Monthly Archives: November 2013

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

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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!

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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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The Last Five Years: Flip Theatre Co.

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Written by: Chrissi

As a bit of a theatre enthusiast, I am always looking for a new theaters and companies to check out. When it comes to theater seats per capita, the Twin Cities are outranked only by NYC, so it’s safe to say that a theater or two will fall through the cracks. Fortunately, there are sites like Goldstar which not only provide exposure to great new theaters, but also offer deals on tickets! Win. Win.

I was pleased to open my email recently to see a deal on The Last Five Years by Flip Theatre Co. being performed at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. This summer I caught a show at the space during the Fringe Festival so I knew the location would be intimate and full of character. Combine this with my appreciation for Last Five Years and being able to snatch up a ticket for just $13.00 processing fees and all. Win. Win. Win.

A bit of a background into the Last Five Years– It is written and composed by the brilliant Jason Robert Brown. The story is closely inspired by Brown’s failed marriage. While this is definitely a bummer for the real-life couple, it makes for a beautiful and painfully truthful story. The cast includes just two characters, a young couple, Jamie & Cathy. Cathy tells the story beginning at the end of a five-year relationship with Jamie, while Jamie tells the story in chronological order. The two meet in the middle of the show at their wedding.

Last Five Years PhotoDirector John Lynn and Producer Ben Bakken put together a great production of this story. Each member of the cast and crew excelled in pulling off this emotionally charged musical. Jason Hansen as conductor and keyboardist kept the story moving from scene to scene, truly serving as the heartbeat of the show. Britta Ollmann was a very believable Cathy and is an extremely talented vocalist. She showcased vocal and emotional control where she could have very easily gotten distracted by big notes or emotions. Bobby Gardner as Jamie had some emotionally pure and beautiful moments, particularly as the marriage slowly disintegrated. I often found his portrayal to be a bit too theatrical and lacking authenticity. His performance was particularly shining in ‘The Schmuel Song’ and ‘Nobody Needs to Know.’

The production was a 90 minute emotional roller coaster full of beautiful music and painful heartbreak. Unfortunately, I caught one of the last performances and the show is closing on Sunday, November 10th. I would definitely suggest adding Flip Theater Co. to your ‘Theaters to check out’ list. The show was well-produced and beautifully performed which bodes well for whatever is to come next!

Don’t fret too much that you missed this show. It’s being made into a movie starring Anna Kendrick & Jeremy Jordan!

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Arabella: Minnesota Opera


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Written by: Chrissi

The second production of Minnesota Opera’s 2013-2014 season is the vibrant comedy, Arabella, by Richard Strauss. Reflective of  Strauss’ writing style, this production focused on the story and the music, as portrayed with the relative simplicity of the stage contrasted with the complexity of the plot and music. If it is any indication of the entertainment level of this opera, while watching it, I found myself reconsidering the relationship between opera and soap operas. The packed orchestra featuring 62 players was beautifully and artistically corralled by Music Director and Conductor, Michael Christie. While the orchestra was full, the set, designed by Tobias Hoheisel, was wonderfully simplistic and elegant. Arabella appeared in gorgeous gowns, plush furs, and show-stopping hats.

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Plenty of MN Opera favorites make up the talented cast. There is a great sample of Resident Artist talent within the cast, including a wonderful performance by Victoria Vargas as Adelaide, Arabella’s mother. The male and female leads were lovely and believable. Jacquelyn Wagner portrayed Arabella with grace and ease, complimenting the frantic and youthful Zdenka played by Elizabeth Futral. Opposite Arabella was Mandryka, played by Craig Irvin. Irvin’s warm, masculine baritone combined with Wagner’s full, feminine soprano resulted in emotional and convincing duets. Certainly not to be overlooked was the portrayal of Matteo by tenor, Brian Jagde.

I highly suggest catching up on the plot before you see the show. It has many marvelous twists, turns, and misunderstandings, but is a highly approachable, and entertaining opera. I would recommend this opera to both seasoned and new opera-fans.

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If you like beards, bears, and a TON of sexual tension, you will LOVE Arabella.

Order you tickets online OR call the friendly folks at the box office today!

Performance dates include:

November 9, 12, 14, 16, 17

Read a review by guest-blogger H.M.S Pen-afore here!

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