WORLD PREMIERE!!! The Next Great American Musical as it Turns Out, is Actually a Queer Asian Musical. “Interstate” Floors it at Mixed Blood Theatre.

Kai Alexander Judd and Rose Van Dyne in INTERSTATE Photo by Rich Ryan

Interstate is why I do this. This entire blog’s genesis was around the idea of having a way to let people know when there was great theater happening in our state. This is it boys, girls, and they/them’s – this is the one. Interstate, which is having its world premiere at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis is undoubtedly the best original musical to come along in years. A perfect cast brings the music, words, and hearts of its creators Melissa Li and Kit Yan to life. This is their story specifically, but it speaks to all of us. We talk about representation in the arts whether it be theatre, a TV show, movies, whatever. Interstate is about representation on every level from characters to casting. It’s also just great theatre, filled with songs that find a way into your heart immediately. A story set in 2008 that’s timely and important right at this moment in history. A tale that has to be told and these are the people to tell it.

Interstate is the story of Dash an Asian transgender spoken word poet and Adrian a lesbian singer songwriter. Together they form the Asian queer duo, Queer Malady. Queer Malady is on a cross country tour sharing their music and words with fans and building followers through their YouTube videos. Being Asian, queer, and having a desire towards activism, they have different priorities that will cause friction as they continue across the country. Their story is intercut with that of Henry, a South Asian Transgender 16 year old, living in Kentucky who has discovered Queer Malady on YouTube and found a hero specifically in Dash. Henry is not out to anyone but begins a blog to chronicle his journey and to connect with others who are on similar journeys. We blog to know we are not alone. Through Henry, we are shown the importance of seeing yourself reflected in the world around you, he is lost and confused and unsure how to be his true self until he discovers Dash online. When he finds Dash and Queer Malady’s music he sees a way forward.

The entire cast is excellent and should move immediately from here to Broadway after the show closes. The three leads deserve special mention. Kai Alexander Judd plays Dash to Rose Van Dyne’s Adrian, together they make Queer Malady seem like a duo that has been performing together for years. They both have excellent voices that ideally complement each other. They have a great chemistry on stage, believable as best friends whether they are joking around or screaming at each other, there is never a false note. They are superb, and as great as they are, it is Sushma Saha who plays Henry that is going to knock your socks off. They have a voice so beautiful that I found tears on my cheeks before their first song ended. Saha is not just a great voice though, there is a scene that takes place at Henry’s church. I don’t recall them even having a line of dialogue in the scene, but using just their eyes, broke my heart with their performance. All three actors impress with their commitment and willingness to go to very vulnerable places. The show doesn’t flinch away from dealing with aspects of transgender life that are not as well known, such as binders, top surgery, T-injections, and neither do the performers.

Sushma Saha in INTERSTATE Photo by Rich Ryan

The Book for the show co-written by Melissa Li and Kit Yan, music and lyrics by Li and poetry, and additional lyrics by Yan owes something to Rent. There are some stylistic similarities but it is an original and unique story. Those similarities are its strengths and only goes to prove what an influential show that was. Interstate also shares that sense of power and importance that Rent has. Li and Yan are committed to representation, their characters are on tour to reach out to and speak for the Asian Queer community, and the show itself holds to those values. Steadfastly, casting artists that represent the characters as written, the importance of which is echoed in one of Henry’s lines in the show, he says he’s starting the online blog because it’s the only place he sees someone like himself. The truly amazing aspect is how perfectly it flows within the narrative of the show. These are the themes and they are served well in the telling a very human and moving story. Often times a show that you might say has an agenda leads with it’s message and becomes self important. Interstate is a story about characters that we come to empathize with tremendously and through their tale, their message is conveyed. Li and Yan’s lyrics are some of the richest I have heard, songs that are so well crafted are rare even in big hit broadway musicals. A version of the show in progress played at the New York Musical Festival is where it won the award for Outstanding Lyrics.

Directed by Jesca Prudencio and assisted by Shannon TL Kerans the productions speeds along like Queer Malady roaring down the interstate highway. Scenic and Projection Designer Justin Humphres does a great job with what amounts to not a lot in the way of a set. Good use of projection and some really clever elements such as the car headlights in the floor are all that is needed. The rest is handled with Genoveva Castaneda’s well chosen props. It’s simple without feeling simple. We don’t need elaborate sets that evoke the details of the real world, the story and music have already transported us there.

I encourage everyone to see and take advantage of the opportunity to see this show. We’re so fortunate that something this great is having its world premiere here. In a perfect world, this show with this cast would move from here to Broadway, but the world isn’t perfect, so don’t miss the opportunity. This is one of those rare productions that you want to capture on film so you can view it over and over, but that is not what live theatre is. You have to seize the day, don’t miss it! Lastly, don’t wait until the last showing; there’s a good chance you’ll want to see it again or tell someone else to. I’ve already booked to see it again this Wednesday. For more information about Interstate and to purchase your tickets go to https://mixedblood.com/. Content warning. There is strong racial slurs and trans and homophobic language. There is also a scene of fairly graphic sexuality, no nudity but you should be aware of it. It is probably appropriate for anyone over 16 for those under that age, you know your own child best. I’d offer as guidance that it is on par with Rent in terms of these depictions, hopefully that helps guide you.

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