though this was slightly undercut by the fact it was hard to understand every lyric. Which was an issue occasionally throughout the production, though usually when all twelve jurors were singing at once. If you’re not familiar with the plot let me simply state it takes place in the deliberation room where a jury of twelve men must determine if they think a young man on trial for murdering his father is guilty or not guilty. But as one juror reminds them over and over, they are not really deciding if he is guilty or innocent, they are deciding if there is a reasonable doubt that he might not be guilty, that isn’t the same as being innocent. If they find him guilty he will be sentenced to death, that alone makes one juror vote against the majority, feeling that a man’s life is worth spending at least a little time discussing.

Look, this production is very faithful in plot and tone to earlier versions and like every iteration that has come before it, it will rise and fall on the performers. This cast has several stellar performances and zero bad ones. This I imagine is an actors dream play whether it’s the original script or this new musical version. While an ensemble show, all jurors are not created equal. There are several that get significantly less to do and a few who are clearly the leads, but everyone makes their mark and an impression on the audience. At 90 minutes it’s amazing that, especially with the additions of songs, each character becomes known by the audience, it’s a testament to the entire casts skills. Standouts in the cast are Curtis Bannister as Juror #8 the initial sole holdout who votes not guilty. James Detmar, is the angry racist and offensive Juror #10. He is so intense throughout, when he explodes or gets on a roll, all eyes are instantly on him. Sasha Andreev as Juror #4, plays it cool and collected and it is his holdout as a guilty verdict that actually feels valid, he does a subtle job of staying calm when others are ranting and the counterpoint allows the attention to be drawn to him when appropriate. This is in danger of becoming a list of 12 actors names as I look through the cast list there is something specific and positive to say about everyone of them, which should tell you all you need to know right there.

Ordinarily I am an advocate for sitting as close to the stage as possible, but this is one show where I would recommend being at least in the fifth row or further back. The set is built on a giant turntable and to get the full effect and to be able to see all of the performers since there is almost always 12 full grown men of stage competing for sight lines. Peter Rothstein directs the play with the music direction by Denise Prosek. Rothstein does some very interesting things in this production a choice to freeze all of the characters while one sings a song was especially effective. He also utilizes the turntable effectively, especially when the jurors are initially going around the table expressing why they think the boy on trial is guilty. The Set Design by Benjamin Olsen is cool looking, we see the ceiling molding that lines the room, and baseboards, a door, a clock hanging on a wall, some things hanging on the walls, but no walls. The walls don’t exist instead we see the theater walls and the lights. Like I say it looks cool, I liked the idea when I saw it last week at The Roommate at Mixed Blood, there it was so we could see what was happening outside of the house, here it just looks cool, but I didn’t see a larger reason behind it.

Twelve angry Men runs through July 17th at Theater Latte Da in North Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.latteda.org/twelve-angry-men-2022

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Cambodian Rock Band Will Rock Some History Into You at the Jungle Theater in Uptown

Promotional Photo by Rich Ryan

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the Jungle Theater last night for their co production with Theater Mu. I knew there would be a rock band and that it was going to be telling the story of a dark time in Cambodian history. But I didn’t know for sure how that story would be told or anything much about the history of Cambodia. The stage is set before the show even begins with the typical band set up: drums, guitars, keyboards, mics, amps and speakers front and center. When the show begins, the band takes the stage and plays a rocking song that immediately gets your body bouncing along. Sort of a classic 70’s hard rock sound but sung in Khmer I assume, which is the primary language of Cambodia. When the first song ends they launch into a second song, again it sounds amazing and the vocals are incredible but, it also is not in English. And as much as I’m enjoying the music, the thought keeps creeping into my head, what if this is the whole show. What if I’m in for two and a half hours of a band playing songs sung in a language I don’t understand. Right now I’m enjoying it, but will that hold true eight songs from now? Thankfully, I never discovered the answer to that question as the second song was interrupted by one of the characters in the story portion of the play. Yes, there are a lot more songs, most of which are not in English, but the are interspersed with scenes of dialogue and woven into the narrative. In that formation I never thought about again or cared that I couldn’t understand the lyrics. This is a show in which the musical performances transcend language, with the feel of a rock concert perfectly blended with an intimate story through which we begin to understand the large scale tragedy of Cambodia in this dark period of it’s history.

Cambodian Rock Band tells the story of one man’s experience confronting his past when he returns to Cambodia for the first time after fleeing the country 30 years ago. We learn about the history of that country as the story shifts between the present and the past. In the present, Neary, a young american woman who is preparing to prosecute Duch, who is to be tried for crimes against humanity, as the warden of Khmer Rouge’s prison camp S-21. During the Khmer Rouge’s four years in power they exterminated between 1.5 and 2 million people, many in prison camps like S-21. Neary’s father Chum, who grew up in Cambodia, has come back to see his daughter without any warning. The first scenes play like a comedy about a child and her frustrations with her father who embarasses her, as parents will do, and who doesn’t seem to understand her or what she is trying to do. The past will explore Chum’s experiences as a young man during that period in which Khmer Rouge was in power. There are some interesting revelations along the way which will be more interesting if you discover them on your own. The story really belongs to Chum, but Duch acts as a narrator believing it’s all about himself.

The band we are watching we learn is Chum’s band, he is the bassist. There are four main characters in the play and all but Eric Sharp who plays Duch, also perform in the band. Sharp plays Duch in narrative form as a celebrity personality, all big smiles like a gameshow host. At times he joins the band and is very high energy. When he plays him in the past he becomes chillingly cold and weary, Sharp is equally effective in each phase. Greg Wantanabe as Chum also has to perform in two different styles. At the opening he’s the seemingly clueless father comically at odds with his daughter and judging every aspect of her life, while also making sure he doesn’t get cheated out of his free coke at the fish massage parlor. In the past, he has a much more dramatic role to play, and excels at playing these dual sides of his character. Danielle Troiano plays Neary in the present and Sothea, the lead singer of the band in the past. She has an amazing singing voice and that goes a long way in making the language in which the songs are performed irrelevant to their enjoyment. The other major factor is that the songs musically are really catchy and rocking. The band is rounded out by Christopher Thomas Pow who is Leng, the guitarist in the band but also plays Neary’s boyfriend Ted in the opening of the play. Mayda Miller is the keyboardist Pou and other ensemble characters. Shawn Mouacheupao is the drummer Rom as well as other ensemble roles. The five members of the band are very tight musically, I am always in awe of shows like this that finds performers who can act the roles but are also amazing musicians.

The Show is written by Lauren Yee who finds a way to accomplish so much in the course of one evening. She entertains and moves us with the story by educating us about the history of cambodia without it feeling like a history lesson. She also introduces us to these phenomenal songs of Dengue Fever among others. If I knew anything about Cambodia going in, it was about its relationship to Vietnam, learning about the music was a surprising treat. The show is directed by Lily Tung Crystal the Artistic Director of Theater Mu who inherently understands how to present this material to completely engage the audience. We open to some electric music and while we are enjoying it but just about to start questioning what we are in for, the moment is interrupted with the irreverent variant of the Duch character. The bands stage which seems positioned in such a way that there isn’t anywhere for actors to play out any scenes, splits in half and moves off into the wings. The Scenic and Projections Designer Mina Kinukawa is very strong and creative, what looks when we enter as a very limited space effectively becomes multiple locations with a surprising sense of depth. The Lighting Design by Amy Adelaide Nguyen and Karin Olson also very evocative, I especially enjoyed what they were doing during the band performances giving us a sense of period with the lighting reflecting the feel we associate with western music during the period of the Vietnam war. Circling back to the music one last time, credit is due to Musical Director Mandric Tan and Cultural and Language Consultant Mongkol Teng. One assumes not all and possibly none of the performers speak Khmer, but to the audience it feels like it is their first language, which if you think about it is kind of mindblowing.

Cambodian Rock Band is Rocking through July 31st and is highly recommended for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatermu.org/cambodian-rock-band or https://www.jungletheater.org/

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