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.

Crossover: A New Pop Musical is Virtual Theatre Worth Your Time.

From top left clockwise Chelsea Cylinder, Boris Dansberry, Ali, Walker, and Taylor J. Mitchell. Virtual Production Design by Tristan Horan

Theater, live theater, and those who make their careers and livelihoods in theater have been decimated by Covid-19. Many artists have searched for ways to continue their work in some way. Producing virtual shows has been a way for many actors, writers, directors and other artists to forge ahead during these dark times. While this is a great solution to our current situation, it’s generally less than ideal. I long for the days when I can be in the same room with performers who are sharing the same space. Good actors performing via zoom can raise the performance above the level of a table read but they can never achieve the connection that is forged with each other and with a live audience virtually. Crossover, a new musical by Danielle E. Moore is positioned better than most shows to succeed virtually, and the best example I’ve seen of a show overcoming the obstacles of theatre of the virtual.

What works in Crossover‘s favor is that it is about a televised singing competition in the style of American Idol. Many sections of the script take place as segments of the show and those in particular work well. The plot revolves around four finalists that tie for the west coast slot on the show. They are given the choice of splitting their allotted time on the show separately, giving them each 1 minute as solo artists, or to form a group so they have the 4 minutes allotted for the west coast semifinalist. They opt to form a group, ‘Four-Way Tie’. The hook of the competition is that every week they have to perform in a different style, the aim is to crown someone who has the most “crossover” appeal. Each of the four women specializes in a different genre. Reggie is a Soul singer, Max is into EDM, Hallie is the Country singer, and KC is the Rocker. What sways them to reluctantly team up is the idea that they can utilize each others strengths to help them all maximize their “crossover ” credibility.

The shows strengths are it’s cast and the songs. All four of the leads Taylor J. Mitchell as Reggie, Boris Dansberry as Max Green, Chelsea Cylinder as KC, and Ali Walker as Hallie all create individual characters that are not simply their style of singing. The four characters develop a relationship out of necessity which turns into a friendship. It’s a testament to the writing and the performers that that friendship doesn’t seem forced, rushed or false. All of the characters are given something to do outside of their interactions as the group. Two of the group are also given a romantic relationship together. These side stories for each are part of what gives their characters depth and the romantic relationship gives the show it’s heart. Only the character of KC whose side story is that her mother was a very successful musician and has never encouraged her seems to be let down. Her mother makes an appearance but the moment felt like it needed to be built up a little more. There are actually several areas of the script that could be tweaked, but in most cases those tweaks would really work only in a live situation. I suspect those moments where something more would drive the emotion or the scene home would contain that element if the actors could actually interact.

Moore’s songs are very impressive they are slightly let down by the virtual experience. I was able to airplay the performance from my phone to my TV, but four vocal performances mixed via video, as abely as it is done, the lyrics just get lost. One can tell that in a live situation all of the performances from Four-Way Tie would be knockouts, virtually, they suffer from being indistinguishable. This is the challenge for anyone trying to mount a musical in this era of virtual performances, you are at the mercy of every single persons audio/video equipment, from cast recording themselves to audience playing it back in different ways. It’s a challenge and Crossover does it’s best to meet it, but the vocal complexities of these four part songs is to much at times. What works much better are the duets and solos songs. I sort of hate to single any of the leads out because they are all really good, but the performer that really stuck out for me was Boris Dansberry as Max. They have a duet with Donovan Lockett who plays Max’s idol Shea Stone that was very impressive. Their solo performance was also my favorite of the 4 leads in their introductions to us. It seemed to me that Boris’ voice came through the best audio wise, it may have been their equipment or the pitch of their voice or my equipment being best suited to them, but things were noticeably clearer when they were singing. Taylor J. Mitchell’s voice seemed hardest hit by technology in the group songs, but then was also quite strong in her solo “Traitor”, which was her moment to shine.

So yes Crossover does fall prey to some of the downfalls of virtual theater, but it does a surprisingly good job of overcoming many of them as well. Praise is deserved for director Amanda Pasquini for finding the best way to mitigate the worst of the usual pitfalls. Using creative staging for some of the songs, having the actors in profile, mixing things up here and there keeping it from looking too static. The show also uses graphics and editing in creative ways to keep things looking interesting and fresh avoiding that ‘Zoom’ look – Credit to Graphic Designer Jeff Buterbaugh and editor Tristan Horan for their work. Crossover had it’s work premiere in September as part of the 2020 Philadelphia Fringe Festival and will be available to live stream Saturday December 12th 7:00 PM CST as part of the 2020 Rogue Theater Festival. Tickets are $12.00 and are available through the Rogue Theater Festival’s Show Page here https://www.showtix4u.com/events/RogueTheaterFestival.

Virtual Concert Benefit For Partnership Resources Inc. Featuring Some Great Local and National Talent!

Tickets are free for this benefit concert which features national talent such as Tony Award winner Santino Fontana (Best Actor in a Musical 2019 Tootsie) as well as locals such as T. Mychael Rambo and Christina Baldwin. I became aware of this show through my friend Joel Liestman who is on the Board of Directors for PRI, and who was instrumental in putting this concert together. I’m excited to see what everyone has in store for us. I hear that the performance by Christina Baldwin and her sister Jennifer Baldwin Peden is quite moving. T. Mychael Rambo is always an amazing performer. I’ve been a fan of Santino Fontana from his role as the original Greg on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and as Hans in Frozen. Plus, along with the professional talent performing during the concert several of their clients will also perform.

Partnership Resources, Inc. (PRI) is an organization that provides opportunities to individuals with disabilities to achieve their goals
through day services, arts, and employment. As I said, it’s a free event but, be sure to register by clicking here https://PRI.givesmart.com. And while we all enjoy free entertainment, please remember to donate to this worthy cause. Like every company, organization, and group in the world right now PRI is facing tough times. I believe it’s all of our responsibilities to help those in need. PRI is an organization dedicated to helping those in need providing paths for individuals with disabilities to be fulfilled and to find success. Please attend this virtual concert and support this company in their efforts to make a difference.

UPDATED!! Review of I’m Not Playing at Minnesota Fringe Festival.

WHO’S LOUIS?

I’m Not Playing is a rarity among the virtual Minnesota Fringe Festival offerings in that the video is very high quality. Clearly shot with an HD camera and very well lit. Unfortunately, like many Fringe offerings the audio is not great. I’m not sure if we are not supposed to hear what is happening at times or if sound has just been poorly captured. The installation is comprised of a single static shot, characters move in and out of frame. The story is about four roommates Dev, Jeremy, Jess and Caitlyn. Jeremy and Jess have just broken up the night before and the narrative is about the roommates efforts at facilitating Jeremy and Jess’s communication. The description says you can view it from a different POV which might help us to make sense of everything including long segments when nothing is happening on screen. If it can be viewed from different perspectives there must be a game to figuring out how to do it because it isn’t obvious or explained and I couldn’t figure it out. The POV I saw it from was “The Living Room” If there are indeed others like “the Bathroom” or “Jess’s Room” it might make the project more worthwhile. You definitely have the feeling you are missing something and you are not sure if this is one piece of a puzzle or if it’s just been inadequately produced.

As frustrated as I was by low and unintelligible dialogue when the presentation ended I went looking for other POV’s. That says something about what this group of performers presented. I suspect there are other cameras set up in different areas and the cast moves between them in real time so that you never have the full picture until you have seen all POV’s. That is a brilliant construct. The audio issues could be intentional because you’re not in the location where the dialogue is clear. If that is what’s happening here, then these are probably the first performers I’ve seen yet that figured out a way to do this virtual Fringe effectively, except of course the part where they maybe didn’t do that or did but didn’t make it clear how to see the other POV’s. I’d love to hear the answer to this question and if there are other POV’s, be pointed to them and I’ll gladly amend this review. At this point it’s a miss, with the feeling it might be a hit.

UPDATE: It’s a hit!!! Thanks to facebook comments from Derek Lee Miller, I was able to view the other POV’s and it was as I hoped, cameras set up in other locations all in real time. The trick to the viewing is that the Living Room is the only view available at the beginning, after it cuts from Jeremy’s instagram video other buttons appear above the video with other locations. Aside from the “Living Room” there is also “Dev’s Room” “Jess’ Room” “Whiteclaw” and “The Bathroom” which is the last room to become viewable. Once you’ve watched two or three you’ll be able to tell as you view the other rooms when you can slide the bar along and skip ahead. Put altogether I found this one of the most effective uses of the virtual experience. It probably owes more to film than it does theatre but it grabbed my attention and held my interest through five separate POV’s. the audio issues I mentioned earlier for the most part are eliminated by the different video streams, though the “Living Room” does have a sound issue in that a lot of Jeremy’s conversations you have to strain to make everything you should be catching.

Stuck in an Elevator with Patrick Stewart. Boldly Playing at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Photo by Pedro Juan Fonseca

Stuck in an Elevator With Patrick Stewart is another recorded show from a previous Fringe Festival, in this case 2013. If you’re a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation you should find this very entertaining, if you are not a fan you probably will as well. Much like The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical as enjoyable as the video of this is, it does make you long to see it in person. I hope this is something I’ll get a chance to see performed live some day. The play takes place at a Science Fiction Convention between the first and second seasons of ST:TNG. Patrick Stewart has gotten word that they are moving forward with the second season and in all likelihood will be exercising their option on his 6 year contract. Because of this he will have to turn down the lead in Richard III on stage, a role he has always wanted to play. In this foul mood, and seeing ST:TNG more as a curse than a blessing he loses patience with the fans lining up for autographs and the questions they ask him, eventually storming off. He ends up in an elevator with Daniel, his biggest fan. As the title foreshadows, the elevator gets stuck. Patrick over the course of their entrapment learns the true meaning of Star Trek from Daniel.

What is really smart about the script is the way it weaves true autobiographical information into the play. The parallels it illustrates between the fandom and escapism that Patrick at first ridicules with the way he coped with similar situation when he was young. More than once Stewart judges the books by their covers and makes assumptions about the people who are Trekkers only to be surprised by the realities. He tells Daniel he should read more than stupid tie-in Star Trek novels only to be surprised to learn that he read A Tale of Two Cities not long ago. There are many other examples like this and playwright Brandon Taitt does a skillful job of working all of these little aha! moments into the dialogue naturally. I was surprised by a subtlety I did not expect from such a high concept play that is only one hour long. There is quite a lot going on in this play, it’s entertaining and funny, but there is also some real food for thought, but it wisely lets that breathe rather than hammering it home. George M. Calger plays Patrick Stewart and he does a good job, but I felt there was room for a closer interpretation. It’s always difficult to play an extremely famous person. A impression is not the right approach, but I do think you want to try and capture their mannerisms and vocal work as closely as you can. It felt like some of those subtler mannerisms could have helped the illusion more. Brandon Caviness plays Daniel and he does a really nice job. He embodies the Fanboy, but shows us the person underneath that is all too easy to dismiss, he’s a fully rounded out character, again a tough thing to pull off in a short play. I really recommend this one.

One Quick Review From The Minnesota Fringe Festival

Super Patriots! is a program consisting of 2 short plays written by Carl Danielson. The first play focuses on Senator Joseph McCarthy and is manly staged with cutout photos of Mccarthy and other politicians. It is a satirical play which while presenting a fairly accurate account of the early 1950’s “red scare” and the rise of McCarthyism also draws parallels to the current state of politics and the “orange scare”. At around 10 minutes it is an entertaining and engagingly thought provoking piece of theatre. Part 2 is “Doughface” about President James Buchanan. This 10 minute short isn’t quite as successful, partly because it has 4 performers acting together in a Zoom session. I know it’s one of the few tools we have to still try and present theater in this time of Covid-19, and this works as well as Zoom performances do. “Doughface” while not as successful as Part 1, is still worth your time and like the play on McCarty, it draws some very strong comparisons to today. These are definitely worth your time, Part 1 being a more effective theatrical presentation in these days of social distancing. Both are humorous and based more on fact than you might think, some of the more outrageous sounding bits are actual quotes.