This was my second visit to the Minnsky Theatre in NE Minneapolis and I know I’m not there yet, but I’m zeroing in on what they typically do. Last nights show was another atypical production like the Cole Porter revue I saw in early October. Tonight was Edge of Glory: The Ultimate Lady Gaga Tribute Show. The show features Melody Mendis as Lady Gaga performing around a dozen of Gaga’s songs. She is accompanied by the Clayhead Moo Band and assisted visually by Elite Entertainment – Cirque and Dance Group. There are laser beams and smoke machines at work which all add to the fun. But the star of the show is Mendis’ voice, and the footwork of the dancers.
Mendis is not only singing Gaga songs she is playing Gaga. In between songs she talks about the inspirations for the songs and what she was feeling and going through when she wrote them. This is the one aspect of the show I wasn’t sure of. I don’t know if Mendis was parodying Gaga or being sincere. Some of the comments were so vapid and such pseudo philosophical mumbo jumbo that I was certain she was sending up Gaga. Then she would say something that seemed not to have a hint of humor or parody in it and I wasn’t certain. I’d say they need to either go further if they are going for humor in that part or remove the unintentional humor in a few passages if they are not. I don’t think it needs the humor as it seems to poke fun at the person they are celebrating. Aside from that aspect this seems to be based on genuine affection for the artist and her work. Mendis definitely has the Gaga voice down, there were times when you could close your eyes and believe it was Gaga. I’m a Gaga fan I saw her concert last time she was in town and this evening was a fun way to experience these songs again live. If you are a Gaga fan, you will not be disappointed in her vocal performance. I knew we were in good hands when she performed “La Vie En Rose”, you can’t hide behind dance or vocal tricks with that one, and it sounds as perfect as “Bad Romance” did. All your favorites are performed “Poker Face”, “Million Reasons”, “Shallow”, “Paparazzi” and “Born This Way” along with others. We also get three costumes all of them very Gaga if a bit restrained, another reason I question if there was intended humor in the spoken bridges between songs. It seems if you were going for parody costumes would be one area that you could really have fun with. I don’t think it needs an element of parody though, to paraphrase cousin Eddie, it does just fine by itself.
This is more or less a black box theatre with some specialty equipment. In terms of set design and lighting they have fun with what they have. There are lasers and the stage lights up in different colors but you are not going to mistake it for a vegas floor show. That is sort of the charm of the Minnsky though. They do so much with such simple tools. The dancers use simple chairs, just like the ones we are sitting on in the audience, in several of their numbers. They do some amazing moves on these everyday chairs, balancing themselves perfectly. They use simple props and make it look simple but I guarantee it is not simple or easy. They also incorporated some unique and specialized equipment. One piece was a giant hoop that hung from the ceiling that a dancer wrapped herself around creating an illusion of slowing gliding through the air at times and other moments it seemed almost as if the hoop was representing the surface of the water and she was swimming. This was particularly graceful almost balletic. There was also a pole that one of the dancers climbed, hung from, spun around on and basically defied gravity with. The only thing more frightening than see her hang upside down with just her legs wrapped around a vertical pole 15 feet in the air over a concrete floor was watching them dancing in 10 inch heels. There were a couple of stumbles due to those heels, but nothing the game dancers couldn’t shrug off. Along with a couple of slips there were also a couple of short lived technical issues, again handled like professionals who know the show must go on.
There is an energy that comes through in these small theaters that I truly love. I’ve spent much of my theater going life in large (Orpheum, Ordway) to medium (Guthrie, Old Log, Lyric Arts) theaters, in the last two months I’ve been in more black box theaters than ever before. There is something about these smaller theaters, they don’t have the elaborate sets that many of those theaters have but they have an immediacy and a creativity that can be lost in those bigger venues. The Minnsky Theatre also has this aura of inclusiveness to it, there are so many people on the stage all pulling together to perform something unique. Whether they are the beautiful and talented dancers or the the keyboardist with a mask over their face, they all bring something of value to the table. Again I feel blessed to live in a city with so much variety of live theater, we don’t have to choose which type of theater we are going to attend, we just have to decide which type we are going to attend tonight! As for tonight go to the Minnsky theater website at https://www.minnsky.com/shows-.html and buy your tickets for Edge of Glory. This show is only playing one more night, Saturday November 16th. If you like Gaga, you’ll enjoy this show and the time spent with Melody Mendis and the Elite Entertainment Dancers.