Twin Cities Daily Planet Theater Reviews

Twin Cities Daily Planet Theater Reviews

A Martyriffic Holiday Spectacular at the Children’s Theatre (11/26/08)

“Parents taking the family out for a night at the theater may have some idea that they are ushering their children into a magical land of wonder and imagination, distant from the hyperkinetic squawking of the television set. Some such parents may be surprised to discover that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—the musical production now being presented by the Children’s Theatre Company—rockets by with a frenetic glibness that makes an episode of Animaniacs look like My Dinner With Andre.”

Ballet Minnesota cracks a classic Nut (12/21/08)

“Some aspects of the production are seriously problematic. The Nutcracker is not really about narrative, but there is a story there, and in this production it’s a little confusing. Why does the Nutcracker’s dummy head come and go repeatedly? Why does the Rat King show up for a rematch, and why does it end with him simply sauntering offstage? Especially in the complicated party and battle scenes, musical cues often come and go without much correspondence in the choreography. (Never mind that dramatic minor-key interlude, kids! It’s bound to pass.) And while in theory it’s nice to have live music rather than a recording, it must be said: at the performance I saw, the Mississippi Valley Orchestra was riding the struggle bus. Obviously you don’t go to a regional ballet performance expecting the LSO, but when the strings start drifting from Tchaikovsky into Schoenberg, it’s an issue.”

Spring Awakening: Teenagers are horny. And? (1/27/09)

Spring Awakening, the Broadway sensation now paying a visit to the Orpheum Theatre, is an eye-opening, truly shocking theatrical experience. Unless, that is, you already know that teenagers like to have sex. In that case, it’s just a fairly run-of-the-mill rock musical.”

Chan Poling’s Venus: She’s not it…no, baby, she’s not it (5/7/09)

“The strangest aspect of the production is the fact that the lead characters, who apparently are meant to be nearing middle age (reference is made to the fact that Bananarama’s 1986 remake of Shocking Blue’s ‘Venus’ was a hit when Maggie was in college), are costumed like mature adults trying to look like teenagers—Liestman’s hair is grey and apparently Brylcreemed, but he skips out in designer jeans and laceless Chuck Taylors—and act like they’re in a very special episode of Saved By the Bell. […] Briskey is worst off, putting all the gusto she can muster into the character of a 40-something woman who’s never been kissed, who wears a jean jacket covered in tiny flair buttons (I hope at least one of them says Duran Duran), and who seems to be in such a state of inner desperation that she sits around nursing empty bottles of Blue Moon that she stores in a Schell’s six-pack box.”

Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum: Play that funky music of the night, white boy (5/16/09)

“Midas-like composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (excuse me, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) composed the score, which—like a Tom Petty album—hits you with the best numbers right off the top. The opener ‘Think of Me’ is genuinely pretty, and a couple of numbers later the show peaks with the double-whammy of the title song segueing into ‘The Music of the Night.’ By the time Christine was descending into the steamy depths with the Phantom, riding the sketchiest bed-boat outside of the Burnsville FantaSuites, I was sold. The music has thankfully not been re-scored since Phantom‘s 1986 debut, which means that the uptempo numbers sound like the Alan Parsons Project really on top of its game.”

A Chorus Line at the Orpheum: Oy vey, everyone’s got issues (6/17/09)

“There’s a distinct soap-opera flavor to the characters’ stories. There’s the rehashing of a failed romance between Zach and Cassie (‘Why did you leave me?’ ‘Oh, so we are going to get into that’), Paul’s coming-out tale (‘My father turned to the producer and said, “Take care of my son.” That was the first time he ever called me that!’), a triumphant paean to plastic surgery (‘Tits and ass won’t get you jobs…unless they’re yours’), and so forth. From my stint working for a ballet company I can confirm that the portrayal of working dancers’ lives as overstuffed with drama, dedication, anxiety, mordant humor, and alternating bouts of utter selflessness and utter self-absorption rings true—but there’s a reason they had to pay me to deal with all of that.”

Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza: A big flippin’ deal (6/4/09)

“Near the beginning of Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, a large number of grinning men and women in festive, ambiguously ethnic dress come hopping out with their arms spread wide, performing flips and pirouettes as a multitiered bandshell rolls forward. Brass blares, drums thump, and lights flash wildly as a shapely singer winds her hips and sings ecstatic praises in nonsense syllables. It’s a convincing dramatization of the reception President Bush expected American troops to receive when they arrived in Baghdad.”

The 101 Dalmatians Musical at the Orpheum: Give or take 88 Dalmatians (10/13/09)

“If I were the producers, I’d have opted to give a one-man show to the cast member, maybe 11 or 12 years old, who bellied up to the bar next to my sister and me at the afterparty. He shrugged off the Shirley Temple left by one of his costars: ‘I just want a soda, or maybe an orange juice,’ he explained. ‘I’m not so much into the party aspect of the business.’ Patiently waiting for service, he sighed. ‘The sad thing,’ he confided to us, ‘is that I forgot my fake ID.'”

Walking Shadow slides Some Girl(s) down the razor blade of life (11/23/09)

“It would be fair to criticize LaBute for being the Noam Chomsky of the emotional landscape: the strong will keep hurting the weak, he argues, because it’s simply their nature to do so. It’s a terribly bleak world view, and it’s hard to understand what could drive a playwright to keep obsessively returning to that theme. Still, LaBute’s best work—and Some Girl(s) is surely the best of his plays with which I’m familiar—resonates because everyone’s been hurt, everyone’s hurt someone else, and no one can really be positive that it won’t happen again.”

The Thing: 26 things (1/19/10)

“I’m not writing a proper review because, yes, I’m pretty tired; but also, some things you don’t want to analyze because they seem fragile and different and exciting and you’re afraid that if you try to take them apart and see how they work, they might break. It’s like that feeling you have driving home in your car after you’ve just met someone who you’re really excited to see again and you think you might want to, and get to, see again and again and again and again and again. The Thing is about that feeling.”

Rebecca Nagle, Stravinsky, The Thing, the paradox of self-revelation, and the most pretentiously titled blog entry of 2010 (1/24/10)

“Just as people spend years in therapy trying to peel back layer after layer of psyche in search of their true selves, Nagle could probably spend a lifetime pursuing work like A Dozen Things and never completely, fundamentally reveal “herself.” So now we know that the best sex of her life was one day when her girlfriend got playfully rough with her, that she superficially resembles her mom but deep down more closely resembles her dad, and that she actually injected herself with saline solution, not truth serum. Do we really understand Rebecca Nagle now? Can we ever? Can she ever?”

Penis jokes! Okay, now you probably don’t need to even bother reading the rest of this review of Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein at the Orpheum (2/10/2010)

“What I found myself wishing, again and again, was that Young Frankenstein would be, instead of a big Broadway blowout, a low-budget show at the Fringe. It’s not that big productions are inherently unfunny, but as in a show of any size, all production elements should serve the show’s purposes. If they’re not helping, they’re hurting. The parts of Young Frankenstein that work by far the best are the simplest: the easy camaraderie between Bart and English, the escalating ribaldery of ‘A Roll in the Hay’ and ‘Deep Love’—performed by the very game Horak and Curry, respectively—and a couple of incredibly basic ‘special effects.’ The Tuesday night audience clapped politely for a 20-foot monster puppet, but when a few guys sat on other performers so they could “dance” with legs that weren’t their own—a cute trick you might see at a fifth-grade talent show—the audience positively gasped with delight.”

A winking Wizard of Oz at the Orpheum (3/27/10)

“The touring production at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend is The Wizard of Oz, not The Wiz—but the Dust Bowl is a long way from Broadway, and I imagine that if Dorothea Lange were to try to photograph this cast’s rendition of a hard-bitten life on the land, the resulting portaits would look like sepia-tinted versions of Steve Carrell’s beatifically optimistic face on the 40-Year-Old Virgin poster. That ain’t right, not no-how.”

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Jungle: Fearsome indeed, but ultimately redemptive (4/28/10)

“While an Albee play usually belongs to the actors, the Jungle Theater’s current production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is overwhelmingly defined by director Bain Boehlke’s cold dark set, all flat black angles and thick bricks of furniture, with a heavy cross visible over the wet bar. The aesthetic is combination bachelor pad, funeral chapel, and tomb. But to paraphrase Bette Davis as she cradles her drink in All About Eve, you can’t start the funeral until you’ve finished with the embalming.”

The Scottsboro Boys at the Guthrie: Dancing with demons (8/23/10)

“In the best, most disturbing scene of The Scottsboro Boys, the corpses of two electrocuted black men stand up and perform a deft softshoe with the young boy who’s been brought in to see what his cruel jailkeepers hope will be his own fate. To turn such a gruesome, horrible scene into a buoyant song-and-dance sounds like something Mel Brooks would do—but this is no joke. By forcing you to question why you’re watching it, The Scottsboro Boys begs larger questions. Whose story is this to tell? Who should hear it, and what, if anything, should they do with that experience? What’s the difference between tap-dancing victims of unjust execution and Caroline, or Change, in which a black woman who’s endured a lifetime of mistreatment and discrimination shares a number with her sexy dancing household appliances?”

Spilling Me Softly at the Brave New Workshop: Politically charged, but also defused (8/28/10)

“The Brave New Workshop certainly can’t be accused of false advertising. It is indeed a workshop—the sketch-based shows follow collaboratively created scripts, but some elements are improvised each night—and it is brave. There’s D-Day bravery, though, and then there’s Pickett’s Charge bravery. It’s brave to write satire about environmental disasters and undocumented immigrants, but if you’re going to be brave, you need a good battle plan or you’re just throwing your troops to the wolves.”

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins at the Children’s Theatre: It’s 1979—or, rather, 1938—all over again (9/19/10)

“The necessity for ironclad royal authority, and citizens’ deference to that authority, drives the whole plot—even though the king himself seems to have second thoughts about it, the law that hats must be removed is never refuted, and the king actually attempts to put a young boy to death rather than have the hat-doffing law broken. (The attempt doesn’t work, because it conflicts with yet another divine law: that individuals cannot be executed while wearing hats.) The villain of the play is not the law, but the king’s insubordinate nephew (Brandon Brooks), and when the king finally assumes his proper authority and punishes the brat, it’s the climactic triumph of the play. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, then, is in the odd position of defending—indeed, celebrating—a Medieval, patriarchal God-adult-child hierarchy even as the last bastion of that model in Western culture is meeting a justifiably furious reception in a country where the nominal monarchy remains for little purpose other than to provide tabloid fodder.”

CTC’s Robin Hood robs from the someone and gives to the whoever (10/6/10)

“As Robin Hood, Holt cuts an extremely peculiar figure that starts with Mary Anna Culligan’s hobopunk costuming—in sneakers, loose-fitting pants, a vest, a neckerchief, and a floppy haircut with thin ponytail, Holt looks like he’s about to teach a yoga class at Burning Man. Veins pop from Holt’s muscular bare arms and he leaps lithely about the stage, but in his late 30s he looks significantly older than Sundberg, and their characters’ attraction seems based largely on the fact that they both know that any other lover either one might find would actually want to stand still from time to time.”

Small wonders: A Streetcar Named Desire at Pioneer Place, Waiting for Godot by the Gonzo Group (10/23/10)

“Crucially, director Zach Curtis was brave in the casting of his male leads, giving this production a dynamic that reveals emotional depths left muddy in the Guthrie staging. As Stanley, Eric Webster is brusque and brutish. While Webster does reveal the ‘drive’ his wife mentions as one of his most attractive features, Webster’s is the drive of a simple man with simple desires. By contrast, Ricardo Antonio Chavira at the Guthrie was irresistibly charming, a man with the kind of ‘drive’ referred to in college recommendation letters. (The Pioneer Place audience did a lot less laughing through the first act than the Guthrie audience did—unlike Chavira’s, Webster’s Stanley is not what Joe Pesci would call ‘funny ha-ha.’) Chavira’s Stanley was so obviously more appealing than Brian Keane’s meek Mitch that you couldn’t blame Blanche for flirting with him. Who wouldn’t? Curtis gives Mitch a hand by casting Ryan Parker Knox and allowing Knox to make Mitch genuinely appealing. In this production, Mitch is obviously the right choice for Blanche, and we see that Blanche’s attraction to Stanley is of a piece with her despair and self-hate.”

Jon Ferguson tells The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at the Jon Hassler Theater (11/1/10)

“This Sleepy Hollow is directed by Jon Ferguson, and it’s his most completely successful show since the luminous You’re My Favorite Kind of Pretty. Ferguson gives John Heimbuch’s deft script—adapted from the 1820 Washington Irving story—a typically innovative production, with strong performances by a cast stacked deep with exceptional talent. As a master of mood and atmosphere, Ferguson is the perfect director to handle this material. The production feels spacious and spooky, while also being rich with the performer-driven humor that’s another Ferguson trademark. You want to be kind of creeped out at Halloween, but you also want to be surprised and amused, and this Sleepy Hollow delivers on all those counts.”

Tim & Eric Awesome Tour Great Job! Chrimbus Spectacular 2010 changed my life (11/17/10)

“You’re reading this because you want to know about the Tim & Eric Awesome Tour, Great Job! Chrimbus Spectacular, which stopped at the State Theatre on Wednesday night. You want me to tell you about it. But honestly, how could I? Could I describe the sight of dewdrops on a butterfly’s wings? Could I describe the sound of a car door closing in your driveway when your toilet’s backed up and you’ve been waiting six hours for the Roto-Rooter while the stench of sewage slowly permeates your home? Could I tell you how it feels to be fatally gored by a unicorn when you’ve been pinned under a rock for ten days and praying for death to come?”

Girls Only at Hennepin Stages: The secrets of womankind can be yours for just $29.50 (1/20/11)

“Much of the comedy centers on the performers’ childhood reminisces, and the show’s appeal seems to lie in its invitation for grown women to revisit their wide-eyed years of girlhood. Boys are much discussed, but there’s little talk about men. Puberty is a big subject, but sex is hardly even alluded to. Fun is poked at the institution of the baby/wedding shower, but childraising is not something that Girls Only gets into. The funniest sketch has Gehring and Klein improvising an interaction based on the contents of two random audience members’ purses, but why do many women carry so much stuff around all the time? That is a question for another show.”

Workhaus Collective’s Little Eyes at the Guthrie Theater: See ennui, hear ennui, speak ennui (2/7/11)

“In a typical scene, Judy tells Gary and Steph, who share a love for Fair Trade coffee, that she can’t taste the difference between Fair Trade coffee and Folger’s. Gary and Steph laugh—but they don’t just laugh, they cackle manically. Seifert and Chestovich just keep laughing and laughing and laughing, louder and louder and louder, while Agnew stands in the middle looking confused and frightened, wondering what the hell’s going on. I was wondering the same thing myself.”

When does a negative review go too far? (2/8/11)

“I was certainly under no impression that this production was thrown hastily together, or that anyone was getting rich off this show. The fact that it was a labor of love, though, actually raises expectations rather than diminishes them—if you’re just cashing in on a quick buck, then at least you’re guaranteed the quick buck! If you’re volunteering a lot of time and effort for a piece, the stakes are higher; you’re taking risks and asking your audience and your fellow artists to take risks with you. In general, that’s precisely the work that most excites me, and I think I’ve made that preference clear over the course of the past few years. This particular show, though, just didn’t work—and though you may have found my tone to be glib, I think it would be even more glib, and less honest, to praise the company for the simple fact of producing new work if it doesn’t meet the high bar that everyone involved with this production has set with their previous work.”

At the Guthrie Theater, Heaven is a place where entirely too much happens (3/29/11)

“The challenges of recounting real-world horrors in the form of musical theater was precisely the subject of the constructively challenging Scottsboro Boys, and Heaven falls into some of the traps to which that show pointed. In a direct parallel with Scottsboro Boys, in fact, Heaven has corpses come to life to sing about the circumstances of their death. In Heaven, the scene is played straight; in Scottsboro Boys, the electric chair victims do a little softshoe to remind us just how thin the line is between Schindler’s List and ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ You may or may not find the rape-themed dance scene in Heaven to be done well, but we can probably agree that if you’re going to have a rape-themed dance scene, you had certainly better do it well.”

Jesus Christ Superstar at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Crucifixion blues (2/24/11)

“In his program note, Brindisi avers that the production team has ‘approached this material with reverence, love and hope.’ That certainly seems to be true: the production is about as reverent as you can get when you’re selling Jesus Christ Superstar souvenir water bottles for tabletop sipping and when lyricist Tim Rice writes lines like ‘God, thy will is hard/ But you hold every card.’ (At one point, I think I heard Judas stomp off muttering, ‘Oh, Christ!’) The Chanhassen wall calendar included in my press kit came pre-marked with a reminder that on March 20, I should ‘Talk to Pastor about booking church group for JC Superstar on Palm Sunday!'”

Blast Theory’s A Machine to See With: Monkey see, monkey do (4/14/11)

“After I published a negative review last year of a play that I said ‘missed opportunities,’ the playwright sent an angry e-mail. ‘That’s a pretty egotistic stand to take,’ he wrote, ‘that a few quick thoughts you had while watching—the places where you wanted it to be “pushed” (implying more artistic courage, of course!)—are the difference between it being a so-so at best piece of theater for the masses, and the awesome version you wrote, in a parallel universe—for smarter, cooler people like yourself.’ Maybe it is egotistic of me to say that I wish A Machine to See With was more like the awesome version I wrote in a parallel universe for smarter, cooler people like me—but, well, I do.”

Jersey Boys in the hood at the Orpheum Theatre (4/24/11)

“It’s often observed that the advent of the Internet has sped changes in musical tastes and spurred the rapid rise and fall of buzzbands, but the music industry was already moving plenty quick in the early 60s—the era of two-minute singles and one-hit-wonders—and Jersey Boys moves with an almost flickering speed, props zooming in and popping up as one scene melts into another, and another, and then another. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a series of head-over-heels flips, and under the direction of Des McAnuff, Jersey Boys sticks all its landings. The fleet, lucid approach is a good fit for this story about a band who succeeded in a musical landscape where emotional expression had to be confined within strict parameters, delivered with enough slickness to let it slide down the throats of mainstream radio programmers.”

Guthrie Theater’s God of Carnage: Bless this mess (6/10/11)

“The obvious inspiration here is Edward Albee, but with masterpieces like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance, Albee applied pressure like a ratchet, building tension and raising the stakes with every acid line. Reza, on the other hand, starts at a similar point of relative social composure but tears the scenario apart like a kid destroying a tower of blocks—and with about as much subtlety. We see early on where the play is going, and then all that’s left is to watch it go there, garnering what enjoyment we can from the awkward pauses and occasionally amusing one-liners. It’s hard, though, to enjoy a play that keeps grabbing you by the shoulders and telling you how significant it is. There may be evil that lurks in the hearts of men, but all I see in these characters is the kind of showy buffoonery that lurks in the hearts of lazy playwrights.”

Cavalia: Equus ultra (9/22/11)

“I’ve seen the last few Cirque du Soleil shows to come through the Twin Cities, and when Cavalia began with a costumed cellist soloing over the new age thunder of a backing band obscured by a scrim displaying projections of wheezy quotations about man’s profound kinship with the horse, I thought, yep, seems pretty par for the course. (The Cavalia music is so generic that if you close your eyes, you won’t know whether you’re sitting at a $100 horse show or waiting between programs on PBS.) Then they unleashed the horses.”

The Edge of Our Bodies at the Guthrie Theater: An existential popcorn play (10/27/11)

“After seeing the opening night performance of The Edge of Our Bodies at the Guthrie Theater, I tweeted a ‘one-hashtag review’: #whitegirlproblems. That’s a little simplistic, of course: the themes of The Edge of Our Bodies are universal to the human experience. That said, the concerns and experiences of white 16-year-old New England prep school girls are not entirely foreign to the American stage, and even less so to the American page. Is Bernadette, the play’s narrator and central character, upset with her parents and their troubled marriage? Is she confused about her budding sex life, both excited and troubled by the attention she now receives from boys and men? Is her curiosity piqued by the dangerous, thrilling streets of New York City? Why, yes! Yes, yes, and yes.”

The War Within/All’s Fair: In the trenches with Dominique Serrand, Steve Epp, Nathan Keepers, and theater students at the University of Minnesota (11/11/11)

“Some people create collaboratively devised theater pieces and talk about it by saying, ‘On Sundays we go to Sam’s. We’re making something.’ Some, on the other hand, say, ‘The play’s simple dialogue and repetitive physical language work to wield a crisp analysis of the emptied rhetorical and social structures pervading contemporary capitalism.'”