Two Reviews From Opening Night of the Minnesota Fringe Festival

PHOTO BY BRIAN FELDMAN PROJECTS

#txtshow (on the internet)

I’ll let you in on a little secret, tonight was my first ever Fringe show. Coincidently it was also Brian Feldman’s first Minnesota Fringe performance. #txtshow (on the internet) is a fully interactive performance piece. Brian Feldman is the creator if the show and the performer but you and I, your partner or BFF, or even your grandmother are the writers. The show takes place on zoom, most of us have become very familiar with zoom over the last few months. Be warned you will have to leave your microphone and camera on for the entire performance. Hey, a reason to put a little effort into your appearance again for a change isn’t really a bad thing. The concept is simple and the tech works pretty smoothly. Once Feldman, in the character of Txt (pronounced Text), sits down at the desk, we the audience begin to feed him lines of dialogue. Feldman reads the lines of dialogue as they come up and does so for about 45 minutes straight.

Every show is different obviously, as the audience for each show provides the script. It’s a little tricky at first but the more everyone participates the better the shows will be. It’s a lot like improve but we as the writers have to be the ones who play nice, always say yes and always try to keep the story alive. It lends itself as a concept to absurdist comedy, non sequiturs, and very strange tangents. Be warned, it could go anywhere so this is not a show for children. Feldman’s strength is in his delivery, he knows how to cold read a line and instinctively how to say it to try and blend it with whatever came before or might come next. My suggestion for any aspiring writers out there is to sign up for one of the remaining performances. Write longer lines of dialogue, try to keep with whatever the general theme is and make the wording as open at the beginning and end as you can. When the sentences flow it’s really quite fun, what doesn’t work as well are one or two words at a time, they frequently don’t blend well. The biggest factor on whether it succeeds or not is you, so participate!

It’s a free show and worth every penny. Upcoming performances of #txtshow (on the internet) are Mon Aug 3 & Thu Aug 6 @ 9:00 PM and Sun Aug 9 @ 5:00 PM https://txtmn.eventbrite.com is the link to sign up. The email you are sent once you register will have a PDF explaining how it works so read through it before the show starts. There will also be links for ways in which you can donate to the performer. Please remember all it cost you was the $5 for a Fringe button and to show Mr. Feldman some love if you have a good time.

GRAPHIC BY TAYLOR WEGNER

The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical

This is a tricky one. This is a video recording from a previous years Fringe festival. The show itself is good, the quality of the presentation is not. I started to watch it on my TV, but I couldn’t make out the words very well, particularly when they were singing. I quickly switched to my laptop and that was definitely an improvement, but it’s still less than ideal. If it wasn’t free I would say skip it. If you are not a fan or if you have just recently started to watch The Office, I’d skip this as there are actually a lot of spoilers for what happens with the characters in later seasons. If you are a fan of The Office and have seen most of the episodes you’ll probably find enough in the poor presentation to make it worth watching. The actors and the writer know the show and the characters really well. They capture the humor and the essence of all the characters. In fact this is one way in which the fuzzy washed out video actually helps as a few of the actors you can almost mistake for the shows actual cast. Particularly effective are Melissa Noelle Murray as Pam and the actor not listed on the Fringe Website who is channeling Kevin perfectly. It will definitely wet your appetite to hopefully see the show live sometime in the future.

The Scranton Strangler: An Office Musical is a well written show and available to view anytime during the festival with your Minnesota Fringe button. If you don’t have a Minnesota Fringe button yet, go here https://www.minnesotafringe.org/. From this site you can click on the heading along the top where it says buy a button. Buttons are $5 and will give you access to the digital hub. That’ll give you access to a lot of free shows, some live shows, and some recorded shows. Some shows will require an additional payment.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival goes virtual

Hello again fellow theater enthusiasts! It’s been quite a dry spell on the theater going front, but that can end tonight for all of us. The Minnesota Fringe Festival launches tonight and runs through August 9th. Obviously in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic there has been a radical change to this years festival, it has gone virtual. There have been an increasing number of virtual theatre projects in the last 4 months. For the most part I have not been participating in those, I checked a few out in the early days and found them wanting, you may have done the same. Well enough time has passed and I have a feeling that a lot of artists have figured out how to tackle the virtual performance arena. I’m going to dive in and sample as many as I can between tonight and August 9th. I’ll post capsule reviews for the shows I see so that, as is always the arrangement between you and I, you will know where to invest your time wisely.

So some details, which I will correct and add to as I navigate my own way through the Festival.

Go here https://www.minnesotafringe.org/. From this site you can click on the heading along the top where it says buy a button. Buttons are $5 and will give you access to the digital hub. That is going to give you access to a lot of free shows, some live shows, some recorded shows. Some shows will require and additional payment. I will more than likely be reviewing the free shows, giving priority to shows that feature creators or performers I have enjoyed in the past or artists who have reached out directly requesting reviews. I’ll also be getting recommendations from my colleagues at the @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers . Now there are like 70 performances to check out, I’m not going to get through anywhere near all of them. So I highly recommend going through the list of shows and descriptions for yourself and seeing which ones sound interesting to you. You can also check the @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers facebook page to see what the other bloggers have seen and what they recommend. Now as I mentioned there is a lot of free content and I encourage you to take advantage of that, but I also urge you to make donations to The Minnesota Fringe Festival so that this institution survives and hopefully next year we can see they festival live in person. Also, if you can, donate to the artists that are creating all of this theater for us. Remember many of them were full time theater folks and many of them are struggling right now financially. Now, more than ever before I think, as we all binge TV shows and long to leave our homes to see some live performances we realize how much our lives are enriched by artists and how necessary they are to a civilization. So stop reading this, click on the link above, buy a button, and start foraging for fun fringe finds.

Pink Unicorn Moves, Entertains, Connects, and Educates. Everything Great Theatre Should Do.

Kate Guentzel – Photo by LaurenB photography 

I was really looking forward to the Illusion Theater’s production of Elise Forier Edie’s play The Pink Unicorn. Everything thing I read indicated it would be right up my alley. Nothing could have prepared me for one of the most moving evenings I’ve had in the theater all year. The Pink Unicorn is the best play about the experience of being a parent to a transgender child. It gets it exactly right, from the confusion to the mistakes, the fear for our children and the anger at those that hurt them. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Kate Guentzel’s performance is so open, honest and relatable it moved me to tears on three separate occasions in it’s 70 minute run time. You will not find a show playing in the Twin Cities this weekend that will do more for your understanding of others or your soul.

The Pink Unicorn is a one woman show based actual events from playwright Elise Forier Edie’s life. Kate Guentzel is Trisha a widowed mother of a daughter Jolene in a small Texas town. Trisha begins by telling about the day her 14 year old daughter told her that she was not a girl or a boy but that they are genderqueer. Trisha doesn’t know what that means and like most parents who are given this news she will be playing catch up with her child for a long time. She brings us along on their journey as Jolene now wanting to be called Joe tries to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at their high school. We share in her experiences with her church, her battles with the school, and the non acceptance of her mother. Through everything the character remains a fallible human. Trisha isn’t written as a hero or a character that leads the way and does no wrong. She shares her initial confusion which are natural to have about something we don’t understand. She also shares her urge to go in and beat it out of her child. She says and thinks things that are not OK, just like everyone else on the planet. The play isn’t afraid to show us that side, because it also shows us the moments where she steps up and supports her child letting her love rather than fears guide her. That is the path for every parent on this journey, grapple with unknown, make mistakes, try and learn from them, and ultimately let love show you the way.

I have not seen a performance this year that connected with me as strongly as Kate Guentzel’s did. It felt like she was performing directly to my son and I. Which it turns out she sort of was as we were in the front row and the only faces she could see in the audience with the lights down. I know that connection was also because as the parent of a transgender child, I related to the character of Trisha. However, I don’t think you have to be the parent of a transgender child to feel that connection though. I think every parent can relate to the character, in fact I think every parent should see this play. We can all understand the emotions she is having and for those who haven’t been through it personally, this show can be the catalyst for empathy and the beginnings of tolerance. I have on occasion, spoken to groups about our journey with or about our son. I do that because I learned very early in the process that sharing our personal story, more than statistics or newspaper and magazine articles, is what creates understanding. With understanding comes acceptance, and with acceptance hopefully comes support. Edie has found a way to do that with her play, we know that Trisha is a character in a play being performed by an actress, but we also feel the authenticity and know that the story is true. It creates that same empathy. If you do not understand all this “trans or genderqueer stuff” do yourself a favor, go to this play, it will help you understand. And finally, I cannot close without just saying that Kate Guentzel was dead brilliant, it was a privilege to be in the front row, to be spoken to so directly, to witness such a truthful and engaging performer own a role so completely. Her Southern Accent was so well done it was a bit of a shock when the talkback began to hear her own voice.

The Pink Unicorn is playing in St. Paul at The Lowry Lab Theater, remaining performances on March 1 and then March 12, 13 & 15. General Admission tickets are only $15 (this is a steal). Click here for more information and tickets go to http://www.illusiontheater.org

The show is also continuing a tour in MN see locations and dates below.

TheaterB in Moorhead on March 7 and 8
Pioneer Place Theater In St Cloud on March 4 
Dalko Arts in New Prague on March 6
Fair trade Books in Red Wing on  March 14

Superman Becomes Lois Lane Takes Flight and Soars at the His(Her)story Theatre

Photo by Rick Spaulding

Superman is in the title of the play, but he is not the only hero associated with it. Superman Becomes Lois Lane is written by real life hero Susan Kimberly. This is her story and by sharing it, she helps facilitate understanding and compassion, and that, makes the world a better place. Freya Richman stars in the show as Susan, she is also a hero. You can google both of these women to find out more about what they have done politically and socially to make the world a better place for the transgender community. The incredibly brave thing each of them does is live an open and public life. Many Trans people will decide to transition and then live their life as the gender they identify with. That is the right thing for them, everyone’s needs are different and personal. I also know from personal experience that those who are able to share their journey bring comfort, validation, and hope to those who are just beginning. My son began to transition about seven years ago when he was nine years old. As parents we gained reassurance, comfort, and understanding from reading books, and talking to other people about their transitions and their lives. We have also experienced the understanding and empathy that we can create by sharing our story, and our sons journey. Reading about someone transitioning in a newspaper, magazine, or seeing it on a news program raises awareness and dissipates some of the mystery. Which is crucial to gaining an understanding that this is a normal event for many people on this planet – if anything is normal. But when we share our story in person we transfer that story not simply as data but with emotion as well, and that is when we create empathy. Superman Becomes Lois Lane does that as well. The play shares Kimberly’s story, not just the facts. It delves deeply into her emotions, her inner life, her past, her fears and it creates a much fuller and richer comprehension in the audience of Susan Kimberly. Not as a fictional character or a celebrity, but as a human being. As a woman who was once a man and the challenges that entailed.

This is an important message for all of those reasons, but it is also a really good play. Kimberly’s story is told as if Bob, Susan’s name before she transitioned, is a separate person. Susan and Bob have conversations with each other and talk about each other in the third person. This like so many aspects of a transgender persons journey is different from person to person. I could relate to this aspect, I think of my son and my daughter in some ways as two entirely different people. When I see my son I see who he is now. I remember my daughter, and rationally I can remember the things he did as a little girl, I haven’t lost that person or those memories, but when I look at him and think about him now, I just see my son. I don’t know how he thinks about that aspect. Playing it as two seperate characters was a powerful technique to utilize to tell this story, and I believe that this is how it was for Susan. Susan and Bob basically narrate the story, jumping in and out of scenes with other characters, flashing back and forth in time to uncover the pieces of her story. We meet Therapists, family members, friends, even Norm Coleman, getting a greater understanding with each scene of Kimberly’s journey. The third main character is Mae, Bob’s wife who remained Susan’s friend. Kimberly wisely includes her as a major character as well. Through Mae, many of those in the audience who are Cisgender, have our own “in” to the story. We understand how it must have felt to have gone through this life with Bob and Susan. We can see in her unwavering support, not for Bob or Susan but for the person they both are, a strength and courage that we can all aspire too.

Freya Richman as Susan, Sean Michael Dooley as Bob, and Jamie White Jachimiec as Mae ground a play that involves past lives and conversations between two actors who are in reality, the same person. Freya Richman is the soul of the production, her own journey must have greatly informed her performance and as such it’s hard to imagine another actor that could have brought so much to the role. She plays the lack of confidence and confusion that Susan feels at times particularly well. She has a quality that seems particularly open and allows the audience to develop empathy through every stage. Susan is at times sad, nervous, defeated, jealous, angry, hopeful, optimistic, excited and triumphant. Whatever the emotion the character is feeling, we not only understand through Richman’s performance what it is, but why. Sean Michael Dooley and Jamie White Jachimiec support Richman on this journey also creating characters that we become attached to and admire. They have a moment together during the second act that is heart wrenchingly powerful and beautiful. The cast is rounded out by three excellent ensemble players Sam Landman, Casey E. Lewis and Melanie Wehrmacher who all play multiple roles such as friends and Doctors.

The Play was directed by Laura Leffler and in my eyes she is another hero, see my review of Steel Magnolias from last November for that story. Here, she takes on what must of seemed like an overwhelming challenge. The time shifts, coming in and out of scenes, two actors portraying one person. This could easily have become a muddle, a confusion. Leffler strategically utilizes the multi-level set designed by Michael Hoover to clarify the changes when they take place. The video design by Kathy Maxwell, lighting design by James Eischen, and sound design by Katharine Horowitz all work together beautifully. I was very impressed with the set itself and the use of projection to help establish location and mood. Another pleasing aspect of this production was the program itself. It includes a Q & A with Susan Kimberly, a glossary of terms, and a spread on ways to support Trans people.

Superman Becomes Lois Lane is playing through March 1st at the History Theatre for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://historytheatre.com/

The World Over Will Win You Over at Inver Grove’s Open Window Theatre

Photo by Matt Berdahl

I was unfamiliar with Open Window Theatre, apparently they used to be based in Minneapolis. Now after a four or five year absence they have opened again in new digs in Inver Grove. The new theatre was supposed to open in December and host their Christmas concert but construction delays caused it to be relocated. The new space contains a large performance area and seating for maybe 150 to 200. Designed so there isn’t a bad seat, and you can see and hear everything from anywhere. Reading through the theatre’s website I get the impression it is somewhat faith based theatre. If you are not religious don’t let that turn you off. I found the work to be based on a theme of redemption and positivity, not any explicit religious faith. Their mission is about creating theatre that entertains, educates, and inspires. One of their beliefs is that theatre doesn’t need to be vulgar to be good. There is nothing wrong with that certainly, and it doesn’t mean they put on only G rated plays. The play tonight dealt with violence, incest, prostitution, it dealt with these matters quite openly, but it wasn’t judgemental about them.

The play was The World Over by Keith Bunin. In the “Who’s Who” portion of the program the managing director Cole Matson, Ph.D. states that it’s his favorite play. I’m not sure how that happens, it’s a good play that will sink or swim based on it’s cast. Open Window Theatre fortunately has found a very good cast and so The World Over is a very enjoyable evening despite running close to 2 1/2 hours with intermission. An epic quest of a tale drawing from the greeks in it’s Odyssey style episodic journey as well as Shakespeare with it’s shipwrecked twins and fortuitous coincidences. Adam, is rescued from a deserted island and told the nursery story of the country of Gildoray. He comes to believe that he is the long lost prince of Gildoray and sets out on a journey to find the land no one believes exists, to rescue his mother who has been banished, and set his people free from the tyranny of his uncle who has assumed the throne. Along the way he will rescue and enrich the lives of all that he comes across. He will fight monsters, and face a sultans challenge in hopes of winning a Princess’s hand in marriage.

While Andrew Hey plays only the character of Adam, the other seven actors portray multiple characters each. Hey plays Adam as an idealistic at the beginning who triumphs by perseverance and a belief that doing the right thing is always the only way forward. As he progresses he loses sight of his core values and when he acts out of personal ambition, his winning streak comes to an end. It’s then we see what makes his character a true hero, having lost everything he still steps out to help those that are in his path. Standouts among the cast were Grant Hooyer, Erika Kuhn, and Dawson D. Ehlke all of which played at least one if not multiple characters that remain vivid after the lights come back up. Hooyer, brings a light and witty touch to both the Geographer, who is basically telling us the story, and the Balladeer who tells Adam the story of Gildoray. Kuhn’s best character is that of Princess Isobel. Ehlke shines early on as the Pirate Darkly Jack. All of the actors play their roles straight with earnestness when it is called for, but they also bring out the humor wherever it is appropriate. It’s a blend that almost shouldn’t work and yet, it really, really does. The Director Jeremy Stanbary perfectly paces the show, we visit so many different places and scenes moving from one to the next so fluidly that your amazed when the show ends and you see how long it was. Stanbary also had to take over the Lighting and Projection Design two weeks before the show opened. The multiple hats didn’t show as the Lighting and projection as well and the sound design which he also did were effective and well executed.

The World Over is well paced hero’s journey. Performed by a cast that can bring the epic but also remembers that a sprinkle of humor can do a lot towards helping an audience suspend their disbelief. For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://openwindowtheatre.org/

A Doll’s House, Part 2 at Jungle Theater in Uptown

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Photo by Lauren B. Photography

A Doll’s House written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879 was a controversial play that challenged societal and theatrical institutions. Ibsen is known as the father of realism and A Doll’s House along with his other great works are the reason for that label. In that play we see Nora, a devoted wife and mother, struggle with a secret she has long held. With it’s reveal and her husbands reaction, she learns that her value to him lies in her subservience, in her being exactly what he wants her to be. At the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves her Husband and Children to begin a life of her own. The play was shocking at the time, now it resembles any play you might see. In the later half of the 19th century it was a daring exploration of gender roles and the rights of women. You can see why Ibsen is seen as one of the most influential playwrights of his time. A Doll’s House, Part 2 was written by Lucas Hnath in 2017 and picks up the story 15 years later when Nora returns. This is the story that unfolds at the Jungle Theater this winter.

Nora played by Christina Baldwin, has come back because she needs something from Torvald played by Steven Epp, the husband she left. She first meets with Anne Marie played by Angela Timberman, the family Nanny who is still with Torvald even though the children have grown beyond the need for a nanny. She will also meet her daughter Emmy played by Megan Burns, who she hopes can assist her in getting Torvald to give her what she needs. And of course she must confront Torvald himself. What is fascinating about this play, is pointed out by Jungle Theater’s Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen in her Welcome message at the front of the program. She quotes a mentor of hers who used to say “in a good play, everyone is right”, and this play is the perfect illustration of that idea. As each character gives their perspective on the past, the present, and society, we believe their point of view has merit. This is a play that while not as revolutionary as the original, how could it be, is perhaps a more inclusive examination of gender roles and societies attitudes towards relationships. It can afford to be, because it is written in a different world than Ibsen was writing back in 1879. In A Doll’s House Nora sees the world for all it’s biases and chooses to defy them and claim personhood for herself. It is a critique of society and the lack of rights for women. At the time, as hard as that is to comprehend now, that went against what society deemed acceptable. The new story continues those themes through Nora’s character. But it also delves into less black and white areas of the conversation. We see what Anne Marie’s views on the subject are and also what Emmy and Torvald believe. They all have their own truths and what makes the play seem real is we can understand and believe that each of their truths are right, for them.

So far this sounds like a a drama full of big ideas right. What was surprising and refreshing was the astonishing amount of humor in the play. From the opening credits, that’s right credits, you know this is not your Mother’s a Doll’s House. This is not a modern updating of the material it is still the late 1800’s but it’s is filtered through our 21st Century Aesthetic. The performances are modern as is the language. The entire cast is exceptional. Baldwin shines whether she is espousing her ideals or drawing out our laughs with her reactions to the other characters speeches. One moment she is rousing our sense of indignation, the next she is breaking our hearts. Timberman plays Anne Marie in a way that at first we believe she is more or less there as comic relief, but in an instance we are shown that there is more there than just laughs. At one point she elicits laughs while also making us feel the sacrifices she has made for this family. Epp plays Torvald as a slightly less confident version than we usually see in A Doll’s house. At first I was unsure of that approach, but as the play progressed I understood that this was a man who had his confidence shaken 15 years ago. He is also a man who has thought about the things Nora said before she walked out the door. He is also playing a man who has had a shock and isn’t really dealing with it very well. All of this is played truthfully, there is an emotionality to it that makes him a much more human character than Ibsen gave us, which speaks to that quote that everyone is right. But as with the entire cast he finds so much humor in the way he plays the part, but never at the cost of his characters truth. Megan Burns turn as Emmy is the smallest role but she makes an impression in her scene. She matches Baldwin’s ability to turn the situation around, convincingly making arguments that ring true while also bringing laughs. Many of the laughs in the play come from the way these actors read the lines and react to each others. The play is definitely meant to be serious and comic, but I think all four of these actors find more laughs through their performances than were there on the page, and they are very welcome laughs.

The direction by Joanie Schultz is bold. There are music and projection choices that scream 2020, but they work, without taking us out of the period of the play. Everyone behind the scenes has done a great job with this production, the Scenic Design by Chelsea M. Warren is spare but effective and fitting for the script. This is a play that focuses on the interaction between the characters, we do not need a fully dressed set to bring these characters world to life. The design works perfectly with the text projection that appears throughout the performance. The Sound Design by Sean Healey also brings an effective juxtaposition between the period the play is set in and our modern times. I am not a person that usually takes a lot of notice of costuming, but I really dug Mathew J. Lefebvre’s work here. My favorite was Nora’s purple outfit, it is sleek and stylish, it instantly shows us that Nora has been successful in the 15 years since the ending of a Doll’s House.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a worthy follow up to one of the great plays of the last 200 hundred years. The Jungle theater has assembled a cast that brings depth and humor to this play, each actor finding their characters’ truth and convincing us of it as well. This is a night out that will keep you thinking and give you much to talk about after you leave the theater, but it will do it while also making you laugh, a lot! It plays through February 23rd at the Jungle Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets go to www.jungletheater.org

2019: A Look Back at The Year I Got Serious About Theater.

2019 will be a hard year to top when it comes to theater. It has been a life changing year. The obvious change has been this blog which I started this past September with the opening of the 2019-2020 theater season. Since my first review Smokey Joe’s Cafe at the Ordway I have written reviews of 36 shows. Through the blog I have met some amazing people in the theater community and joined the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB). It was earlier this week, as I sat with a couple of my fellow Bloggers to finalize our TCTB Awards nominees list. It struck me how much my life had changed this year and how much of that could be traced back to theater. And these changes were not just professional, if that’s what you would call writing these reviews, but also personal.

It was through theater that I reconnected last February with someone I hadn’t seen in almost 25 years. My friend Brent Brandt, some claim he invented the selfie, while others say he just perfected it. Brent and I met in the summer of 1993 while I was working Promotions for The Straw Hat Players, The University of Minnesota Moorhead’s Summer Theater Company. Brent was a graduate by then and selling billboard space. We were introduced by the late great Ted Larson. We took in a couple of movies over the next year or so and then I moved away. It wasn’t until the advent of facebook, that we reconnected. He would comment on my posts at shows and message me to see if I wanted to attend a show he was coming down to see. It was always shows I already had tickets for until this last February. Brent was organizing a group to see Rock of Ages, pit seats at the Orpheum, then a charity event and Night Ranger concert. I was hesitant, here’s a guy I’m supposed to know, but really don’t. That felt awkward to me, but my wife encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, she’s really good at that.

Since Noon on February 9th 2019, I’ve seen Brent at least once a month for a show, a movie, a meal, sometimes all three. That’s kind of a lot considering he lives in Fargo. There is no bigger theater enthusiast than Brent, and I’d be surprised if anyone in the Twin Cities puts more butts in theater seats than he does in any given year. With Brent I’ve experienced a lot of great theater this year, I saw things I wouldn’t have known about like Be More Chill, which is now one of my favorite new musicals. My wife and I loved it so much that for her birthday we went a second time and took a group of 12 to it. Brent also ruined the balcony for me. Ever since we experienced sitting on the Pit for Rock of Ages, I want to be front row for everything. Thanks to Brent we were able to take my brother and his wife and sit on the Pit for RENT, which is one of all of our favorites. But it isn’t just the shows, Brent has moved from acquaintance and facebook friend to a real friend. He’s also brought a wonderful collection of new people into my life. His fantastic wife Kristi and their brilliant daughters Gabbie and Sydney, Aunt Sissy, Doug, and my designated plus one in a pinch, Kati. All of these people adding to the experiences and the joy of life.

I saw 70 different shows in 2019, There were a lot of great productions and if I started to try and list a few, I’d probably end up listing 30 different shows. So I’m going to keep it to two shows which I did not write about as they were both last spring. They are both shows that I just had to see multiple times, and they are both shows that made me want to share theater with others. The first is the aforementioned Be More Chill produced by Minneapolis Musical Theatre and directed by Sara Pillatzki-Warzeha. This isn’t the kind of musical that makes you think or moves you with it’s beautiful melodies. Be More Chill couldn’t be more fun. This is the kind of show that a smile appears on your face during the first song and doesn’t leave until you are home getting ready for bed. The songs are smart, funny and infective. The production was anchored by a fantastic cast lead by Maxwell Emmett Ward as Jeremy, who from the first note he sang, had me taking notice. There is a moment in that first song “More than Survive” as Ward sings “I feel my body moving through the air” the cast picks him up and carries him forward as he moves his legs as if he is walking a foot off the ground. In that moment I knew we were in strong hands, there is such confidence in that moment. It is such a perfect choice, I’ll always remember that single movement as a highlight of the year. Jim Belden singing “Michael in the Bathroom” was another standout moment. So relatable and so heartbreaking.

The second show I saw three times, bringing new people with me each time. It was also the single best live theatrical experience of my lifetime. It was Theater Latte`Da’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I’d seen the film of Hedwig and having a son who is transgender, it’s a show I was familiar with even though I had never seen a live production of it. Nothing prepared me for Tyler Michaels King’s performance or the sheer genius of every aspect of this production. The costumes, the set design, and the lighting were all dead brilliant. I could write all night and never fully express the brilliance of this production. I can still see Tyler Michaels King standing atop his trailer a silhouette as flood lights shine from behind him. I can still feel the the swell of emotion as Jay Owen Eisenberg as Yitzhak reappears transformed and takes the spotlight with Hedwig’s blessing during “Midnight Radio”. The simple but beautiful use of an overhead projector during “Origin of Love”. The Angry Inch playing a few songs before the show began. Tyler Michaels King owned that role and he will always be Hedwig to me. I didn’t know who he was, but Brent knew him as he went to the same college we did, just many years later. Brent tries not to ever miss a show Tyler is in and I must say, I now feel the same way. what a talent he has and Hedwig perfectly showcased it.

There was one other performer I saw this year that blew me away. I first noticed her in Cole Porter’s 1928 Ambassador Revue at the Minsky Theatre. Her name is Miranda Shaughnessy. Here is what I wrote in that review

“One dancer who must be singled out is Miranda Shaughnessy (I had to track someone down after the show to get her name). Shaughnessy caught my attention from the first song, she was clearly the best dancer in the cast and as such was featured in many songs. She had the smile and ability to project in every moment the joy she was feeling. No one’s face shone as a performer the way hers did during every second on stage, this is a great gift for a dancer and an actress. Ms. Shaughnessy at times impressively tapping at others performing exquisite ballet, all of it beautifully executed.”

Cole Porter’s 1928 Ambassador Revue -The Stages of Mn  October 4, 2019 by Rob Dunkelberger

My admiration only grew when I saw her last month in Minnesota Dance Collaborative’s production of HoliDaydream. This is her sixth year performing as Marie in this annual show. She started when she was 10 and now she is 16, the character ages a year along with her in a sort of theatrical version of Boyhood. The astonishing thing about Ms. Shaughnessy is at 16 she is not only an accomplished dancer and charismatic performer, but she also choreographed or co-choreographed a number of dances in both shows. She has it, and she is another performer whose career I am going to be watching very closely.

So here it is 2020 and as I look back on the year that was. I see a throughline that began with me reaching out and connecting. Brent and his enthusiasm caught on, and I saw even more shows. Some of those awoken a desire in me to share them with others. I mourned the closing of Hedwig, I regretted only seeing it three times, I thought of all the people who never even got to see it once. We had a blast bringing a group of teenagers and friends to Be More Chill. And the idea started to form, to try and share this love of the live theatrical experience. These productions that come and go, and if you miss them you are out of luck, there is no DVD you can pop in whenever you want. It’s a unique moment, every night of every show. What memories I’ve made this year. And what a gift it has been to begin to share those shows with you. I started small and found my feet, I’m still designing the website and adding to it when I have time. There are a lot of pages along the top that are blank right now but are glimpses of what is to come. I intend to review a lot more shows in 2020, conduct interviews with some of the artists behind these productions, preview pieces on festivals and upcoming shows, and profiles of theaters and theater companies. I’ll focus more on the big local theaters, I learned as I went through the nomination process this year for the TCTB awards that there were a lot of blind spots in my year, which I intend to correct. But I also want to leave room in my schedule to see some of the smaller shows, that frankly have made up the majority of my reviews this fall. With that in mind I encourage anyone who is mounting a show to reach out if you’d like me to review your production. I want to continue to explore all of the little theaters in the Twin Cities, of which there are many, and sometimes they are doing the most creative work.