Next to Normal: Bloomington Civic Theater

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Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize that I am fortunate to live in such a theatre-rich place littered with beautifully talented people. I have to remind myself how spoiled I am to consume high-quality art, and consume it often. I sometimes have to tell myself to stop criticizing, and appreciate what’s happening in front of me because I am fortunate enough to experience it.

These thoughts were inspired by a jaunt to Bloomington Civic Theater to see the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, Next to Normal.

Next to Normal is the story of a mother dealing with mental illness and the impact it has on her family. Can the Pulitzer Prize crew give out multiples, because, dang, this story deserves another. There were moments where I caught a glimpse inside theimg_9414mind of a person dealing with a mental illness and the overwhelming reality of that. It would be so insanely frustrating to be stuck in a different reality than the people around you. The greatest stories are the ones that get you thinking and provide you with a perspective you may have not considered before. This is Next to Normal in a nutshell. Bravo to you Brian Yorkey!

As for the performance itself, it was pretty good. I feel the need to mention that I went on a Thursday evening toward the end of the run of this production and was part of a crowd that maybe half-filled the theater. The energy levels seemed a little down. Not only is the story so emotionally charged, but the music is difficult, the staging was pretty physical, and the singers need to have major chops. I could tell that everyone involved was pretty insanely talented. Unfortunately, I felt like things weren’t always clicking. I should also mention that the supporting musicians were behind the set on stage. I imagine this makes things tricky for the actors. Things were at times pitchy and not always on beat. I hate to be critical, but I was just bummed because I can tell that it could have been better perhaps on a different night.

So, here is my review in a few brief bullets:

– Extremely talented cast.

– Moments of brilliance.

– I KNOW it could have been better. I’ve learned my lesson to avoid weeknights.

Without a doubt, I recommend checking this show out. You have one week to get tickets. Check out Goldstar, I was able to get half-price tickets! Such a steal!

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Hansel & Gretel: Minnesota Opera

all the kidsMinnesota Opera’s production of Hansel & Gretel is perfectly timed between Halloween and the Christmas season. This colorful opera is shorter than the typical opera (around 2 hours) making it a great introduction to opera for the kids in your life.witch clown

This particular production of Engelbert Humberdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is set in the early 20th century with inspiration from classic Hollywood glamour and fun carnival colors. Once again, Minnesota opera delivers on all counts. Beautiful costuming, whimsical lighting, and creative sets served as the perfect support to top-notch performers. One of the greatest attributes in this opera was the addition of dancers from the Zenon Dance Company. From a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers inspired dream scene to sequin-clad acrobats, the addition of dance offered seamless transitions and helped portray the tempo of the production. Additionally, one of my favorite aspects were the fantastic project opera singers! The kids sang beautifully and acted well!

This was a satisfyingly lovely production. I highly recommend indulging in this great production. I suppose I could discuss this further, but for this one, I’d rather keep things short and sweet. 😉

creepy carnival dancers

My Fair Lady: Guthrie Theater

Loverly QuartetAaaaaaaand I’m back!

It has been far too long since I’ve written a review, but such is life.

Well, I am back and with BIG NEWS, my blogging partner in crime Karyn has moved back to Minneapolis! With her back, Pumps and Playbills will be unstoppable.

Onto the review.

Last night, July 4th, My Fair Lady opened at the Guthrie. I caught a preview of it on Tuesday night and I can only assume that this will be a popular summer production. This show is running through August 31, helping to finish off the 2013-2014 Guthrie season.

In summary, this production was precisely what you would expect from a classic story produced at the Guthrie. It was not particularly inventive, but it was performed with absolute precision and the set and costuming were spot on. Considering it was a preview, there were a few areas that needed to be tightened up a bit, however, it was never a major distraction from the story. My favorites moments were by the chorus. Particularly, the men who were part of the ‘Loverly quartet’. Their voices blended perfectly and their harmonies were absolutely gorgeous. While the performers were fantastically talented, I was most impressed by the costuming in this production. I was drooling over all the beautiful colors and sparkle. Although the set and costuming were rather traditional, it was a very visually appealing show.

I had the pleasant surprise of opening the program to see my favorite Minneapolis actor, Tyler Michaels, was cast as the lovable Freddy. It’s official, I will now be stalking him and pay any amount of money to see him in a show. That might be mildly creepy, but if you’ve seen him perform, you’ll get it.

AscotThere did seem to be a underlying feminist message, but I wasn’t entirely able to interpret. If you’re familiar with the plot of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady, you know how absolutely terrible Eliza is treated by Professor Higgins. In the end, however, they move past their differences and end up together. This production seemed to subtly reference Higgins’ misogynistic tendencies, but he never seems to clearly redeem himself. Then, at the end when Eliza shows back up at Higgins’ home, it’s hard to tell if she was supposed to be a figment of his imagination or if she actually goes back to him. It was confusingly subtle and a little unsatisfying.

All this to say, if you’re looking for a show to bring Grandma to or a show to introduce the kids to theater, I 100% recommend this show. It is a fun, light-hearted summer show.

I’m sure this one will sell fast, so be sure to catch it while you can!

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Peter and the StarCatcher: Orpheum Theatre

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Written by: Chrissi

Night number two of my theater double-feature brought me to the Orpheum Theatre for the touring production of Peter and the StarCatcher. I didn’t know much about this show going into it aside from the knowledge that it is a prequel to Peter Pan and that, you know, it won like 5 Tony’s. Having seen Othello the night before, I was pretty excited for something a little bit lighter. (Not hard to accomplish when Othello strangles his wife. ON STAGE! I digress.)

Although this show is kid-friendly, it was not in any way dumbed-down. I will stand on my soap-box for a moment to say this- just because a show is kid-friendly does not mean you should sacrifice quality! (*cough cough* Beauty & the Beast touring production which robbed me of like $75 *cough*) Instead, this show provided a night full of wonderful, fast-paced theater thanks to an energetic and entertaining cast.

psc1The story began as a play within a play. One of my favorite parts of theater is that as an audience member, you are asked to accept a certain level of reality in order to get anything from the story being portrayed. If you choose to invest your imagination into this particular play, you will reap massive rewards. The show was inventive and, while it was by no means a musical, flowed smoothly from scene to scene with added music and the occasional musical number. The set was relatively simple, and, in fact, employed much of the cast to serve as pieces of the set at varying points within the show. The cast was tight. They worked wonderfully together and never missed a cue. Their comedic timing and ability to read the audience was spot on. Although the cast as a whole was strong, the obvious stand-out character was Black Stache, played by John Sanders. He was brilliant and hilarious.

All this to say, I laughed. A lot. This play is a lot of fun, well acted, wonderfully produced, and top notch. You have until March 16th to catch this gem, so give the box office a call ASAP to get your tickets!

Until next time!

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Othello: Guthrie Theater

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Written by: Chrissi

There were many reasons to love life this week. First off, we Minnesotans got our first taste of Spring with some gloriously warm days putting a dent in the mountains of snow. Hallelujah! Secondly, it was the Bachelor finale on Monday. (Judge awayyyyy.) And finally, I had a theater double feature this week with Othello on Tuesday and Peter and the Star Catcher on Wednesday (see next post). Life is good 🙂

If you know anything about the Guthrie you know that Shakespeare and the Guthrie are like peanut butter and chocolate- while great on their own, together they’re unstoppable. Honestly, I probably don’t even need to write this post because it goes without saying that this production of Othello is a home-run. Still, I’ll put together a thought or two in case you needed to be convinced.

This production was well-stocked with Guthrie favorites including the amazingly talented Stephen Yoakam as the evil antagonist, Iago. Yoakam is a phenomenal actor. I can with confidence say that he is one of the finest actors I will see in all of my theater-loving life. The title character was played by Peter Macon. Physically, Macon is a presence. He is a solid man with a booming, deep and captivating voice. His performance was astounding. He believably wore the hat of giddy newlywed, proud soldier, and jealous, murderous husband. Truly, there was no weak player in the cast. I caught one of the first performances of this production and I anticipate it only getting better as the run progresses.

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Aside from the cast, the costuming and set were not my particular favorite. When the acting is strong, I can appreciate a simplistic set that allows the story to take center stage. However, in this case I don’t think that was the intention of the set design or costuming and they just weren’t on the same level as the on-stage talent. There were some cool lighting features, particularly the clouds in the sky. Ultimately, while these elements did not take away from the production, they didn’t exactly add much either.

You have until April 20 to catch this production of Othello at the Guthrie and I highly suggest that you take advantage of the chance to see this ridiculously talented cast. Be sure to take a nap beforehand because if you get as invested in the show as I did, you will leave exhausted! Give the box office a call and order your tickets!

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Cabaret: Theater Latte Da

cabaret 1

Written by: Chrissi

To simply describe Theater Latte Da’s production of Cabaret performed at the Pantages Theatre in a word, it’d be ‘committed.’ When a show begins with a scantily clad Emcee appearing from the second level of the theater only to descend into the lap of one lucky audience member- it’s clear that the show has a definite willingness to ‘go there.’ Cabaret is a perfect example of an important lesson in the world of theatre: have some understanding of what you are getting yourself into or leave all expectations at the door and dive into it. If you have any aversion to slap you in the face sexuality, do not see Cabaret. You will see a lot of exposed skin, thrusting, and you’ll probably be offended and want to leave. All this to say, once you adjust to the level of sexuality and interpret the show within that context, the reward is tremendous (so try to adjust quickly).

Ok, on with the show-

This entire production was a clear example of the idea that working with talented people makes the individuals involved step up their game. There was not a weak link in the entire bunch. Every actor was completely committed to their role, making it easy to transition your mindset as the plot moved from one extreme to the next.Cabaret 3

I cannot properly express to you how completely outstanding Tyler Michaels was as the Emcee. He was dynamic, engaging, and an excessively talented singer, actor, and acrobat. (Who knew such a skinny dude was so strong!) Michaels is without a doubt going places fast and I am excited to see where he goes.

Minneapolis favorite Sally Wingert also did not disappoint in her heart-warming and heart-breaking performance of Fraulein Schneider. She offers subtlety and  grace to every role she plays. It’s always a joy to see her on the cast list. Another familiar face was Aeysha Kinnunen who played the saucy and desperate Fraulein Kost.

Cabaret 2Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this production, but I’m going to cut myself off. Each element was purposeful, meaningful, and exceptionally executed. I highly suggest seeing it while you still can.

Cabaret closes on February 9th, so change your plans to make this fit into your schedule.

Order tickets online

or

Call the box office: 1-800-982-2787

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Macbeth: Minnesota Opera

0662 Grimsley, Harris

Written by: Chrissi

It’s about that time of year when I doubt that we’ll ever see green again. Sigh.

I’ve been cooped up inside pining for an activity to interrupt my ongoing Project Runway marathon when along came the latest production of the Minnesota Opera season — Verdi’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth! Hallelujah, a bit of beauty to get us through the winter.

1145 Minnesota Opera ChorusMinnesota Opera’s production of Macbeth opened this  past Saturday, January 25 and plays through Sunday, February 2 at the Ordway in St. Paul. It stars the incomparable duo of Brenda Harris as Lady Mabeth and Greer Grimsley as Macbeth. Harris and Grimsley offered powerful vocals throughout the performance with little time off stage. Not to be overlooked was the rich bass-baritone, Alfred Walker playing the role of Banquo. In addition to the powerhouse lead roles, the production featured a full orchestra and a massive chorus under the direction of Michael Christie. At varying points in the production it was almost as if you could feel the sound as it made it’s way off the stage.

The story of Macbeth translates well into an opera. My favorite fun note about this opera is that it was essentially written as a game of Shakespearean telephone. In other words, Verdi was relying on an interpreter translating the play from English to Italian when writing the opera. This resulted in the omission of varying elements of Shakespeare’s original work, though you still receive a complete story.

0501 WalkerMacbeth is a great addition to the 2013-2014 season and offers all of the production quality, innovation, and professionalism you’d expect from a MN Opera production.

Order your tickets online or give the box office a call and let me know how you liked it!

 

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The Phantom of the Opera: Touring Production, The Orpheum

Written by: Anne Mollner of cleverknack.blogspot.com

Hello Pumpsandplaybills readers!

When I was in fourth grade, my parents offered me a ticket to see Phantom of the Opera, and I foolishly turned it down. Ever since, I have sought the opportunity to see it, but it has yet to come back to Omaha, Ne (my homeland), nor has it come anywhere near. Once I realized it had stopped touring, I feared I would never be able to see it and would have to settle for the mediocre movie version. However, I miraculously found out a 25th anniversary tour was happening and that it was going to be in Minneapolis! Easily worth the five and half hour drive in the dead of winter.

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story line, the musical follows a chorus girl, Christine Daae, and the phantom’s obsessive love of her, which is manifested through terror on the playhouse. The show begins 

with an auction that is selling old artifacts from the playhouse. This brings Raoul (Christine’s love), to recollect the tale of the Phantom. The show transforms to the flashback and the audience is brought to the glory days of the playhouse. Throughout the rest of the show, the new managers of the playhouse try to maintain control against the phantom’s demands, Carlotta (the original lead opera singer) tries to maintain her limelight, Raoul tries to love and protect Christine from the phantom, Christine struggles with her connection to the phantom and her idea that the phantom is a shadow of a musical angel promised by her father who has passed away, and the phantom obsesses over Christine and tries to make her not only the star of the playhouse, but also his love.

Phantom has always had a stunning and majestic reputation due to it’s spectacle and intense musical scores. Even though the 25th anniversary was a non-replica rendition, it did not disappoint! The show was complete with a falling chandelier, moving and disappearing staircases, colorful costumes, and a hefty amount of pyrotechnics. Julia Udine, who plays Christine, sang with heartfelt emotion and a gripping stage presence during “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and used her range well during her entire performance. That music is impossible and impressive. The phantom, played by Mark Campbell, was played by an understudy, Cooper Grodin. From what I’ve read of other reviews, Grodin must have added a more compassionate side to the Phantom. He did hit all of his vocals, but his true talent was in his acting. He possessed his character thoroughly and showed the audience all sides (instead of just cruelty) of the phantom- love, obsession, heartache, and desperation.

Ultimately, I experienced everything one should during a musical- I was wowed by the spectacle, caught up in the music, fascinated by the idea of a play within a play (thank you, Shakespeare!). Minneapolis was only the second city on the tour, so I give them some room for error. The show had to be stopped mid-performance due to technical difficulties (which is actually really ironic because there is a scene in Phantom when that actually happens as part of the storyline). Also, intermission was prolonged due to more technical problems. I’m not sure if it was the venue or the production, but it did noticeably throw the performance off. In general, the entire flow seemed a little disjointed, but hopefully it gets smoother with time.

The tour has long moved on from Minneapolis and is currently in Chicago, IL if you fancy a drive! It will also be showing in Iowa, Wisconsin, and a few places on the East Coast. Click here for more information or look up the 25th anniversary performances on Youtube, you won’t be disappointed!

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Lyric Arts of Anoka

PremiereImage_WonderfulLife

Written by H.M.S. Penafore!

As the holiday season approaches, professional and community theaters alike often produce a holiday show to raise not only holiday spirit, but funds as well.  Holiday shows are often extremely popular and sell out rather quickly.  There was no shortage of holiday cheer in the northern suburb of Anoka as Lyric Arts staged production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” opened last week.  Adapted for the stage James W. Rogers from the film by Frank Capra, “It’s a Wonderful Life” looks to showcase a person’s discovery of self-worth in the face of challenging social and economic protests.  Director Mark Hauck aimed to capture this classic story and, in most cases, succeeded.

The story follows the protagonist, George Bailey, played by the charismatic Brandon Osero, through his highs and lows.  It was clear that Osera based his interpretation of George off of the iconic Jimmy Stewart.  Osero was, by far, the most consistent in his acting and had the best grasp of the language in this piece.  My only criticism was that he was, at times, luke-warm when his circumstances changed for the worse.  I would have liked him to dive deeper into the depression and hopelessness when his world begins to crumble.

This piece also highlights the importance of community and connection to one another as human beings.  The connection was clearly seen in Matthew Cawley’s portrayal of the ‘angel in training’, Clarence Oddball.  Cawley’s whimsical and empathetic nature grabbed us from the moment he entered.  He provided support not only to his fellow actors, but also acted as a guide to us audience members beautifully.  George’s wife, Mary Hatch, played by Mandi Trandem, overall had a very consistent performance, however, the chemistry between her and George felt stilted at times.  I would look forward to that relationship developing further and deeper as the run of the show progresses.

I cannot complete this review without mentioning two notable supporting characters of the villainous Henry Potter (Rick Gabriel) and the bumbling Uncle Billy (Eric Eichenlaub).  Gabriel’s sharp and cutting delivery left me squirming in my seat as he began to slowly cut off George Bailey’s options of hope.  Eric Eichenlaub’s comedic timing was just right.  Uncle Billy can often be overdone, but Eichenlaub smartly chose moments to show the anxiety rooted in Uncle Billy.

Overall, the production accomplished the warm and fuzzy feeling of feeling connected and supported by your friends and family.  Some moments, however, felt rushed.  I was hoping for the actors to be allowed more time in certain scenes (mainly the opening scene with George contemplating to take his own life).  The one scene that did accomplish this was when George returned home after learning that his business and livelihood may be in jeapordy.  The scene was beautifully acted and it allowed the rest of story to fall into place which left me smiling at the curtain call.  If you can make the trek out to Anoka, do it.  It’s worth being reminded of what’s really important J

It’s a Wonderful Life” runs now until December 22nd.  Click here for more ticket information!

Arabella (PART II): Minnesota Opera

By: H.M.S. Pen-afore!  

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Being my first time as a ‘ghost writer’ for this lovely little blog, I am to say, a tad bit nervous so bare with me!  I had the pleasure of attending Minnesota Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’s Arabella for very low price of free!  Here are a 

Minnesota Opera’s Arabella aims to capture the internal and external tug of war between choosing to marry to for love versus for money.  The grandeur of the Ordway Theatre seemed the perfect venue for the upper class Viennese hotel in which our protagonist Arabella’s story is told.  Director Tim Albery beautifully and subtly portrays Arabella’s (played by Jacquelyn Wagner) struggle to surrender to her parents want and need to have her marry for money or lend herself to the unannounced house guest and nephew of her father, Mandryka (played by Craig Irvin).few of my humble opinionated thoughts! 

Although Jacquelyn Wagner had moments where she seemed to lose support through Strauss’s difficult and extended vocal lines, she redeems herself with her beautiful pianissimo that had the audience in complete amazement.  Wagner’s comedic counter-part, her “brother” Zdenka, played by Elizabeth Futral, compliments each other greatly both vocally and dramatically.  The mysterious foreigner Mandryka who yearns for Arabella’s heart is portrayed beautifully and passionately by Craig Irvin.  Sitting way up in the balcony, I could feel his anticipation, his disappointment, his joy, and his anger.  Irvin had, by far, the best-rounded performance of the night.  His performance came from a place of absolute truth and had me cheering him on the entire time.  I, of course, cannot end this post without mentioning Brian Jagde’s portrayal of Matteo.  Jagde is a power-house of a tenor whose pain in being rejected by Arabella lends itself perfectly to his robust and impressively present sound.  He is a force to be reckoned with in this production.0887 - Wagner

Jagde’s performance is impressive, without question, but the quieter moments of this production are what struck me as the most impressive.  When you think of a stereotypical opera, you think huge choruses with singers blasting the roof and doors off of the venue.  I think there is something to be applauded and encouraged from Tim Albery’s approach at showing smaller, more detailed, and ultimately, more truthful moments between each character that capture our attention as an audience and keeps us engaged both aurally and visually.  Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the production and I recommend checking out the last few performances while you still can!

Read Chrissi’s thoughts here.

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