The Book Club Play is a Delight at Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) is having one hell of a season, perhaps their best since I’ve been a regular attendee. The Book Club Play is definitely in the conversation for the best production I’ve seen by the company. The position is currently held by Red Herring way back in 2017, but this is giving that show a run for its money. Containing all the elements you might look for in a good book; drama, comedy, social commentary, romance, The Book Club Play touches on all the qualities of the books it’s characters read. But above all, it’s a comedy, one that draws much of it’s humor from the best possible well that of character. The play is written by Karen Zacarias, whose ability to create characters that can be summed up as a type, but then refuse to be simply that character tagline. This is my first exposure to Zacharias’s work, and excited that another of her plays Native Gardens is going to be produced next month at DalekoArts in New Prague. This is the sort of play that I like to recommend for couples who don’t get out to the theater often or as a great night out with a group of friends. TRP tickets are very affordable and there is no way you’re not going to leave the theatre saying “we should go to the theater more often that was really fun!”

The basic plot is, “Ana is a Type A personality who lives in a letter-perfect world with an adoring husband, the perfect job, and her greatest passion: Book Club. But when her cherished group becomes the focus of a documentary film, their intimate discussions about life and literature take a turn for the hilarious in front of the inescapable camera lens. Add a provocative new member along with some surprising new book titles, and these six friends are bound for pandemonium.”

From the Theatre in the Round Website

That’s basically all you need to know of the plot because the humor and heart of the play comes from the characters and their relationships. TRP has gathered a very talented group of actors who know how to bring Zacarias complex characters to life, always avoiding making them into caricatures. Probably the easiest example to illustrate what I mean is Ben Tallen as Rob, Ana’s husband. He plays what in the shortest description would read like a dumb jock trophy husband. But he isn’t written that way, but the aspects that are, Tallen plays against making his character more real by subverting the expectation. Siri Hellerman plays Ana, the most uptight character, she has to fall apart as the others find themselves. She could have come across as a very unlikeable character but again, Hellerman plays the unattractive elements in a way that we empathize way more than we think we would. Rachel Postle gives a very naturalistic performance as Jennifer, an old friend and longtime member of the book club, who isn’t too thrilled with having cameras recording her book club nights. Eni Ogundipe is not someone we’ve seen before, she plays Lily, the young new to town, and recent addition to the book club. Ogundipe is a little green performance wise, but she definitely has a quality that captures the audience’s attention. She’s the young, hip, but very smart woman who tries to shake up the book club a little bit with her off message book choice. Tony Burton plays Will, who is Rob’s best friend, Ana’s first love and whom Lily assumes is gay. He plays Will perfectly so that we have made the same assumption Lily has, but he doesn’t overplay it so much that we can’t believe his denials. It’s a tricky line to walk, for the humor and the character to work, you have to play with some stereotypes, but you don’t want to overplay it and end up playing a stereotype but Burton masters the balancing act. Finally, in between each meeting of the Book Club we get Bailey J. Hess, playing different characters doing a little comedic bit about books. It’s the kind of fun character work we used to see at TRP from Mark L. Mattison. It’s a little palate cleanser between scenes and they all work really well.

The Production is directed by Shanan Custer, a Twin Cities favorite who stopped needing to prove anything long ago. A gifted performer she is also a sure hand at the helm of a production. The timing and staging of the play has her wit written all over it. Not content with a fantastic script, it’s her influence I suspect that guided the actors to making those choices that expand the reality of their characters. One flaw of the show was some of the sound design work by Scott Gilbert. As scenes begin there is an audio announcement of the book and author for that weeks meeting. Frequently, they are too soft to be heard or come on too soon and are drowned out by the audience applause for the previous bit by Hess in one of her unique character creations. Perhaps that will smooth out as the run continues and they have a better sense of the audience reactions. Greg Vanselow’s Set Design is basically some living room furniture, the one neat creation are the four large camera boxes stationed in the four corners of the living room which the actors have fun either talking to or trying to avoid looking into.

The Book Club Play runs through February 19th at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.theatreintheround.org/home/season-placeholder/current_season/book-club/ . This one comes very highly recommended!

Don’t want to miss a single review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have every post sent directly to your email. To Subscribe on your computer: from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn.

I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to or to get another bloggers take on one. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers, follows us to be the first to know about those happenings. Including our Prom Date with the TCTB!! see below for details. Click on this link and select the March 4th matinee performance https://bit.ly/PromDateWithTCTB

Maybe Has its World Premiere at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins

Photo by Amy Rondeau Photography

Maybe is a new musical having it’s world premiere at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins. It’s based on the book written by Kobi Yamada, adapted by Christina Pippa, and music and lyrics by Sharon Kenny. It’s message is to encourage its audience to always see the possibilities, to think of what they want, then figure out how to achieve it. That’s not just good advice for the young people in the theater but for everyone. The way to achieve anything is to set a goal and figure out the steps to accomplish it. Maybe is a wonderful way to try and instill that idea into children at an early age so that they can get the most use from it. The production was produced in collaboration with Escalate Theatre & Dance Studio, and the dancing is definitely one of the highlights.

A simple story about a human child named Birdy who is gifted at seeing the possibilities. She is surrounded by the Possibility Posse, a group led by Posse Bull and Posse Blee who cannot be seen or heard but act as an inspiration to Birdy. Posse Blee leaves a bunch of leafs in Birdy’s path and as usual she takes something ordinary and makes it extraordinary creating a headpiece of a bird with the leafs as feathers. Birdy meets Orville a pig and they go along together trying to determine what Orville’s possibility is. Orville wants to fly. Along the way they meet several other creatures who have found their possibility and share their stories, and help inspire Birdy and Orville. Eventually, Birdy and Orville decide that maybe they need to look on the water for their answer and board a sailboat.

Birdy is played by Caidance Kue, who’s only in the sixth grade, and was up to the task of headlining the show. She has stage presence and voice that should she continue to perform and work on her craft, could have a career in theater if that is what she desires. Zola Jo Renfroe as Orville is also delightful and the pair have a nice chemistry. I love Stages because they are doing the good work of creating the next generation of theatermakers and theatergoers. The reality is sometimes the intentions are better than the execution where we end up with performers who know their lines but haven’t learned to put any meaning behind them. I’m happy to say that didn’t come across as the case this time, we weren’t just watching young people recite their lines, there was an element of character and emotion in all the roles.

The dancing by the cast is incredibly tight, especially given the age of many of the performers. There are four credited Choreographers; Katie Barron, Anna Esposito, Tammi LeMire, and Megan Torbert and they’ve done a wonderful job. The moves may not be extremely complex or difficult, but the precision and synchronization was impressive and the relative simplicity of the individual movements could inspire kids in the audience to think, maybe I can do that. The production is co-directed by the Artistic Directors of Stages and Escalate Sandy Boren-Barrett and Ann Marie Omeish. They keep a nice flow and balance between the acting, singing and dancing, it’s definitely a successful collaboration between the two companies. I’ve not read the book by Yamada so I cannot speak to how faithfully or how well it’s adapted for the stage, but I liked the storyline and script by Pippa. The music was upbeat and catchy but the weak link in the show was probably the lyrics. Too often it felt as if the words were being made to fit the music or the music was just written and underlying notes for the words to be sung too. Not the case with every song, but many had that element if not throughout, at times. The marriage between music and lyric just didn’t always seem to develop, leaving parts of songs feeling clunky.

Maybe runs through February 12th at Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.stagestheatre.org/maybe/

Don’t want to miss a single review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have every post sent directly to your email. To Subscribe on your computer: from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn.

I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to or to get another bloggers take on one. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers, follows us to be the first to know about those happenings. Including our Prom Date with the TCTB!! see below for details. Click on this link and select the March 4th matinee performance https://bit.ly/PromDateWithTCTB

The Girl on the Train at Lyric Arts in Anoka is a Thriller Worth the Commute

Photo by Molly Weibel

Lyric Arts in anoka has long been one of my favorite of the smaller local theaters. Nestled in amongst small shops and churches on the picturesque main street of Anoka, it’s a small town theatre that frequently delivers big city level productions. The Girl on the Train is one of those productions. Lyric Arts brings this regional premiere to vivid life with a great cast and a truly impressive production design. The play is based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins and the DreamWorks film, which I have never read nor seen. It’s rare to see a contemporary thriller on stage, we usually get older plays such as Wait Until Dark or a period Agatha Christie. I love those but they always suffer slightly from the fact that I usually know the ending. That’s what I loved about going into this blind. The more productions I see the rarer it is that I can just be present in the moment not knowing where the story is going. It’s a refreshing treat that given the popularity of the novel and film few may be able to share. Luckily, the staging is so inventive and the performances so good that I feel sure those familiar with the plot and resolution with still have a thoroughly entertaining night at the Theater.

The Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson, a London woman who longs for a different life. Her only escape is in the glimpse of the perfectly happy suburban couple she views through the train window on her daily London commute. Their life–as
she sees it–is perfect. Not unlike the life she so recently lost… When Rachel learns that the woman she’s been
secretly watching has suddenly disappeared, she finds herself as first a witness and then a suspect. Soon she is
deeply entangled in not only the investigation, but a mystery that will force her to face revelations she never could
have anticipated.”

Lyric Arts Press release

The play was adapted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel who co wrote a stage adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in 2021 and have a new Stage version of Sherlock Holmes in development. Not having been exposed to either of the earlier versions of the story it’s difficult to judge their talent for adaptation, but I certainly like their taste in source materials. The script does a nice job of weaving clues to the psychology of the denouement throughout the story. Dealing with some real world issues such as alcohol abuse, guilt, and domestic abuse that function twofold as pieces of the puzzle but also obstacles to its solution.

Laura Baker stars as Rachel, the girl on the train, she has a tough role in that we have to be rooting for her even as we observe her troubling behavior and watch her earn her own way onto the list of suspects with her lies. On the surface she is a character who drinks until she can’t remember what she did or saw, stalks and harrasses her ex-husband and his new family, insinuates herself into the life of the missing girl’s husband, and tries to get the missing girl’s therapist to divulge confidential information, and it isn’t really out of some high minded effort to solve the mystery, but to fill holes in her own life. That despite all of this behavior we are still rooting for Rachel is a testament to the way Baker shows us the vulnerability underneath all of these actions. She’s supported by a solid cast. Standouts for me were Jack Bonko as Scott Hipwell, the missing girl’s husband who like all of the performers outside of the Detective in charge of the case have to play the part so that we can read their behavior as innocent or guilty. Bonko walked that line perfectly, always keeping you guessing if he was menacing or messed up. In one of the smaller roles Grace Hillmyer as Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex Tom, does a lot with little stage time. Doc Woods makes for a great detective, he baits Rachel expertly, and also delivers with droll logic the ways in which she keeps making herself more and more a person of interest to the police. Rounding out the cast are Jonathan Feld as the ex husband and Austin Moores as the missing girl’s therapist. They are all suspects and all give us reason to suspect them, but also reason to dismiss them via their performances. Finally the missing girl Megan is played by Ninchai Nok-Chiclana, who is seen through a very effective use of video projection onto the flats of the set design.

The show is directed by Anna J. Crace making her Lyric Arts debut. Hopefully this will be the first of many. Crace’s staging of the play is quite innovative. The projections are used as a sort of flashback whenever one of the characters is telling about an interaction they had with Megan and also as a look inside Rachel’s thought process. At one point when she’s trying to remember things she talks to the projection of Megan. It’s a visually effective way of giving us those moments from the past that’s different from having the missing performer step out into the scene. Not only is it a great idea it’s very well executed by lighting and projection designer Jim Eischen. Eischen’s other lighting effects, particularly those that border each of the set pieces is equally inspired, aiding in the conveyance of different ideas, from the movement of a train to Rachel’s struggle within her mind to remember what she has seen. Chad Van Kekerix’s set design is the perfect backdrop for these effects, and his use of various levels help to immediately transition from one location to another by shifting the action to another area.

The Girl on the Train runs through February 5th at Lyric Arts. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.lyricarts.org/girl-on-the-train

Don’t want to miss a single review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have every post sent directly to your email. To Subscribe on your computer: from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn.

I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers follows us to be the first to know about those happenings. Including our Prom Date with the TCTB!! see below for details. Click on this link and select the March 4th matinee performance https://bit.ly/PromDateWithTCTB

Will You be My Prom Date?

M’ colleagues with the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB) and I are super excited to finally be able to share something we’ve been working on for several months now. We’d like to think of it as a Prom date with the TCTB! We have been looking for ways in which to engage with our readers in person. When we saw the announcement from Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (CDT) that their next production was going to be The Prom we were surprised and thrilled! Just last Spring the touring production of The Prom was here at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis and it was fantastic! I even urged people at the time to make sure they went while it was in town, don’t wait for it to inevitably play at Chanhassen, assuming that would be a decade or so down the road. Also, the CDT always puts on a good show, the one criticism some of the bloggers have is that if anything, CDT plays it a little safe in choosing which shows they produce. Well, The Prom isn’t playing it safe, it’s trying something new, that made this the perfect show to partner with to try something new ourselves.

So here’s the deal, click on this link: https://bit.ly/TCTBPROM and select the March 4th Matinee performance. This will get you $20 off each ticket, instead of $80 for the meal and show it’s only $60. But that’s not all! After the performance we’ll be hosting a talkback with the Director of the show and three of it’s stars. It’s a great opportunity to hear them talk about what the show means to them and what it was like putting it all together and there will be an opportunity to ask them some questions. As a member of the TCTB, I’m excited for this opportunity to meet and share a show with our readers. We are discussing other ways in which we can connect and if this goes well, look for us to do similar events in the future. I’d also like to thank CDT for trying this with us and providing this discount for our readers. I believe this production is going to be something special. If you haven’t seen The Prom, you’re missing one of the best shows to come out of Broadway in recent years. Not convinced? Check out my review from last springs production here https://bit.ly/3xvqUqT. Did I mention that the food at CDT is really tasty? It is!

Don’t want to miss a single review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have every post sent directly to your email. To Subscribe on your computer: from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn. I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers follows us to be the first to know about those happenings.

Hairspray Brings the Fun at the Orpheum Theatre in MPLS

Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West) as “Edna Turnblad,” Niki Metcalf as “Tracy Turnblad” and Company in Hairspray. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

The Hennepin Theatre Trust starts 2023 out with a winner in Hairspray. A show packed with upbeat songs, humor, fantastic dance moves, and a message about doing the right thing. Hairspray the Broadway musical is celebrating its 20th Anniversary with this brand new touring production that reunites much of the original Broadway creative team. I’ve never seen a live production but familiar with the original John Water’s film on which the musical is based, and also seen the movie version of the musical. I enjoyed both film versions, though it has been years since I’ve seen either of them, I feel safe in saying this was my favorite experience with the material. I tend to gravitate to the popular music of the late 1950’s and 1960’s and Hairspray’s songs lean heavily into the style of that period. Filled with an exaggerated take on the looks and sounds of 1962 America, it’s a technicolor fantasy of a bygone time, but one that also addresses the civil rights movement. One is reminded of Artistry’s production last year of Memphis for another take on this time and subject matter. I really liked Memphis, but I think Hairspray is more fun, it’s probably the influence of the The Pope of Trash himself John Waters. Hints of Waters’ sensibilities and his unique view of his beloved Baltimore remain in this translation of his film to a musical, and those moments are wonderful little winks at where this all began.

Hairspray follows Tracy Turnblad who dreams of being one of the dancers on the Corny Collins Show a local TV show that features kids dancing to the latest pop chart songs. When an opening on the show becomes available, Tracy skips school with her friend Penny in order to audition, against her mother Edna’s wishes. The resident Teen Diva Amber Von Tussle who is the daughter of the shows producer Velma Von Tussle, ridicules Tracy over her weight and she’s refused the chance to audition. Back in school during detention she strikes up a friendship with Seaweed, a black student and son of Motormouth Maybelle who hosts the “Negro Day” on The Corny Collins Show, bond over dance moves. When Corny Collins comes to their high school for the Sophomore Hop, Tracy wows him with the dance moves she’s learned from Seaweed and he awards her a spot on his show. After her first broadcast, not only has she fallen in love with Link Larkin the resident teen heartthrob and Amber’s boyfriend, but she becomes a local celebrity. Tracy is content to be a dancer on the show but she also wants to integrate the broadcast so that the black and white kids can all dance together. Her success leads her mother to reassess whether or not that’s a place for people of her and Tracy’s size out in the world. They deal with some fairly heavy issues, race, being marginalized due to weight, self esteem, corruption, hell nearly every woman in it winds up behind bars at one point, but they do it with humor and optimism. It’s Tracy’s heart that never stops fighting for what is right that changes everyone around her.

The cast lead by Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad is traditional, the role Edna Turnblad is played by a man in drag, in this case Andrew Levitt also known by his drag queen name Nina West, are both terrific. Levitt camps it up wonderfully especially in a showstopper of a number “(You’re) Timeless to Me” a duet with Ralph Prentice Daniel as her husband Wilbur. Metcalf is impressive as Tracy, not only does she sing well, but her footwork lives up to the characters ability to win a spot on the TV show. She also wonderfully projects the positive spirit and beliefs her character has that, along with her ceaseless energy, really are the heart of the play. Others of note are Charlie Bryant III as Seaweed whos dance moves have a life of their own and Emery Henderson who plays Tracy’s best friend Penny who falls in love with Seaweed. Henderson gets a lot of great comic relief moments along with Emmanuelle Zeesman who plays her mother Prudy. Nick Cortazzo is perfectly cast as the impossibly dreamy Link Larkin, he looks the part, sounds the part, and we believe him when he falls in love with Tracy. There was only one performance that I had issues with, *Melanie Puente Ervin as Motormouth Maybelle seemed to fall short in the acting category, seeming to walk around on stage saying her lines without much in the way of inflection or emotion, fortunately her singing voice was undoubtedly the best of the company and it was worth the wooden line delivery to hear her belt out “I Know Where I’ve Been”.

As mentioned, this new touring production brought back many of the original Broadways productions team. Back are director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell along with scenic designer David Rockwell and costume designer William Ivey Long. It all works wonderfully well together giving the entire production this unified feel. The sets and costumes share this glossy unreal feel to them, that come to think of it, is also present in the wigs the performers wear. The only technical flaw I observed was a balance issue between the vocals and the musicians. Several of the actors lyrics were getting lost to the music, but it seemed to be an issue they corrected for over the course of the evening, because beyond the first couple of songs it ceased to be an issue.

If you are looking for a fun night at the theater with a positive message and upbeat music don’t wait for The Prom to open next month at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters get yourself primed for that this month with Hairspray. Hairspray runs through January 15th at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Minneapolis, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/hairspray-broadway-tickets-minneapolis-mn-2022/.

*This review has been updated to reflect that the role of Motormouth Maybelle was played by Melanie Puente Ervin not Sandie Lee as originally stated. This helps to explain the somewhat wooden delivery of the character’s dialogue.

Don’t want to miss a single review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have every post sent directly to your email. To Subscribe on your computer: from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn. I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers follows us to be the first to know about those happenings.

King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild at Jungle Theater

Ahmed Moneka and Jesse LaVercombe Photo by Bruce Silcox

Jungle Presents the new series that provides a showcase for shows from out of town continues with another successful production. Last falls Of Pigs and Pianos was one of my favorite touring productions of 2022. The second in the series, King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild is my first night at the theater in 2023, and if it’s any indication of what the rest of the year holds, it’s going to be another great year of theater on the stages of MN. Intertwining the personal with the epic through the use of music and humor to tell the story of two mens friendship. It’s based on the real story of it’s performers and co-creators, Jesse LaVercombe and Ahmed Moneka, that adds an immediacy that is perfectly suited to the Jungle Theaters intimate space.

Ahmed and Jesse play versions of themselves, they meet in a cafe in Toronto, Ahmed is working and living there in exile from Iraq. Jesse, a Minnesota native, whose credits include appearances in the much loved Christmas at Pemberley trilogy, is an actor who is living in Toronto after marrying a Canadian woman. As the show begins they each get a phone call which the other overhears part of. Ahmed learns he has officially become a citizen of Canada. Jesse has learned that he has just seemingly lost his big break in a Hollywood film. Over an evening in the cafe after closing time, they share details about their lives, some music, and a magic mushroom. Throughout they break character and tell the epic ancient tale of Gilgamesh. Ahmed plays the role of Gilgamesh the King of the city of Uruk and Jesse is Enkidu who was transformed from a beast man after two weeks of sex with Shamhat. Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends and have many adventures together but when Enkido dies, Gilgamesh sets off on a journey to find a fabled plant that will grant him immortality. After that night they go their separate ways but a connection has been forged that they will return to. The show was created by Moneka and LaVercombe along with the Director Seth Bockley, and it incorporates Moneka’s band, Moneka Arabic Jazz, who appear on stage throughout the show.

Moneka and LaVercombe both have an easy going natural presence on stage, their real life friendship translates into an easy give and take and the joy they find in performing together is palpable. Both performers are adept at finding the humor in the line readings and then in the next line finding a moment of dramatic truth. The songs sung, primarily by Moneka, are in Arabic, with LaVercombe, the band, and at the end the audience providing some back up vocals. While we cannot understand the lyrics of what Moneka is singing, we don’t need to know the literal meaning in order to appreciate the beauty in his voice and they style with which he sings. It reminded me of the Jungle Theaters co-production last year with Theater Mu of Cambodian Rock Band. While we don’t understand the lyrics, the music itself it captivating. The band under the musical direction of Demetrios Petsalakis is wonderful playing this unique fusion of Arabic and Jazz.

Seth Bockley stages the show simply, we basically have a table, a few chairs and a piano and a few plants, but it’s really all we need. He has the actors utilize these sparse trappings effectively as they move from present day to Ancient Mesopotamia. The Production Design by Lorenzo Savoini is given strong support by the Lighting Designer Jon Brophy. The lighting really comes into play and is most effectively used during the telling of the the Gilgamesh story. A couple of moments really work well, the use of red as Enkidu slays an opponent and the flashing of the overhead lights in synchronization with Moneka’s actions.

King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild is only here for a short run, with performances ending January 8th. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.jungletheater.org/king-gilgamesh-the-man-of-the-wild

Don’t want to miss a single review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have every post sent directly to your email. To Subscribe on your computer: from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn. I am also a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers, you can read roundups of shows by my colleagues and I on facebook @TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. Follow that group, It’s a great way to see reviews for shows I don’t get to. We have some exciting things in the works for 2023 for the TCTB and our readers follows us to be the first to know about those happenings.

The Stages of MN: Looking Back at the Year That Was 2022

I launched The Stages of MN in the fall of 2019 and by spring of 2020, as I was really beginning to feel established, theatre’s shut down in response to the worldwide pandemic. Aside from the odd production here and there, things really didn’t open up again until the fall of 2021. There has been the odd cancellation occasionally but for the most part, 2022 was the first full year of theatres being open since I launched this blog. Not surprisingly, this has been the biggest year for The Stages of MN in terms of statistics. In 2022 the site has published 127 posts, reviews of over 150 productions, and had over 31,000 visits. Numbers aside, it’s also been a fulfilling year in terms of how the site has grown and what it has become. It’s been a year of new experiences like my first Minnesota Fringe Festival. I’ve been building relationships with theatre’s and the theatrical community in the Twin Cities that have been rewarding both in terms of the blog and personally. I’m proud of the work and am certain that I have succeeded in the goal of this blog, which since the very beginning was simply to try and put theater back into the minds of the average person. I know I’ve gotten people off their couches and into theater seats that would not have been there otherwise, that was the purpose. I hope I’ve helped guide those who already were theatergoers towards the best of what our cities have to offer and encouraged them to try new venues. We are so lucky in Minnesota, there is such a wealth of talent and abundance of opportunities and venues in which to enjoy the artistic output of that talent. It’s a privilege to be a part of it this community in my small way, to help boost the signal that these artists are sending out.

One of the pleasures of seeing so many productions since the site began is becoming familiar with the performers and creative teams involved with the productions. When you can’t possibly see everything, knowing who’s involved really helps when making each months schedule. You come to have your favorites, those that you know even if the show doesn’t work, they are going to give you something interesting. Each year I add new names to that list of people whose work I never want to miss. That list includes those who are able to devote themselves full time to their craft as well as those who have, as I do, the “day job”. It doesn’t matter if they are the stars at the Guthrie or one of an ensemble at a Fringe show. This year there were several additions to the list that includes such familiar Twin cities names as Tyler Michaels King, Nissa Nordland Morgan, Max Wojtanowicz and Joy Dolo among many others. I’d like to highlight a few of those who were added to the “must-not-miss” list in 2022.

Daniel Petzold caught my attention last spring in Park Square’s production of Airness and followed it up with Performances in Holmes and Watson also at Park Square and finally in Sally & Tom at the Guthrie.

“The standout is Daniel Petzold as “Facebender”. Under a wig that should undercut every line, Petzold instead projects the characters soul and every line rings true. He gets a nice scene where he explains to Nina why he does air guitar, it’s a moment that elevates the script and the character. Petzolds comic timing is so spot on you almost forget to laugh you are in awe of it.”

Airness review 5/14/2022

I don’t know where Daniel Petzold has come from, or what the story is, does Park Square have him under exclusive contract? He was fantastic in their last production Airness, and again shines here. I hope this young man is going to set down roots in the Twin Cities, based on what I’ve seen so far, he is a very talented actor.

Holmes and Watson review 7/16/2022

“Daniel Petzold plays, as the actor character Geoff states, many different roles. I don’t know what it is about Petzold, but he’s quickly becoming a favorite. This is his third performance I’ve seen and in each one he brings something special. Petzold does indeed play many different roles within the play within a play, but it’s his role as the actor Geoff that really captures the audience’s attention. Making the most of the comedic relief bits he’s given, he also has a wonderfully sweet romantic thread that works perfectly due to the vulnerability he infuses the character with.”

Sally & Tom review 10/12/2022

Emily Rosenberg who first came to my attention in the fall of 2021 had two eye catching performances this year in Hands on a Hardbody for Minneapolis Musical Theatre and Mary’s Wondrous Body at the Elision Playhouse

“One final performer I want to take note of is Emily Rosenberg. They play Greg, one half of the young bumper crossed lovers. I’ve noticed them a few times since the theaters reopened through their work with Theatre Pro Rata. Every once in awhile you come across an actor that you can just tell is someone to keep an eye on. Rosenberg has something, I don’t think we’ve seen their best work yet, but it’s coming.

Hands on a Hardbody review 4/23/2022

“Emily Rosenberg is Mags, they play the most sympathetic of the women, perhaps she is softer because she is younger. Rosenberg has been on my one to watch [list]for awhile now and once again they reminded me why, towards the end of the show they have a moment of song that was beyond anything I’d seen or known they were capable of before.”

Mary’s Wondrous Body review 12-11-2022

Finally but not the only new performer to be added to the list this year is Lucy Farrell who dazzled in The Boys Room at Gremlin Theatre.

“… but it’s newcomer Lucy Farrell who takes the stage as Roann about midway through the play announcing, there is a new rising star in the Twin Cities. To say Farrell blew me away would be an understatement, the first words on my lips as I left the play is who is this actress? Where did she come from? In her scenes with Linda Kelsey who plays her grandmother Susan, she has a playful rapport when they practice Susan’s Spanish together. But the two also have a very palpable tenderness that radiates from both of them. When she confronts her father and namesake Ron, played by Dan Hopman, she unleashes all of the anger and pain that we have seen glimpses of in the scenes leading up to it. She is adept at playing all these different aspects of the character, playful, confessional, worried, angry, sad, strong not in individual scenes, but you sense all of these multitudes within her the entire time.”

The Boys Room review 11-5-2022

When you take in over 150 productions it’s a little hard at the end of the year to rank them so here in chronological order are the 10 best locally produced shows I saw this year.

  1. The Tempest – Guthrie
  2. Passing Strange – Yellow Tree
  3. Once – DalekoArts
  4. Cambodian Rock Band – coproduction of Jungle Theater and Theater Mu
  5. Holmes and Watson – Park Square
  6. Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh – Minnesota Fringe Festival
  7. Merrily We Roll Along – Theater Latte Da
  8. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley – Lyric Arts
  9. Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley – Jungle Theater
  10. Christmas at the Local – Theater Latte Da

Here are the standout touring Productions I saw

  1. Come From Away – National tour part of the Broadway on Hennepin Season
  2. The Prom – National tour part of the Broadway on Hennepin Season
  3. Of Pigs and Pianos – Jungle Presents Series
  4. Six – Ordway
  5. Les Miserables – National tour part of the Broadway on Hennepin Season

Lastly, as I look back at 2022 I’d like to thank all of you out there who read what I write and give me a reason to keep at it. Those 31,000 + visits to the Blog are what makes this venture worthwhile, knowing that I’m reaching people and encouraging them to get out and experience the joy of live theatre means the world to me. So thank you all, keep reading, and watch for some exciting things in 2023.

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