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Next to Normal: Bloomington Civic Theater


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!


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

The Phantom of the Opera: Touring Production, The Orpheum

Written by: Anne Mollner of

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.



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


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!  

0639 - Irvin, Travis

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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Summer in the Cities

Written by: Chrissi

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but that is not for a lack of interaction with art! Summer in the Twin Cities has me suffering from a major case of FoMO (fear of missing out). It’s like everyone spent the winter thinking of all the outrageously awesome things you could do outside and squished it into these few months. From plays to festivals to live music, my weeknights and weekends have been jam-packed with fun, unique experiences and I know I’m still missing out on a ton of events.

Here are just a few of the ways I’ve been taking advantage of the summer art scene!

Park Square Theater: Sherlock Holmes & the Suicide Club

Minnesota Opera, Opera Under the Stars: la Boheme

Guthrie: 50th Anniversary Gala

Public Theater of Minnesota: As You Like It

Mill City Opera: the Barber of Seville


Meeting Nicholas Mrozinski