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.

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/

Jesus Christ! Superstar is Not the Second Coming at the Orpheum

Photo by Matthew Murphy

I don’t love the show Jesus Christ Superstar but I like it, I love several of the songs. The last time I saw a production of JCS was in a church in South Minneapolis and I’m sorry to say this production for all it’s money and production values falls short of that production. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. That’s a relatively short run time, so why was I thinking just kill him already at the one hour mark? I’m not sure what it was, I see that this revival has won some major awards, so there must have been something there once. Maybe the spark has died, perhaps they actors are feeling like they should have reached the end of the tour by now. You know the story is loosely based on the Gospels and follows Jesus through the last weeks of his life focusing on his relationship with Judas Iscariot. Most of which, there is no basis for but it’s a rock opera and it makes for an interesting take on an old story. I went to Sunday school as a child and I’ve seen films about this time period and know the broad strokes quite well and can follow what is being represented throughout the show. My companion for the show was raised in a religious home but had no Sunday school and has never seen a film about Jesus. The thing is, with this production, maybe with all productions of this show, if you don’t know the basics, this show doesn’t give them to you. The Production assumes you know the story of Christ beyond the bare fact that he was the son of God and was crucified on a cross. It assumes you know the Apostles, who Judas was, what he did, and who Mary Magdalene was. All of these things are assumed. I didn’t even realize that until we were discussing the show afterwards. My companion thought this was probably the worst show she’s ever seen. I wouldn’t go that far, but I knew what was going on. Maybe the show doesn’t have to work for people who don’t know the story of Jesus’ last days. Shouldn’t a show work without beforehand knowledge? How is this show going to work for the generation coming up now? Sure a lot of them still go to Sunday school, but I bet if you asked the churches around town they would let you know that while the population in the country has increased the number of people, attendance in church has decreased. You don’t have to be a statistician to draw the conclusion.

I didn’t feel this cast was committed to this production or capable of it. There are several good singers Jenna Rubah as Mary and Eric A. Lewis as Simon are the best. But Rubah doesn’t seem to know the role she is playing. She sings well enough, but she is smiling throughout two of the best songs “Everything’s Alright” and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and these are not songs her character should be smiling through. The result is a nice performance of the songs but no acting, no character. But somehow that’s better than Aaron LaVigne as Jesus and James Delisco Beeks as Judas, who seem to remember to act, but suspect they need a rest.

The production Design by Scenic designer Tom Scott and lighting design by Lee Curran are the best part of the show, a little basic but an oversized cross on the floor that is used to throughout the show is dynamic looking. The Choreography by Drew Mconie did nothing for me. Honestly when Jesus’ followers are dancing around I suddenly pictured the kids in the orphanage in Annie singing “It’s a hard knock life”. I don’t know who deserves the criticism for the portrayal of Jesus as a hipster, I suspect that falls on the director Timothy Sheader. If that is their attempt to update this show for the 50th Anniversary, it needed more than that and the other smallish bones it throws out to try and make it seem modern and hip. After seeing this production I think the only way this show can be relevant again is to completely reimagine it. Instead of trying to make it contemporary, I think they should go the other direction and make it more of a traditional musical than it has ever been. It was designed originally to be a rock opera performed as a concert, not as a musical. Someone needs to turn it into a real musical, using the same songs. The original songs were not broken, but embody the show with real emotion and actually tell this story so that someone who doesn’t know it already can learn it. Perhaps add dialogue if needed, there is a lot going on in these songs, but you have to know who the characters are and what their relationships are in order for the inherent emotions in them to play correctly.

Jesus Christ Superstar Plays through Sunday January 26th at the Orpheum theatre in Downtown Minneapolis, for more information or to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/jesus-christ-superstar-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2020/.

Theater Latté Da presents Bernarda Alba

Photo by Dan Norman

Theater Latté Da’s production of Bernarda Alba is an Aesthetic triumph. Scenic Design, Costuming, Sound Design and lighting are is such accordance that the sense of oppression becomes a character itself. I would be highly surprised if these elements were not in the conversation for the best of 2020 next January. Aided by a top notch cast, Bernarda Alba almost transcends the tragedy and gloom of its story. Theater fans are going to find a lot to admire in the production, there are very few things that don’t work perfectly. This is a great company doing great work in service of a truly downbeat story. I don’t mean to discourage you from attending, not all shows or even musicals have to be upbeat. I think it is important to understand going in that you are going to get very little light at the end of the tunnel. For some people that is not how they want to spend their time out, but I think for most knowing that going in you can appreciate the work on it’s own terms.

The Words and Music are by Michael John LaChiusa based on the play The House of Bernarda Alba by Frederico Garcia Lorca. The story revolves around Bernarda Alba played by Regina Marie Williams, the newly widowed Mother of 5 daughters. Bernarda rules her daughters and her house with an iron fist. The daughters are like prisoners in the estate, they all long to be free and to marry. The main plot incident is the engagement of the oldest daughter Angustias played by Kate Beahen, the one child by Bernarda’s first marriage, to Pepe, a local suiter. The engagement causes conflict between the daughters, particularly when it becomes obvious that Pepe is in love with another daughter Adela, played by Stephanie Bertumen. He is only marrying Angustias because she has a dowery from her late father, as the father of the other girls was not wealthy. This is the primary conflict and it doesn’t change throughout the play. There is little in the way of new information fed to the audience, more like a confirmation of what we’d already assumed. The story seems underwritten in general, we get mood instead of conflict. I’m not sure this needed to be adapted into a musical. There are some good songs, and of course all of the music is performed and sung beautifully. There is one odd element of the songs, a technique at the end of certain lines to screech out the last word. I’m not familiar with this technique and hope I never become to. Thankfully, it is sparingly used as it just seems odd and unnecessary. This seems like a show that treads water for a significant portion of Act 2. and the songs only add to the feeling of padding. It helps that the show runs only about 90 minutes, but there is no intermission, and I think that might be one of the few missteps. A break might have lessened the feel that we seem to be living with the same information without really any new developments for too long.

As I said, the the material is lacking but the production itself is flawless. The entire cast is good, a few standouts for me were; Meghan Kreidler as Martirio, supposedly the ugly sister, perhaps some make up to at least try and get that across visually would have helped. Kreidler is such an intelligent and striking performer, that it’s hard to remember she’s supposed to be ugly and thus unlikely to ever marry. She has the largest emotional swings of the daughters and sells every new emotion or thought completely. Regina Marie Williams commands the stage as completely as her character does the household when she speaks, characters and audience alike take notice. Aimee K. Bryant as Poncia the housekeeper, with the wisdom of an outsider on the inside, shines as a character who in so many different things, making those transitions seamlessly, from protector, to voice of reason, to underling. Finally, Kim Kivens as Maria Josepha, Bernarda’s aged mother who is kept locked away most of the time. Her appearances make clear the motivations of Bernarda, which are all about appearances. She is a tragic character, who has obviously began to fall into dementia. Kivens brings an air of innocence to her her ramblings that we see her as really another daughter being locked away by an overbearing mother.

Photo by Dan Norman

The Scenic design by Kate Sutton-Johnson is another of Theater Latté Da’s brilliant sets. Large wooden beams dominate the ceiling making the set feel like a fortress, keeping the world out and the family in. The Lighting Design by Mary Shabatura does as much as the set, performers and music in creating the atmosphere of grief, oppression and tragedy. It is masterful in directing our eyes and manipulating our mood as we watch. Alice Fredrickson’s costumes are another homerun, of particular note was a white dress Bernarda wears in a number. It begins as a normal dress and unfolds into to parachute size that spins around her as she rotates within. The sea of white fabric all of a sudden after so much black and darkness is one of the most breathtaking moments in the show. The music Direction by Jason Hansen and the Sound Design by Kevin Springer round out the exemplary technical team, that creates a production that is soaked in atmosphere.

Bernarda Alba runs through February 16th at the Ritz Theater in North East Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to http://www.latteda.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.