Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 3: Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh?(Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award!), Pajama Stories (For Children, All, Adults Only), A Day With the Newhearts, Slender Vale, Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign.

Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh? In which Pooh and Piglet attempt to crush each others souls while Christopher and Hunny watch on in horror. Today’s Winner of the Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award. Combining the world of Winnie the Pooh with the bitter marital games of Edward Albee’s classic play is anything but obvious. They seem like strange bedfellows but once you see it, well, it fits so perfectly it seems shocking that no one thought of it before. But then you think, who in the hell would EVER think of doing this? Thank God writer Alexander Gerchak did! The script, the performances, and the cross pollination of these disparate ideas is dead brilliant. Endlessly inventive, the premise never runs out of steam and holds true until the very end. It shouldn’t work but, it really works! Word of mouth should turn this into a hit. It’s easily the most accomplished script and production I’ve seen so far at Fringe. The entire cast is great but a special shout out to Thomas Buan as Winnie, best dramatic performance so far. Knowledge of the works of A.A. Milne regarding Pooh Bear and Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are not required but will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the play.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/who-s-afraid-of-winnie-the-pooh-

Pajama Stories (For Children, All, Adults Only) written and performed by Marie G. Cooney is a wonderfully expressive and engaging storyteller. You can tell that she is gifted at connecting with young children. That is the common theme in her storytelling, interactions she has with young people and it’s almost a class for us the audience in how to engage with them ourselves. The issue is that in most cases we, the audience are not children. The delivery ever so slightly pushes the tolerance level. What keeps it from crossing the line is our knowledge of how effective it is with the people in her stories. The other issue is that a couple of the stories are best enjoyed by people who know the children in the story.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/pajama-stories-for-children-all-adults-only-

A Day With the Newhearts is a play that explores the dark underbelly of the typical suburban Minnesota neighborhood. Taking the form of a 1950’s sitcom the show skewers the form as well as the idea of “MN nice”. It’s a lot of fun performed by a cast that nails the plastic sitcom presentation while also showing us the fear, anger, and menace underneath. It’s a crowd pleasing show no doubt. The character work is great, the set, props, costumes all first rate, the idea is ripe with possibilities. Yet the whole is a little less than the sum of its parts. It loses something in the last 10 minutes, it crosses a line that takes it from quirkily off, to a place irredeemably unreal. But, the parts are kind of a blast!

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/a-day-with-the-newhearts

Slender Vale is an improv horror show. Improv and horror are two genres that I generally enjoy. The combination of the two should be really interesting. Maybe it can work, but tonight it didn’t really ever get into a groove. When you think about it, Horror in itself is a genre that routinely fails to stick the landing. There our hundreds of horror novels, movies, TV episodes, and yes plays that are really effective right up until the end, and then kind of lets you down. Horror is hard to write well, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a genre that relies heavily on a well crafted and constructed build up and a satisfying end doesn’t lend itself well to being made up on the fly. a Horror story without a plan would require and uncanny amount of luck to successfully pull off. Sure there are individual moments and performers that worked. The darkened basement for example and everything Tom Reed said. But as a whole it never felt like it had any sense of direction. The performers seemed to constantly be thwarting each other and anything that looked like a promising development plot wise. I wrote all of these thoughts down before I saw the final show of the day, or it might have been less favorable.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/slender-vale

Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign is improv that worked at the highest level. It’s basically a Dungeons and Dragons game played out live with a Game Master narrating the story which directs the performers on what to do next. When the characters wish to do battle they tell the Game Master and he rolls his 20 sided die to determine if they are successful or not. The performances are serialized and will carry on the story from wherever it ended the previous performance. This flowed beautifully, organically the performers seemed to sense the best direction to take things and never seemed to be struggling with what to do or say next. The entire cast was brilliant but highlights being the two Tylers, Michaels King and Mills. The biggest laugh undoubtedly went to Maria Bartholdi for her sandmetary line. What a Fringe Bartholdi is having, not only is she brilliant in this but she also co wrote and directed Endometriosis: The Musical which won The Stages Of MN Fringe of the Day Award yesterday. This show was so much fun I wish I could take in each performance! It was a fairly full house, so this might be one to line up for early or reserve your seat for.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/swords-sorcery-the-improvised-fantasy-campaign

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Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 2: Arsgang: What You Follow Follows You, Curtain Call: Letters to My Friend Louie Anderson!, Endometriosis the Musical (Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award), and Shoe Night.

Photo by Erin Dvorak Clark, Design by Amber Bjork

Arsgang: What You Follow Follows You centers around a Swedish folktale about a walk that some would choose to go on in order to gain foresight of the coming year. The story follows a young orphan Lajla, who was recently made only child, and her Arsgang journey. Created by the Winding Sheet Outfit it has they’re usual attention to language and sense of reverence to past cultures and customs. A spare but effective set consisting mostly of this bare trees that evoke a feeling visually that ties in with Lajla’s solitary trek. Beautifully written and performed along with being deliberately paced with music by Joshua Swantz and Amber Bjork that’s almost hypnotic. While all of those elements combine to give the show a unified feel and tone, it might not be the best show to attend in a 10:00 PM performance slot if you’ve been Fringing all day and not a night owl. I’d like to mention the costumes which I thought were really good as were the masks created by Derek Lee Miller who also designed the trees.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/_rsg-ng-what-you-follow-follows-you

Curtain Call: Letters to My Friend Louie Anderson! consists of writer comedian Jason Schommer alternating between reading letters he’s written to his recently deceased friend Louie Anderson and performing bits of standup that revolve around the legendary entertainer. Like many Minnesotans I grew up with Louie’s comedy. His Guthrie comedy special was recorded off the TV and played repeatedly. My Dad, sister, and I would all quote from it throughout our lives. Both aspects of the show work well. In his letters, Schommer gets to express to Louie what he meant to him and how he misses him. In the stand up segments we get to hear stories about the real man. If you’ve been an Anderson fan as long as I have, getting that glimpse of the real person and having it reflect what you always hoped was true about him is a real treat. I had someone in my life that I felt the same as how Schommer feels about Louie. They are the relationships that we carry with us throughout our lives and the ones we’ll always miss.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/curtain-call-letters-to-my-friend-louie-anderson-

Winner of today’s The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award is Endometriosis the Musical. It’s a musical about Jane Smith and her ongoing struggles with extremely painful menstrual cycles. Making things worse she lives in our world where far too often women’s health issues are controlled by men. This has all the makings of an intense social drama but instead it’s an hysterically funny musical. Written by Maria Bartholdi and Kristin Stowell this is sure to be one of the hottest tickets of this years Fringe Festival. Featuring a brilliantly expressive and all in cast lead by Abby Holmstrom that brings the house down with every song. Nothing is off limits and it confronts the sad truth that for many people, the subject of this production is something that should not be mentioned above a whisper and definitely not during dinner at Applebees. I urge you to reserve your seats now this one feels like a sell out.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/endometriosis-the-musical

Shoe Night is written and directed by Kelsey Norton who based the story on an experience from her own life. This effective one act, two character play deals with the phenomenon of ghosting. In this instance a young woman runs into the ex-boyfriend whom she lived with, went out of the country for work, then ghosted her. Resisting the urge to slink away unnoticed she decides that after four years it’s time she got some closure. The script avoids the treading water that can happen in a one subject show and is filled with details which give the show a feel of authenticity. It doesn’t drag nor out stay it’s welcome, and the end, when it comes, seems to underline the lasting damage this practice of ghosting can do. The show is anchored by two well rounded and naturalistic performances by real life couple Gillian Constable and William S. Edson. It’s nice to see a present day drama in the mix and it’s a nice palate cleanser between comedic shows.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/shoe-night

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Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 1: Erotica For Houseplants, Karaoke After Dark, and Bob and Reggie Go To Bed (Winner of the Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award).

Wow! What a show to pop my Fringe Cherry with. Erotica For Houseplants is written and performed by Tom Reed who reminds us why his name alone put this on my must see list. Wickedly funny and oddly arousing at times. Tom’s script unearths every possible double meaning for everything from plant anatomy to gardening tools. It’s smartly earthy and when you think he has to have about run out of path he breaks into song, beautifully. It’s all in fun and never crossed into uncomfortable territory, but it’s not the show you or your Grandma want to see sitting next to each other. However, with adult friends or that special someone it’s… well, not exactly good “clean” fun, You’ll definitely be laughing at how dirty nature can sound. A quick run through the sprinkler afterwards should cool you down and have you feeling clean again in no time. This was my first Fringe show of the 2022 festival and my first live Fringe show ever, and when I left it I knew I was going to love the next week and a half!

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/erotica-for-houseplants

Karaoke After Dark is a combination of Karaoke, Burlesque, and Improvisation. If you are looking for a way to join in on the performance side of Fringe this is the show for you. Audience members can put their names and song choice on a slip of paper before the show begins. Throughout the show Curvee B, the Emcee, will call an audience member down to perform their song. While they are singing, a burlesque dancer will perform. The Improv comes in the what the dancer comes up with for the song, as opposed to a normal dance performance they are not moving to a song they’ve rehearsed. The highlights of the show are the costumes and what the dancer does to make the song choices fun. This is an 18+ show, it’s risque but not too graphic.

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/karaoke-after-dark

Comedy Suitcase presents Bob and Reggie Go To Bed created and performed by Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen. I don’t know what I was expecting when I entered the theatre for this show but it wasn’t to see my love of silent comedy brought to life, live on stage. Bob and Reggie get ready for bed confronting obstacles that arise with the problem solving skills of Laurel and Hardy. Set in the silent world of a Buster Keaton two reeler, the duo blend physical comedy with a Keatonesque surreal humor. Inventive in the way it keeps building on it’s situations. The humor comes as often from the reveal as it does from their solution to the next snag in their bedtime routine. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier it takes a turn that made me think of Sherlock Jr. The similarities to the silents doesn’t stop at the type of humor but also in the fact there is no dialogue. Just as there was with the silent movies, there is a live score and sound effects, created on stage by Rhiannon Fiskradatz, who adds more than just accompaniment to the proceedings. The final performer in this four person show is Sulia Altenberg as the Tooth Fairy. Scrimshaw and Weinhagen are brilliant in their gag creation and execution. You have to be pretty smart to act this stupid. I only knew Scrimshaw from his work with the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society and would never have guessed that a genius for this form of comedy was in his or anyone else in the 21st Century’s wheelhouse. This is the perfect show to take everyone and anyone too, old and young, the larger the audience the more fun it will be.

I already knew that one of the downsides of Fringe is that it’s impossible to see everything, there is always the worry of what you are missing. Tonight I discovered another downside, you can’t justify seeing things twice. That’s really frustrating in this case because I want to see Bob and Reggie Go To Bed with everyone I know. If this was not at Fringe and just a normal show on a two or three week run, I’d be organizing group meet ups to enjoy this show again and again. If you could see only one of the three shows I saw today it has to be Bob and Reggie Go To Bed. And so it earns the inaugural, highly coveted and just made up on the fly The Stages of MN Best of Day Fringe Award!

https://minnesotafringe.org/2022-show-information/bob-and-reggie-go-to-bed#tickets

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The Minnesota Fringe Festival Begins This Thursday!!

In the spring of 2020 I was excited to experience my first Minnesota Fringe Festival when Covid-19 shut down live in person theatre. There was an online festival and I did review a few of the productions. In 2021 Fringe returned but I was away on vacation and unable to participate. Finally summer 2022 has arrived and I’m throwing myself into covering my first in person Fringe Festival! To say I’m excited would be to state the obvious. To say I found the process of making my Fringe schedule overwhelming would be an understatement. There are nearly 120 different shows with close to 600 performances. Apparently, it’s possible for one person to see 55 different shows during the festivals eleven day run from August 4th through the 14th. I am not that person. I have several personal commitments (code for soccer matches, podcast appearances and non-fringe shows) that conflict with the festival. Right now my schedule is set at 35 shows. I have room to add a show or two if there’s something that I must see and providing that it’s running in one of those two or three free slots I have open, in which I was planning on breathing.

It’s a lot! I don’t know how I would have begun to narrow down that list of shows or figure out how to schedule them if it weren’t for two things. First, my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers. This group of experienced Fringe goers have given me so much help in how to make the most of my time during Fringe, companies whose productions I should try and see, and strategies for not only attending each show but when to find the time to write about them as well. If you are not following our group on facebook you should https://www.facebook.com/TwinCitiesTheaterBloggers. I don’t see and review every show in town but there’s a good bet if I haven’t, one of my colleagues has. Several of us will be covering Fringe, while we’ll be too busy to post much as a group, we will be posting our thoughts on what we’ve seen on our individual blogs regularly. Secondly, The Minnesota Fringe Festival website has a lot of built in tools to help you make your Fringe schedule. So whether you want to see one show a night or only have two days you can go and want to make the most of your time, go to https://minnesotafringe.org/ . There is a full list with synopsis of each production, you can go through and favorite the ones you are most interested. Then you can view the festival by date and location and create a schedule on your Fringe account. It’s a great site and it was invaluable to me in solving the tetris like puzzle that is scheduling 35 shows acoss 11 days.

Stay tuned to my blog starting August 5th for post with short reviews of what I’ve seen and what I recommend. Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, 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. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.

Sweat the Pulitzer Prize Winning Play at the Guthrie Should Raise Your Temperature

Photo by Dan Norman

*Warning this review may contain some minor spoiler information.

It’s eleven o’clock Friday night July 29th as sit down to write my review of Lynn Nottage’s powerful, thought provoking, and very human play Sweat. I’m wrestling to understand everything I’m feeling and thinking. The feelings are calming, but now I need to try to unravel why I felt them and what I can do with them. It’s sometimes challenging to review a play right after seeing it, you don’t have time to fully come to terms with all of your reactions. More often than not there’s the pressure of time. There’s another review to write tomorrow night, a podcast to prepare for, the day job, the wife, the kids, the dog, must remind myself to sleep at some point. It’s plays like this one where time feels like an enemy, where you know you can’t do the work justice. There isn’t time to process fully, write, and publish something that will adequately convey my experience in the theatre tonight which can be a depressing and crippling thought for a writer. It’s a valid concern, but it’s also an unproductive train of thought. Someone once told me that sometimes a useful frame of mind is “better done than perfect”. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to do our best, it means that we don’t let the goal of perfection get in the way of creating or starting.

Nottage’s play is set in two time periods 2000 and 2008 in Reading Pennsylvania. The play opens in 2008 with a parole officer meeting separately with two ex-cons, Chris and Jason, both recently released from prison. We will not learn why they were incarcerated until towards the end of the play. Most of the action takes place in 2000 at local bar that is populated by blue collar factory workers, workers who have put in the years at their union jobs and make a wage that allows them some level of comfort and security. There is a group of three women who have all worked at the factory together for decades. Cynthia, Tracey, and Jessie and are celebrating one of their birthdays as they always do with a night out at the bar. Chris, we will learn is Cynthia’s son. Jason is Tracey’s and they are best friends like their mothers. A rift begins to form when there is a management position open at the factory. Cynthia declares that she is applying for the position but Tracey at first can’t understand why she would want to do that. But eventually she applies as well. When Cynthia gets it, Tracey doesn’t deal with it well, even implying that see got it because she is black and they wanted to hire a minority. It deals with the specifics of a town where the The Manufacturers are beginning to send jobs overseas. Workers once secure in their jobs with the power of the unions behind them discover that the Union no longer has the power it once did. The companies are fully prepared to move all of the jobs out of the country if the workers don’t concede. When their factory locks them out, Cynthia is management but also their friend, she can’t change what is happening but she does try and let them know what to expect and what the reality is. The problem is none of them listen to reality, they just believe what they want to believe that the factory they have always worked at that their parents worked will always be there, and that the unions will be able to protect them as they always should.

The cast of characters is rounded out by Stan the bartender, Oscar who also works in the bar stocking and cleaning up, and Brucie who is Cynthia’s husband. Stan was injured on the job at the factory and could no longer do the work so had to make a change. He understands his customers because he was once one of them, but he also has some distance from that life that allows him to be less reactionary. Oscar, whom is of Colombian descent, is treated by most of the characters as if he is invisible, that is until he decides to cross the picket line and take a job in the factory, which will pay him $3 more per hour than he makes at the bar. For him that is about a 37% raise. Brucie has been kicked out by Cynthia and has turned to drugs to deal with his unemployment.

Nottage has a real gift for presenting her characters in ways that make them recognizable to most audience members. Even if you can’t identify with a character, you know someone that is like them, if you haven’t lived too privileged a life. Recognizing them helps us to understand them. That really is the power of her work, helping us to understand these characters, through that understanding comes two things. First it humanizes the characters and secondly it clarifies their flaws and what that leads too. There are two types of people in this play those with set mindsets and those with growth mindsets. Cynthia and Chris are growth mindset people. Cynthia wants that promotion, she doesn’t want to keep standing on her feet 10 hours a day until she retires. Chris is planning to enroll in college, he also doesn’t want the rest of his life to be played out on the factory floor. Tracey, can’t imagine why Cynthia would even apply for the management job. Jason makes fun of Chris for wanting to do anything other than work at the factory until he can retire in his 50’s and then buy a Dunkin Donuts franchise in Florida. Tracey can’t stand it when her black friend who has worked at the factory two years less than she has gets the promotion. Even though she didn’t want it in the first place she still believes she deserves it. Why? because she has been there longer? That’s what living the union life has taught her, seniority over performance. Or is it because she’s white? All her hints that minorities are getting all the special treatment these days seems to come down to that she’s white and should have gotten it even though she clearly didn’t want it as much as Cynthia did and thus probably didn’t interview as well or show the promise of success as much as Cynthia did. Stan has a conversation with Oscar suggesting that he shouldn’t cross the picket lines. He warns him there are a lot of good people who are going to be upset by it and that he’s not going to have many friends if he does it. Oscar points out that these are not his friends, they don’t even know his name. Are these good people? They clearly think nothing of Oscar and think he should go back to his own country, even though as he points out he was born in the town they are currently in. Why on earth would anyone with half a brain think Oscar should give a fuck what these set mindset racist entitled white people think. All he is trying to do is make a little money and improve his life. It’s not his fault they were locked out. It is their fault that they never gave him an in to become a union worker as he had been trying to do for two years. If they had, he’d been with them on the picket lines instead of in the factory working while they are out in the rain holding signs.

I’m not anti-union and I don’t think Nottage is taking that stance either, but she does point out the way the Unions have sometimes taken on that set mindset mentality and fostered it in their members. Unions, like people need to have a growth mindset. Everything ends, and if you have never thought about that possibility you are doing yourself a disservice. To think that since your grandfather worked here his whole life along with your father that it will stay the same for you and your children shows a staggering inability to grasp change and recognize patterns in history. Jason wants to beat some sense into Oscar, why? Because things changed and he’s hurt? Since he can’t adapt he’s going to beat up the “foreigner” who isn’t even a foreigner, because dammit he’s white and he’s owned this monotonous existence because his family has done it for years and years. He was here first he deserves the job, and in his and his mother’s eyes, that makes it OK to beat up someone who’s trying to make more than $8 an hour. He’s not taking your job, he’s taking a job he’s been offered for more money, that used to belong to someone who is striking to try and prevent losing some wages and benefits. These are very clear portraits of racism in the general population, ones cloaked in almost logical arguments so that if you don’t take a step back and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you might not see them for what they are. That is the power of Nottages writing though, you see the behavior, you see the other point of view, you think, and it crystalizes.

As you’ve probably gathered there are a lot of ideas contained with Sweat, I’ve only scratched the surface and all I’ve discussed so far is plot, characters, and themes. And there are more ideas in play than those I mentioned above, that’s just what angered me the most. There is discussion to be had about the set mindset’s anger at what they lost, their willingness to blame the “other” rather than the Republicans who battle for the interests of companies whose only concern is higher and higher profit margins rather than for the people who mysteriously keep electing them against their own interests. There are just too many rabbit holes in the warren of this play to go down them all and I need to devote some space to the talented artists who brought this powerful work to life.

Lynn Nottage, dead brilliant script for all of the reasons I go into above. Director Tamilla Woodard whose guidance allowed all of these themes to emerge in a naturalistic way, it’s amazing how many different issues and ideas all find their way clearly unto the stage, always finding their own space to come into focus and without feeling like a pot that everything was thrown into with all the flavors fighting to be tasted. Scenic Designer Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams who created a local that felt like a thousand small bars in a thousand different towns across America. We’ve all been in them and that helped us establish a familiarity right from the beginning, as soon as the bar set is revealed we collectively have this flash of “I’ve been there”. Aaron Preusse as the Fight Director stages one of the most realistic fights I’ve seen on a stage. Generally they seem to be very fake and barely physical, for the obvious reason that it’s live and these are actors not stunt people, but this one felt close to real. The cast…. There isn’t a weak member of this ensemble so I think rather than try and pick favorites I’m going to list them all below. Praise is due as well to the unsung folks who helped the show arrive at this amazing cast, Jennifer Liestman the Resident Casting Director and McCorkle Casting, Ltd who is the New York Casting consultant. It’s not very often that I see a show with more than say five or six actors that there isn’t one performance that maybe isn’t quite as good as the others. This is one of those casts where there simply is no weak link, period.

Well it’s now a little after 2:30 AM on Saturday morning and I feel like I haven’t said half of what I wanted to say, but also like I’ve said too much. I think that might sum up why this Sweat won the Pulitzer. Certainly there are thoughts and feelings I’m still wrestling with. But, if society is still wrestling with them I think I can let myself off the hook a little bit. I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expected to read, honestly it wasn’t what I expected to write either. I’d like to promise to return you to your normal format for my next review, but next up will be the MN Fringe Festival so that’s going to look a little different as well. Maybe this is a good time to practice our growth mindset and see if we can’t adjust to things being a little bit different for a couple of weeks. As for this review, I think that while it may not be perfect, it is done. Sometimes the satisfaction needs to come from getting it done. Because, Perfect is simply an unattainable ideal. Whereas done is an accomplishment. And you know what else, I did the best I could tonight.

Sweat runs through August 21st in the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater in downtown Minneapolis. For more information about the show and to purchase tickets go to https://www.guthrietheater.org/shows-and-tickets/2021-2022-season/sweat/


Cast

Ansa Akyea as Brucie

Mary Bacon as Tracey

Terry Bell as Chris

Darius Dotch as Evan

Lynnette R. Freeman as Cynthia

Terry Hempleman as Stan

Noah Plomgren as Jason

Antonio Rios-Luna as Oscar

Amy Staats as Jessie

Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, 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. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.

Wicked Makes a Triumphant Return to The Orpheum Theatre

Photo by Joan Marcus

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The first time I saw Wicked, it was also at the Orpheum the last time the tour came through town, probably 2016 or 2017. I liked it, I didn’t love it. This time though, I kinda loved it! I don’t know if it’s a show where expectations are just so high that it can’t help but disappoint the first time or what. It’s show stopping moment (pictured above), which is also the shows most familiar song, “Defying Gravity,” is spectacular, and I think first timers go in expecting that level of wonderment throughout. Of course the reality would be that you wouldn’t have a story to follow if every scene was some passionate crescendo featuring wonder inducing theatrics. Freed of those expectations I followed the character arcs more closely, appreciated the allegorical nature of the story more, and was still wowed by the production design and effects work.

Wicked is based on the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman. It tells the backstory of The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. From this perspective The Wizard of Oz is merely propaganda designed to manipulate the population in order for the Wizard to maintain power over the people. Remember, History is written by the victors, which is the crux upon which the novel and the musical are based. We learn the details of Elphaba’s conception and birth, that she is shunned because of her green skin. From there we jump to her and her sister Nessarose going off to Shiz university. Here Elphaba meets Galinda, later to be just Glinda. At first they feel a mutual loathing, but an act of mistook kindness creates a bond between the two. They both pine for Fiyero the Winkie Prince bad boy who isn’t as shallow as he wants everyone to think. Elphaba has a gift of magic which attracts the attention of the headmistress, Madame Morrible, who begins to teach Elphaba how to use her gift and at Elphaba’s insistence Glinda as well. When the Wizard sends word for Elphaba to come see him Glinda goes with and they discover the truth behind the curtain. One of the things The Wizard is doing is restricting the rights of animals, who in this world can speak and even teach at the university level. The novel was published in the mid 1990’s and the musical opened on broadway in 2003, nearly 20 years ago. When they created the show I’m sure their intention was to present an allegory that reminded us of the past. What’s uncanny is the parallels that existed 20 years ago have only become more pronounced. A show that was likely supposed to remind us and caution us against the past, now seems to be speaking directly to the world of the last six years. There’s a scene in the second act that seems to be referencing Eva Peron’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita, which again is referencing a fascist regime.

The stage is so packed with electric sets and elaborate costumes that the cast almost gets lost in the mix. Populated by extremely solid performers including two well cast leads in Jennafer Newberry as Glinda and Lissa Deguzman as Elphaba. Both are wonderful in their roles, everyone is, but the one thing missing is someone who rises above their role. This is a cast devoid of that one voice that knocks your socks off, thankfully it’s also devoid of anyone who can’t quite pull off the singing. Newberry has the right over the top cheerfulness in her voice and really shines on a song like “Popular”. Deguzman nails Defying Gravity and given what’s going on visually during that song you have to or you’ll get swallowed up by the rest of the show. Vocally again everyone’s solid, acting wise I also enjoyed Jordan Litz as Fiyero, John Bolton as the wizard of Oz, and Lisa Howard as Madame Morrible.

The real star of the show though are the set design, special effects, Lighting, and costumes. All of which are amazing, but they are utilized in the service of the story for the most part, which is really the way it should be. Scenic Designer Eugene Lee’s sets are detailed and dazzling. Kenneth Posner the Lighting Designer creates just the right look in every scene, truly enhancing the sets. Projection Designer Elaine J. McCarthy and Special Effects creator Chic Silber work wonderfully together and with the other departments to pull off what is honestly one of the most innovative and evocative shows I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Finally Tom Watson on wigs and hair and Susan Hilferty as costume designer complete the picture with so many different looks and styles sometimes borrowing motifs from the past, sometimes something that feels wholly original.

Wicked may seem like the perfect show to take kids to but it isn’t really. I’d say teenager and above. It’s set in the land of Oz, there are witches and wizards and tin men and flying monkeys, but it’s also a deeply political show that deals with issues that draw parallels to many of today’s issues from the restrictions of rights to fake news. But for anyone at all interested in the political side of things it is a dazzler of a show, with great music, draw dropping special effects and every aspect of the production layers to create some truly magnificent environments. Wicked runs through August 28th for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://hennepintheatretrust.org/broadway/

Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, 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. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.

Something Rotten! Is Some Kind of Wonderful at Lyric Arts in Anoka.

Photo by Molly Weibel, 1000 Words Photography-MN

Lyric Arts in Anoka reminds us once again that they are the little theater that can. I first saw Something Rotten! about four years ago when the national tour came to the Orpheum. I had a blast with the show then and I think I had just as much fun with it last night. What Lyric Arts production loses in spectacle it more then makes up for with the immediacy of it’s perfectly sized theatre. There really isn’t a bad seat in the Main Street Stage, but for me, my heart is always in the front row. Fun, witty, and entertaining from top to Bottom (there’s a double meaning in that) Lyric Arts finishes it’s 2021 -22 season on a high note. Filled with anachronisms, like a sunglasses wearing William Shakespeare, and jokes that come from every imaginable direction, visual, dialogue, and clever song lyrics. It’s a musical comedy that has something for everyone, but a little extra for those who know their Shakespeare and musical theatre. This is a show that is as much a parody of musicals as it is an entertaining example of the form. For fans of musical theatre it is chock full of Easter eggs, with nods to everything from Les Miserables to Rent, as well as regular eggs, including four tap dancing eggs.

Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell with music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick. The story follows the Bottom brothers Nick and Nigel who are playwrights during the Renaissance period and contemporaries of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is portrayed as something akin to a rockstar by today’s standards. Nigel is a huge fan of Shakespeare but his older brother Nick hates him, partially out of jealousy. When their new play is cancelled, due to a rumor that Shakespeare is writing a play with the same title, the brothers have one night to come up with a new idea. In a panic, Nick takes the money he and his wife Bea had been saving and goes to a soothsayer named Nostradamus. Nostradamus looks into the future to see what the next big thing in theater is going to be, what he sees are musicals! Once sold on this idea, the brothers are still stuck for an idea on which to base their musical. So Nick asks Nostradamus to look again into the future and see what Shakespeare’s greatest work will be, the response is Omlet! Filled with some really fun songs, favorites include “God, I Hate Shakespeare”, “A Musical” and To Thine Own Self Be True” just to name a few.

The cast is headed by Kyler Chase and Grant Hooyer as Nick and Nigel Bottom. Chase brought me full circle to my first visit to Lyric Arts and his portrayal of Mark in Rent. Here again, he wowed me not only with his singing but his comic timing as well. Hooyer is perfectly cast as Nigel, he captures the innocence of a sheltered younger brother but also plays the naive young man under the spell of first love. He is also a nice singer and his facial expressions play the humor just right. Justin Betancourt steals the show every time he appears as Nostradamus. His performance of “A Musical” is hilarious and worth the price of admission alone. Carl Swanson plays William Shakespeare with all the pomp and arrogance of someone who is being called the greatest writer in the English language and believes it. It’s a star making performance of an actor who’s playing a star. Special notice also needs to go to Becca Hart as Bea (Nick’s wife), Courtney Vonvett, as Portia (Nigels love interest), and Kiko Laureano (the Minstrel).

Something Rotten! is directed by Scott Ford with his usual sure hand with Anna Murphy handling the musical direction. The set design by Peter Lerohl makes perfect use of the space. What looks like a series of painted flats of buildings turns out to be quite inventive in the way that various pieces unfold to create different interiors, the central set piece functions as the outside of a building but then rotates to serve as the inside of the theater for the plays rehearsals. The scenic artist Victoria Clawson has given the buildings the look of a picture storybook, which feels perfectly in step with the silliness that ensues. I also wanted to make sure I mentioned the costume designer Caitlin Quinn whose work here is marvelous. Also Hannah Weinberg-Goerger whose choreography was a joy to behold. A little tap goes a long way sometimes but a little tap done well, as it is here, can be an impressive display of timing and precision.

For more information and to purchase tickets for Something Rotten! go to https://www.lyricarts.org/. The show runs through August 14th, it’s a real crowd pleaser of a show, a lot of fun and laughs, sometimes that’s just what we need.

Don’t miss a single review from The Stages of MN, 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. Also you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesonmn.