Moving and Accessible Skylark Opera Theatre’s Amahl and the Night Visitors

Opera can be a little daunting. It’s a play told with singing, a set, and a plot but it isn’t a musical. It’s a different art form. Of all the performing arts, it’is the one that seems to fall under the “acquired taste” description. No one but opera singers go around singing arias while many of us can be caught singing our favorite show tunes from time to time. The musical passages just aren’t individually catchy and the the singing is not the style we are used to. It can be difficult due to the style of singing to understand the Libretto. As such, a person’s first experience with Opera can leave one lost. If this is you and or you haven’t yet exposed yourself to Opera but are curious, this is the show for you. If you enjoy Opera and would like to introduce the artform to a young person in your life, this is also the show for that. Amahl and the Night Visitors side steps the usual barriers to understanding and enjoying opera for the uninitiated. It’s understandable, under an hour in running time, and for this reviewer, quite moving.

Amahl and the Night Visitors was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1951 for NBC, it was the first opera ever written for television in the US and premiered on Christmas Eve 1951. It tells of Amahl a 10-year old disabled boy who has to walk with the aid of a crutch. Amahl and his widowed mother are very poor and will soon have to resort to begging in order to survive. They are awoken in the middle of the night by a knock on the door. It is three kings who are following a star to find a newborn king and bring him gifts. Amahl and his mother give them shelter to rest on their travel. They send for the other villagers to bring what they can to feed the kings and to dance for them. After the other villagers have gone and the kings and their servant have gone to sleep the mother tries to steal some of their gold in order to feed her and Amahl. The servant catches her and threatens to beat her. Amahl fiercely attacks the servant to save his mother, in the commotion the Kings are awoken. Seeing the love Amahl has for his mother and knowing how poor they are, the Kings tell her to keep the gold, describing the new king they go to see. The mother repents and refuses the gold and regrets she has nothing to send the new king herself. Amahl offers his crutch, his most prized possession and with this gesture something miraculous occurs.

The Part of Amahl is played on alternate dates by twins Oskar Helle-Morrissey and Henry Helle-Morrissey, fifth graders. The production I saw featured Henry as Amahl, it’s an impressive to see a 10 or 11 year old singing Opera and performing with other talented performers. Everyone in the cast is exceptional, Vicki Fingalson as the Mother is a standout with a beautiful voice which is also easily understood. You are never at a loss for what she or any of the performers are singing. Wesley Frye, Maje Adams, and Rob Riordan play the three kings, each with a distinct personality and rich voices. When the villagers dance for the King’s it’s beautifully performed by Penelope Freeh and Sam Johnson. The dance interlude is the perfect length, it lasts long enough to impress but doesn’t last too long for the younger members of the audience.

The show is performed in the Andy Boss Thrust Stage at the Park Square Theatre. It’s an intimate setting with a very nice set designed by Ann Gumpper and effectively lit by James Eischen. It’s a one set production in a small space of high quality. It basically conveys the inside of Amahls home, with all that is needed by the story, the portion of a window on one side for the mother to call Amahl through, and a door opposite for the visitors to knock on and enter through. The back wall connecting the two partial sides contains their fireplace, and behind the set a large screen on which a starry sky can be suggested. The music is provided by two keyboards played by Jordan Buchholtz and Music Director Carson Rose Schneider. It is the perfect accompaniment for the performers and space.

If you are a fan of, or curious about opera, and looking for a Christmas themed show that tells a story set around the birth of Jesus, Amahl and the Night Visitors is a great choice. I found it accessible, beautifully performed, and ultimately emotionally moving. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.skylarkopera.org/home

Uff Da, That’s Good Clean Fun! “Another Miracle on Christmas Lake” at Yellow Tree Theatre

So Leaving the theatre after Another Miracle on Christmas Lake, I turns to the wife and I sez, “So Micky, Whatcha think of dat der show?” And Micky, well ya know she turns ta me and sez, “Yah, dat was pretty good. What about you, Did you enjoy da show?” Well I said, “Yah sure, you betcha I did, it was real good, real good.” and Micky agreed, she said “Yah”, and then for good measure so as not to seem wishy washy added “Real good.” To reassure her that we were on the same page and our marriage was still on solid ground I added, “Real good.” Because a lot can happen in two hours and you don’t always want to assume things. I knew a guy once who went out ice fishing after lunch one Saturday and when he came back for dinner, his wife had packed her bag and gone to her mothers. I asked him why she went and did that, he had no idea. They hadn’t fought or anything. They’d had their lunch as peaceful as anything. When he finished his tomato soup and grilled cheese, he got up from the table, kissed her, and headed to the ice house. Just same as he did with every free minute he had once the lake froze over every year. But when he came home, she had packed up, taken their new baby, and headed to his mother-in-laws. So you know, there’s no tellin’ sometimes what can happen in a just a few hours.

One thing you can be certain of is having a lot of laughs and a heck of a good time at Yellow Tree Theatre’s Another Miracle on Christmas Lake. The play was written by the cofounder of Yellow Tree Theatre Jessica Lind Peterson. There are several different plot threads in the play. Colin and Tess are trying to mount a Christmas play during a Goat Flu outbreak, which has laid up most of the town and left them without a cast. The Goat Flu has also hit the town hard financially as they rely on tourism economically. Without the tourists dollars this year, the town will again fall short of their budget and likely be annexed by the neighboring town of Potterton. Which will also lead to a chemical plant being built in Christmas Lake, and as we all know, chemicals will melt your face. But all is not bleak. To town comes a Hollywood Location Scout, Stefan, who brings with him the hope that they might choose Christmas Lake to film a remake of It’s a Wonderful Life. The dollars from such a project would save the town from annexation and the chemical plant. Add to all of this a love square between Stefan, local sweethearts Martha and Neil, and the volunteer Police Chief Gunther, who lives with his mother. What is it about Martha that drives all three of these men to vie for her affection? Is it her lizard or her tater tot hotdish?

A show like this with a script that’s full of dumb humor but in a very smart way succeeds or fails on it’s cast. The cast is up to the task. Antonio Duke as Colin and Sophina Saggau who has stepped in for the original actress as Tess play the straight roles. Duke is at his best reacting to the far crazier characters whirling about him. You wouldn’t have guessed that Saggau wasn’t onboard from the start, she fits right in. She and Duke have a chemistry that felt surprisingly real for such a silly show. There is a sexual spark between them not of the hot and heavy type but of the sweet, married, but still like to be a little naughty variety that’s much more interesting in real life. It added something unique and special to these straight person roles. Jason Ballweber who plays three distinct characters is great, and the thing is you almost don’t realize how great until his third character comes on and then you replay the three roles in your head, it’s quietly impressive. Lisa Vogel and Ryan Nelson as Martha and Neil both excel at voice work. Vogel nails the comedic over the top Minnesotan accent. Nelson’s Neil is under the impression that acting is doing impressions. So when they perform the Christmas play we get him doing a spot on Peter Griffin from Family Guy and a pretty good Christopher Walken. They both save their biggest surprise for the final moments of the play. Finally, Michael Quadrozzi who plays Stefan as a force of nature who blows into town as if he just stepped out of a cartoon. A Hollywood blowhard by way of bedrock. His wardrobe by Costume Designer Samantha Fromm Haddow as well as his hair combined with his fantastically broken, yet fully understandable english to create a hilariously memorable character. Stefan’s fight on stage with Neil, is one of the highlights of the show, brilliantly executed by both actors.

The playbill tells me it’s the sequel to Miracle on Christmas Lake, which I have not seen. I don’t think it is necessary to have seen its predecessor. I was able to follow the plot and figure out who everyone was and what was happening. I suppose it’s possible that I would have found deeper themes, a richer sense of the characters. Perhaps a subtextual meditation on gender roles and the suppression of the “self”, but I doubt it. It seemed fairly straightforward to me. I don’t think there was anything deeper going on, I think this was meant to entertain and bring joy. Sometimes that’s all we want or need. Something to make us laugh together and take our minds off work, Christmas shopping, the bad play we saw last week or the wife who has taken our six week old daughter and moved back home to her mother’s house.

Another Miracle on Christmas Lake runs through January 2nd 2022 for more information and to purchase tickets click here https://yellowtreetheatre.com/

Theater Latte Da’s “All is Calm” is a Soulful History Lesson that Rejoices in our Shared Humanity. Not to Be Missed!

Photo by Dan Norman

My first Experience with All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, came in late 2019 when my wife and I were in the audience while they filmed the production to air on PBS. That experience though filled with starts and stops as multiple takes were done of various scenes still gave us a taste of something wonderful. Last year we watched the full uninterrupted production on PBS. This year We sat second row, dead center, and were enveloped in the beauty of this magnificent work. If you’ve only seen All is Calm on PBS you are only getting a fraction of its power. For a little over an hour, ten men sang songs that were over 100 years old, sometimes in languages I do not speak, and I was under their spell completely.

All is Calm tells the story of the spontaneous truce that occured on Christmas day 1914 in the Trenches of the western front during World War I. The play opens in complete darkness, then a voice cuts through the silence singing acapella “Will Ye Go to Flanders?”. A shiver runs up your spine. Slowly lights come up as one lone man emerges from the darkness and takes center stage. Then slowly as if out of the past the others appear. Throughout the show the performers stand in for the real men who fought that hellish war. They will read dialogue that is taken from actual letters, journals, official war documents, and even poetry among various other sources. It is through these spoken snippets and the songs that are sung that we follow the pulse of those early days of the first world war. The first songs and dialogue are about the thrill of joining up, doing your part for King and country. But then the grim reality of war sets in and the tone changes. We get a sense of what living and fighting in the trenches was like day after day. Then Christmas comes and with it the truce and we experience through the eyes of these men the universal truth that we are all the same underneath. What a beautiful reminder at this time of year and in this world we live in. And as always happens, Christmas ends, and so does the truce. The soldiers who were exchanging gifts, taking photographs together and playing football in no man’s land, go back to fighting for another three years.

All is Calm was created and directed by Peter Rothstein who is also the Founding Artistic Director of Theater Latte Da. The musical arrangements are by the Music Director Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach. The marvel of the show is the way the songs weave together and the layering of the harmonies. Sitting in the theater listening to these ten voices working in unison without the aid of musical instruments, just their voices creating some of the most beautiful music I’ve heard. Flowing from one song into another, sometimes in concert with each other and then having a performer step forward and become a young Scottish soldier or a gruff German Sergeant. Adding a human voice to the chorus of angels, giving us the context within the emotion. It is an accomplishment that will surely rank among their greatest creative achievements. Completing what is about as near as you can get to a perfect production is the work of Lighting Designer Marcus Dilliard. The key to the look of this production is simplicity, it is a black wardrobe, black backdrop and the lighting sells the mood, the setting. It’s subtle in its perfection, it’s the slight lowering or raising of the light to just exactly the right level. It looks simple because it feels meant to be. The Costumes by Designer Trevor Bowen also simple, but undeniably right. Everything about All is Calm, even the backdrop which is mostly black, but at times shows clouds, mist, a moon and stars, is simple, but perfect. It all comes together to create an experience so beautiful, so engrossing, that you don’t want it to be over. In fact, if there is one complaint it’s that the show isn’t longer.

To say that the cast is full of terrific singers is to undersell them. these are not great singers they are vocal Gods. From the first song which seems to transport you to the Scottish highlands from your seat in north Minneapolis. These voices envelope you and carry you along to war. Normally I would single out my favorite performers but that is impossible, they are to a man, brilliant. There were several new faces in the cast from the ones I had seen during the filming and on PBS. And one member of the cast that was there before and was in the program but wasn’t on stage was James Ramlet, Counting the cast member from this program and the program I have from 2019 I suspect that Ramlet and another performer must alternate. I may have to try and see it again before it closes to compare. Honestly, it’s the sort of show you wish you could have a season pass to, so you could just drop in any night and let the music wash over you.

All Is Calm runs through Jan 2nd 2022 at The Ritz Theater in North Minneapolis. This is the best Musical theatrical Christmas show you are going to find this year or any. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.latteda.org/

Elf The Musical JR. at Stages Theatre Company in Downtown Hopkins is a Fantastic Holiday Treat for all Ages.

Sayer Keeley as Buddy Photo by Fischeye Films

God did I need this! I was afraid I was turning into Ebenezer Theater Scrooge. This was the 4th show in a row that was an adaptation of a book or film that I love and the first three resulted in negative reviews. Stages Theatre Company has renewed my faith in theater with Elf the Musical Jr.! Frankly, I had gone into this production in light of the last week with lowered expectations knowing there would be a cast made up mostly of school aged theatre students and adjust my critical gaze accordingly. Completely unnecessary! This cast and production require no handicap, they were fantastic! Looking for a Holiday show to take your young kids to, or older kids, but the Children’s Theatre Company a bit out of your price range? Stages tickets will cost you about a third or less of Children’s and this productions ranks right up there With Annie.

Elf the Musical Jr. tells the story of Buddy, an orphan who as a child snuck into Santa’s bag. Santa’s elves decided to raise Buddy as their own so Buddy grew up at the North Pole believing he was an Elf. When he learns he is human and that he has a father in New York City, he sets off with Santa’s blessing to find him. Having grown up at the North Pole, Buddy is unfamiliar with the way life works in the world of humans and much of the humor comes from this fish out of water setup. Buddy finds his father along with a stepmother and half brother as well. Buddy’s father doesn’t know of his existence and assumes Buddy is insane and has him escorted out by security. He ends up in the the toy department at Macy’s and is mistaken for an employee as he’s dressed like an elf. Here he meets the toy department manager and a girl he falls in love at first sight with Jovie. Before the end of the play Buddy must connect with his new family, win over Jovie, and help the city of New York believe in Santa Clause so that his sleigh will fly again.

Elf the Musical Jr. is based on the new classic film from New Line Cinema Elf. The adaptations book is by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. The show runs about 1 hour 20 minutes with a brief intermission to get up and stretch and so the story needed to be condensed from the film. The script does a nice job of altering the films story to simplify things without losing the heart of the story. The songs were lively and fun, I especially liked “A Christmas Song” and “The Story of Buddy”. The Show’s opening song “Happy All the Time” burst forth as a promise that the show never failed to live up to. It was also with this first song that I knew I was in good hands. The Choreography by Krysti Wiita, the cast of elves, and Buddy were in perfect synchronization. You could tell how hard they had worked on their dancing by how effortlessly they seemed to be performing it. The Set Designer Joe Stanley created simple scene changes that flowed nicely. The sets conveyed the places they needed to, particularly effective was the park which really evoked the feel of a park with it’s bare branches strung with lights.

The cast led by Sayer Keeley was fantastic. Keeley though a bit short in what would be ideal in the height department for Buddy makes up for it and more with the Christmas joy he exudes. As a Senior, I sure hope he intends to continue in theater past high school. He has the stage presence to command an audience’s attention and the performing skills vocally and physically. Other standouts were Josie Turk as Jovie and Will Buckler as Michael Hobbs. Lending some adult assistance are Roy Richardson Jr. as the Macy’s Manager, Shana Eisenberg as Emily Hobbs, Bruce Rowan as Santa Claus, and Brent Teclaw as Walter Hobbs. All of them help the young performers excel and in doing so, shine as well. There is a particularly effective duet between Will Buckler and Shana Eisenberg on the song “I’ll Believe in You”. Really everyone from the main rolls down to the littlest elf were spot on and I believed them when they reminded me that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/. Elf the Musical Jr. runs through December 27th.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” at Lyric Arts

Photo by: Molly Weibel, 1000 Words Photography

It’s a Wonderful Life, the stage adaptation by Doug Rand from the great classic film by Frank Capra is on stage at Lyric Arts in Anoka. It’s an extremely faithful adaptation down to the opening showing a starfield and the freeze frame of George Bailey as an adult in his first scene. As I’m sure you all know, It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey who has come to the day of crisis in his life. The show opens on a starfield and we hear prayers for George Bailey. The heavens hear these prayers and call up Clarence, the Angel Second Class to try and help George through his darkest hour. Before Clarence can help George he has to learn about him and what has led him to this moment. We journey along with Clarence and watch the key moments from George’s life. From Saving his brother after he falls through the ice while sledding, his courtship and marriage to Mary Hatch, and the events of the day that have led to all the prayers being sent. After getting up to speed, Clarence is sent down to do what he can to help George through this night. The way to show George that he matters and has lived a wonderful life is suggested by George himself when he says it would have been better if he’d never been born. Clarence arranges it so he can see what the world would have been like if he had never existed. We see in call backs to all the events of his life what would have happened to his friends, family, and town if he had not been there.

The original film is so tightly constructed that there isn’t a single throw away moment. Everything that happens either informs the characters or illustrates something that, had it not happened, would have tragic repercussions for either a character or the entire town. The play is nearly word for word the same and is just as well constructed. I very much liked the design and staging of the show. The set by Greg Vanselow contains flats on which different images and even pre-recorded video can be projected upon. It allows for us to easily imagine we are in downtown Bedford Falls, the school gymnasium, the Bailey House, and even the bridge from which George contemplates whether or not he might be worth more to his family dead than alive. Unlike a play, films change locations rapidly and scenes are frequently shorter than what you would usually have. To some extent the production uses video scenes to move the story along. This technique works in what it intends to accomplish in terms of moving the story along and staging scenes that would be difficult on stage. I like the idea, and how it was executed technically for the most part. The one thing I cannot understand is, if you are doing video to project of a scene, why you would use takes where lines are flubbed and or the action comes off as unconvincing. Why not just do another take and get the scene right? The show opens with a couple of video scenes and it leaves you with a sinking feeling. Again it’s a clever idea and technologically well executed it terms of how the projection appears on the set. It’s the right idea but the idea isn’t exploited nearly as well as it could be.

The cast feels rusty, which is understandable, most probably haven’t performed live since Covid-19 shut down the world. But there are some standouts. I thought Eva Gemlo was perfectly cast as Mary she had the sweetness and pluck making the character her own. Rick Wyman as Clarence and other roles was equally well cast, he seemed natural and found the right amount of humor in his line readings. Jennifer Ramirez who stepped in for Lois Estell as Ma Bailey was also very natural. I don’t know if she was an understudy or had to step in at the last minute, but either way without the slip in the program, you would never have guessed she wasn’t supposed to be there. Warren Sampson as Mr. Potter was also quite good. There were several members of the cast who played multiple roles most making them distinct and different enough that we kept them straight. Kayli McIntyre was the most successful in this exercise. Doni Marinos did excellent voice work but the characters looked too much the same. He played multiple characters in the Dance scene and the addition of hats or glasses or a wig would have gone a long way to selling the changes. The costumes by Rebecca Bernstein were good for the most part but this was one area where more was needed. There was also a distractingly too large of a suit coat on Peter Bailey that should not have been allowed onstage.

This brings me to George Bailey played by Raul Arambula. I don’t know what is going on lately but this is the third show in a row that has taken a beloved character and tried to alter the interpretation so radically that it ends up diminishing the show. Arambula, plays George alternately as someone who doesn’t take anything seriously, too broad. Then as someone who is taking everything too seriously, as if suffering from PTSD. I think that was intentional and to my mind it’s all wrong. George Bailey is not a character suffering from mental illness, he’s a man having understandable reactions to serious events. In the Director’s note in the program, Hannah Wienberg-Goerger calls this production a “holiday card”. That is exactly what it should be and is, in most ways. But, this ill advised attempt to make the end about mental illness somehow is unsuccessful and antithetical to the “holiday card” intention. The recent revival of Oklahoma! taught us that you could take a classic and by changing the interpretation you could change the meaning without altering a single word. In that case it worked and it gave us a show that reflected the world we live in now through the prism of a show almost 80 years old. It was almost as if Wienberg-Goerger and Arambula were attempting that with the second half of this play. For this material, and with what you should be trying to convey to the audience with this production, it’s inappropriate and misguided. What audiences who are coming back to the theatre after covid need is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The material has such a strong message you don’t need to try and reconceptualize it for a modern audience. You’ve changed it from a play that celebrates the ordinary man who just needs his Guardian Angel to give him the time and clarity to understand the impact he’s had on those around him. Instead, they have tried to change it into a story of a man who has his mental illness cured by an Angel. This does not result in the same message.

I heard one audience member say at intermission “this is awful”. I don’t think that’s fair because there’s a lot of good work here as well. I think the adaptation is very faithful. The staging, the sets, and projection ideas are a great way to stage this. But it falls down in the performance and directorial concept. It’s hard to know when it comes to an interpretation of a character if it is the actors choices that do not work or the director’s vision that is at fault. But it feels like there was not enough attention paid by Wienberg-Goerger to what was happening on stage. Aside from the video takes used, there is a scene later on when a character is shown playing the violin, why didn’t someone tell the performer they need to try and make their motions while they fake the violin somewhat match the audio we are hearing. Another performer is capable of little more than reciting the lines, and not even that is done without multiple flubs. I love the Lyric Arts Theatre and I hate to write a negative review, but the bottom line is that the missteps outweigh the positives in this case and I can’t recommend this production. It’s heartbreaking when you see good ideas and good work undone. It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite film of all time. Maybe I’m being a little hard on the play because of that, I felt like I had put myself in the frame of mind to accept change and embrace a new interpretation. Maybe I just wasn’t able to do that.

It’s a Wonderful Life runs through December 19th for more information and to purchase tickets click here https://www.lyricarts.org/.

A Murder is Announced at Theatre In The Round Players.

Theatre in the Round Players presents their annual Agatha Christie adaptation with the Miss Marple thriller, A Murder is Announced. Many critics may sneer at such a quaint tradition of dusting off an Agatha Christie play every year to run from right before Thanksgiving to just before Christmas. I’m not one of those, my first show at TRP was an Agatha Christie featuring Poirot. I’m a fan of Christie, I’m well past halfway in through her bibliography. I have read the novel A Murder is Announced and have seen two TV adaptations. So, I know the story and I know Miss Marple. I’ll admit, it does hamper the enjoyment a little bit when you know the solution but that isn’t a really a big hurdle for me. I still enjoy seeing how the writer has adapted the plot, how the director has staged it, and what the actors have done with their roles. For the most part TRP has done a nice job with this years Christie. The adaptation keeps the plot and most of the characters intact. There are a couple of standout performances and overall the production is well staged. But, this was the second show in a row, that I have been to, where a major and beloved character has been altered to the detriment of the play.

As I say I knew who the killer is; however, the whodunnit I’d like the answer to is, who is responsible for this butchering of Miss Marple? Was it Leslie Darbon who adapted the novel for the stage? Was it Director Brian Joyce? Was it all the work of the actor playing the role Jane Hammill? Unfortunately, we may never know whodunnit in this particular case. I have enjoyed different interpretations of Christie characters from the most faithful Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple to the, shall we say less so with Margaret Rutherford’s take on the elderly spinster with a knack for criminology. But this was a bridge too far for me. Rather than the observantly quiet birdlike character we get an boldly arch version who takes command of the stage with a youthful energy and a conceited wit that utterly betrays the author’s intention. It isn’t just Hammill’s take on the character the costumes by Rebecca Karstad are all wrong for Marple. Though they do lend themselves to this interpretation. Only thing missing to complete this assassination would have been a cape and a fedora. It’s just the wrong choices all around in relation to this character. Perhaps they were looking to freshen things up with a new take on the character. But that too is the wrong decision. This is TRP, this is the annual Christie play, the average age of the audience has to be 60 or higher. They came for their Christie they have known and loved for decades. This is not the show of any given season to experiment with. This is our Holiday treat, this is when we want something traditional. It’s what TRP typically does really well.

Now, if you are not a Miss Marple fan, and have no particular expectation or love for that character, there is a lot that is right about this production. If that isn’t going to be an issue for you then there is no reason you wouldn’t have a fun time with this little mystery. It keeps to the basics of Christie’s plot and as such, you’ve got about as solid of a mystery as you’re likely to come across. An advertisement is placed in the local paper announcing that a murder will take place at Mrs. Blacklock’s home on a certain evening at a certain time. Everyone assumes it’s either a joke or a game, until the announcement proves deadly accurate. Miss Marple is on hand to lend assistance to Inspector Craddock and there is little doubt that justice will be served. It’s a plot choke full of coincidences that bring revelations but not solutions. It’s a very intricate scheme the killer has devised and if you don’t already know the solution you probably won’t see it coming.

The good news despite the unfortunate portrayal of Marple is that the character of Inspector Craddock seemingly has more stage time. He is played by Erik Steen and is one of the standout performances. The other is Meri Golden as Letitia Blacklock who is the owner of the house where the murder will take place and quite possibly the intended victim. Her character is put through a lot and and she does a convincing job of being the caregiver and diplomat to and between the other characters. And then slowly losing it as death closes in around her. Another highlight of the cast is Shara Marquez as the Cook Mitzi who provides some appropriate comic relief. It’s a broad character but she keeps it from becoming cartoonish. The rest of the cast does what they can with their parts. One of the downsides of a whodunnit is you have to have enough characters so that the who isn’t obvious. Several of the performers fail to make much of an impression, possibly due to lack of lines and stage time.

I know that wasn’t a glowing review, but I would like to add that if you are unfamiliar with the story and don’t know your Miss Marple from your Ariadne Oliver, you might want to give this a go. It’s a clever mystery and well staged. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatreintheround.org/

Bloomington’s Artistry Brings a Musical Version of Little Woman to the Stage

Design by David Nanda

Little Women has been a favorite story since I first saw the Winona Ryder film adaptation in theaters in 1994. I’ve since read the novel by Louisa May Alcott and seen various other screen adaptations, but this was my first experience of it on the stage. It’s a mixed bag of an adaptation, much of it works well, but when it falls short, it’s in fairly significant ways. But, if you are a fan as I am of Alcott’s timeless story of the four March sisters and the characters that orbit them, you’ll have a very enjoyable evening out.

Little Women the Broadway Musical tells the story of the March family of Concord Massachusetts during and following the civil war. The father is away at war and Marmee March is raising her four daughters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The story focuses on Jo as we’ll learn she is the one who has written down the story of her and her sisters. Most of the play is told in a flashback as it opens after the war is over and Jo has moved to New York City to become a writer. She is having a conversation with her friend Professor Bhaer and reads him one of her “blood and cuts” stories which transitions nicely into the past where Jo and her sisters prepare to act out her latest opus. Jo is the passionate nonconformist writer in the family. Meg the romantic but also down to earth sister. Amy the baby and brat of the family. Beth the timid and selfless daughter. They are befriended by Laurie, the grandson of the wealthy old curmudgeon across the street. From that, friendship flourishes other relationships that enrich the story; Laurie’s Tutor John Brooke and his Grandfather also become involved with the family. The heart of the story is the relationships between the sisters, their mother Marmee, and the connections and bonds that form with those around them.

The book for the musical by Allan Knee hits most of the major plot points of the novel. But the whole thing feels like the Cliff Notes version. If you were not familiar with the story I’d wonder if you would really understand everything thing that happens. None of the relationships are given the time to develop. For instance, the relationship between Laurie’s Grandfather and Beth. If you know the story you can extrapolate from the one scene they are given. If not, Well then it seems like a throwaway scene that’s an excuse for a fun song. Towards the end there is a song between Beth and Jo at the seaside that tells us about their special bond, the problem is that special bond is being told to us at the end of the play, when it should have been shown to us throughout the play. The most grievous error in judgment comes in the portrayal of Beth. In the novel, and other adaptations, Beth is timid and shy, she is a homebody but has a heart of gold who would give the food off her table or even her life to those less fortunate than herself. There is nothing of that character here. She is vibrant and outgoing there is nothing about the character in this version that rings true to its source. It’s hard to say if the actor Lauren Hugh who plays Beth, made these choices or if she was directed to this interpretation. I tend to think it’s the latter as the script seems to sidestep the clues to the character that we would normally see. What makes the four sisters so enduring is they are all unique and fully formed characters. Each is an individual but in this version, Beth and Meg are almost interchangeable. Beth is the most poignant characters in the entire novel, but here to achieve that all we are left with is her fate, a plot point rather than a character. That is the major flaw with this bullet point adaptation, none of the characters have room to grow and change. The other disappointment character wise is Amy played by Shinah Hey. In Act I, she’s a brat and we kind of dislike her as the annoyingly little sister she is playing. That’s how we are supposed to feel about her. In Act II, she’s older but still a silly girl, hasn’t really matured at all, and that is not how we are supposed to feel about her. These are not really performance issues, this is script and direction.

One thing I’ve come to expect from the Artistry is superb music. Little Women the Broadway Musical is no exception. The orchestra under the musical direction of Anita Ruth was, as always, impeccable. The songs music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein were fun right from the start. The first number “An Operatic Tragedy” is an acting out of one of Jo’s stories. It’s full of humor and creativity and was a great start to the show. I enjoyed many of the songs and the cast performed them all beautifully. Standouts in the vocal department are hard to single out as they all were top notch. Bradley Johnson as Laurie and Madeline Trumble as Jo were particularly strong. Acting wise I particularly like the performances of Angela Timberman as Aunt March and Dwight Xaveir Leslie as Professor Bhaer. Neither had as much stage time as I would have liked, but both made use of every minute they got. Lastly, the Set Design by Leazah Behrens along with the lighting design by Mike Grogan worked beautifully together to create at least seven distinct locations during the course of the show. Minimal but very effective.

Little Women the Broadway Musical runs through November 28th for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://artistrymn.org/2022-season.