Ring out the Holidays with Nutcracker Noir: A Sensual Cirque Ballet at Minnsky Theatre in NE Minneapolis


This was my 4th visit to the Minnsky Theatre on Central Ave in NE Minneapolis. You just never know what you are walking into at the Minnsky. I’m always expecting something like what I saw the last time and then I get something new. I’m sure at some point I will have seen all of the variables, but last night was reminiscent of what came before, but also unique. First off, I don’t think it was quite a sold out show as I saw a couple of empty seats, but it was very close. Due to a show by the Danger Committee before the Nutcracker Noir, the lobby wasn’t opened until about 5 minutes before the show start time. If you are planning to go, that is the schedule for the remaining Friday and Saturday shows. I recommend either showing up early so you are first in when the doors open and can get a beverage and snack (the baked goods are to die for); or coming at around 9, so you don’t have to wait in the line, you’ll have assigned seats so no need to be early.

TifDynamite as the host points out before the show, if you are not familiar with the story of the Nutcracker, what you are about to see is not correct. This is like a naughty funny sequel to the classic story. It takes place 10 years after Clara’s original adventure in the Land of Sweets. Unlike the previous Christmas reimagining I saw earlier in December at the Minnsky, this one is not full of jokes, in fact there is no dialogue at all. This is an all dance/performance show. Now that Clara, played by Bookie Blues, is all grown up she wants a man. Her Grandmother and Uncle Drosselmeyer, played by Dee Richards and TifDynamite decide to make her dream come true. Drosselmeyer uses his magic as he did all those years ago to make the toys from Clara’s childhood come to life again, including the Nutcracker, played by Jac Fatale. Before long the Rat Queen, played by Red Rider, appears and there is a dance off and a battle between the Nutcracker, the other toys, the Rat Queen, and her Rats. After Intermission, The Nutcracker and Clara travel to the Land of Oh So Sweet Sweets. Here in the court of Mistress Sugar Kum Fairy, played by Kirstin Nelson (did I mention this show is for adults?) The sweets take turns dancing to entertain the court. So there is a story, but honestly it’s there as a clothesline to hang the different acts on that will be performed.

One of the things I dislike about the Minnsky is it’s hard to single performers out as there are no bios in the programs, sometimes there are not even programs. This time there was and it listed the performers and the roles they played, but when everyone plays multiple roles and you never hear any of their character names, that’s not as helpful as you might think. With names like Droplet, Dew Drop, Spice Drop and Snowflake it’s challenging to know who’s who. If I guess wrong my apologies to the performers please e-mail me and I’ll make corrections.

So what are those acts? There are more than I can probably recount. There is pole dancing, led by Expert on the pole, Red Rider. Many of the routines at the Minsky that involve dangling in air such as pole dancing and the lyra cause the same reaction within me as watching an improv troupe perform a song. I’m incredibly anxious for the performer and amazed at their abilities at the same time. What is even more impressive than a performer doing a pole dance, is when there are four performers, two on each pole. The trust the performers must place in each other is impressive. Aside from the pole and the lyra, there was a trapeze and a large fabric sash. The lyra is usually my favorite, and I really enjoyed it this time as always, but the hammock is my new favorite. Miss Coco Nostal’jah (I think) performed on the hammock, gliding through the air as if she were flying and then wrapping herself up and dangling higher and higher above the ground. It is truly amazing what she can do simply wrapping limbs up in the hammock and turning. Another act that was new this time were the the fire eaters. You just never know what you are going to see at the Minnsky. Including a wardrobe malfunction that provided us with way more Chocolate, played by Obsidian, than we were intended to see. Like a true performer though he carried on and didn’t let it phase him. All the performers are talented, and their acts focus on their area of expertise, whether that be tap, ballet, hip hop or modern dance.

Each individual act has its moments as did the entr’acte moments. There was a nice piece of business throughout with one of the Stagehands who was responsible for raising and lowering the Lyra and trapeze, and placing the safety mats. It was never the simple business of accomplishing the task, there was always some subtle interplay with another stagehand or character in the show. A very dry humor similar to the facial humor of Buster Keaton in his smaller moments. This helped the show enormously. One of the issues with the Minnsky shows can be that they seem to go along and then stop for a routine, which frequently requires setting equipment. This is simply the nature of the shows they do I suppose but it would be nice if they could find a way to integrate the acts within the show more and cut down on the stoppage time for equipement setting. Perhaps staging something in the foreground while the change takes place behind the performers or off to one side so the audiences focus is drawn away from the equipment changes, much harder to do in a show without dialogue I’m sure.

The highpoints of this show are the Minnsky’s specialties, the dancing the aerial gymnastics and the teases of skin. If you enjoy all of that you will have a good time. If you are looking for a more cohesive story and a show that flows from act to act you might be disappointed, so just go in knowing that. That is an area the Minnsky could work on in general. For information and to purchase tickets visit https://www.minnsky.com/shows-.html Nutcracker Noir: A Sensual Cirque Ballet runs through January 4th. This is an 18+ show, it was much tamer then the Grinch Who Stole XXX-mas, aside from the wardrobe malfunction that is, but I don’t imagine that will be repeated.

How the Grinch Stole XXXMas at Minnsky Theatre in NE Minneapolis.

Tifd Ynamite and Mimi Clochette photo by Upper Boundary Photography

OK, I feel like I’ve finally seen a typical Minnsky theatre production now. What I’ve learned is there is nothing typical about a Minnsky theatre production. I’m three shows into my Minnsky experience I can tell you this much: it could contain amazing singing or lip synching, a beautiful dance routine or striptease, it might have funny smart dialogue or the performers might seem lost on stage, there maybe acts of acrobatic wonder performed on poles, hoops, and giant swings or someone might fall off of a black box. More than likely it will contain some combination of all of these. In short a production at the Minnsky is something of a wild card. I guess you could say a show at the Minnsky is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. How the Grinch Stole XXXMas is no different. To be blunt, it’s a bit of a hot mess. The only thing wrong with describing it as such, is that you might think that’s a bad thing, you silly goose (that’s an inside joke for Betty Lou Whooterson).

I’m coming to relish these shows, there is always so much that works, that it offsets what doesn’t. In a more serious theatre the ratio might be maddening, but at Minnsky you tend to just enjoy what works and shrug off what doesn’t. One moment you are tickled at the sheer number of Dr. Seuss references they can squeeze into the first 5 minutes of the play, the next you’re trying to figure out if the chaos on stage is planned or if they didn’t remember what happens next. But before you can figure it out, someone is taking their clothes off, and it isn’t going to be who you think. Yes, I’m talking about you fishing husbands. This show was less than the sum of its parts. If you judge How the Grinch Stole XXXMas as a whole, it doesn’t add up to the fun you have as you watch it. That is the key to enjoying these shows, focus on the moment, the moments are where these shows come alive.

There is a story here that could be turned into a fun cohesive play. I could tell you the plot, explain where I think it could be tightened what could be added in order to develop a stronger theme. But again, that really isn’t the point. Suffice to say it’s the plot of the classic Grinch story filtered through a romantic comedy, with a healthy dose of Minnesota and risque humor, and topped off with iconic 90’s music. I can tell you who belongs on the stage, and I will point out the standouts, and who maybe wasn’t ready for the big show yet, which I will not do. Because this is another key to enjoying a Minnsky show, inclusion. You get the feeling watching a Minnsky show that if you have a desire to perform, they are going to give you a shot. Most productions that would be a negative, but somehow the Minnsky has turned this into one of it’s most winning characteristics. Not only are you being entertained by the cast but you are also being inspired by them. There are performers on stage doing things that require confidence and courage. A meaner audience might mock some of them, but that would be a comment on that audience not these performers. You feel watching them that they are embracing who they are and what they want to be doing. I am envious of those who achieve that level of unselfconsciousness. It is beautiful to see someone achieving this level of self love and embracing their beauty and talents. This is a cast to be celebrated, not criticised.

So let me briefly celebrated a few of the standouts, let me first acknowledge I know these are not their actual names, but I’m going off of the cards in the lobby. Jac Fatale as Betty Lou Whooterson the Mom of the Whooterville family the show is focused on. She is channeling the Fargo characterization to great effect. There was also a duet towards the beginning that starts out as a lip synch and then turns into the performers actually singing I’ll Always Love you … really good! it was a scene that was silly, funny and then amazing. Tifd Ynamite as The Grinch has an ease on stage and delivery that carries the show, whether it be interacting with Cindy Lou, The Narrator, or his Dog Max. Mimi Clochette as Cindy Lou Whooter also shines and comes across as an experienced performer who can bring the naughty and the nice. There are two near silent roles that were probably the most accomplished of the show Bookie Blues as Max and Miss Pussy Willow as Mittens the Cat. Both of these performers perfectly stayed in character, they were always doing some piece of business that fit, even when the audience wasn’t supposed to be looking at them. Mittens would be crawling across the table licking the food staying in true cat form. Max is allowed to be more than just a dog, he is more like Silent Bob to the Grinch’s Jay. That is a parallel that could probably be mined for a joke or two. The two animals also share my favorite acrobatic sequence when they take turns and then share the giant air hoop, again staying in character while doing so.

How the Grinch Stole XXXMas plays through December 13th for more information and to purchase tickets visit their website at https://www.minnsky.com/ If you are looking for something fun to do with your adult friends this holiday season check it out, it’s a wacky, Silly and naughtily fun. It is an 18+ show, it’s probably not something to take Grandma or your look obsessed judgemental friends too. But anyone else 18 or older, particularly if you were pop culturally aware in the 90’s will enjoy it.

Edge of Glory at the Minnsky Theatre in NE Minneapolis Dazzles and Sparkles in true Gaga fashion.

Melody Mendis

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.