It’s back: Walker on the Green Artist-Designed Mini-Golf

Artist-Designed Mini-Golf is back at the Walker’s Sculpture Garden. As part of the media preview on May 20, my friend and I putted our way through both A and B courses (9 holes each) and lazily kept score. There’s no par for the course, so we just chatted in between strokes and took the time to read about each hole (which were delightfully full of puns). The Walker has a masterful summer event here not only bringing the art outside but creating a way to engage, both with the pieces and each other. It’s no wonder people keep coming back. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Gypsies invade Mankato for “Kiss Me, Kate”

Minnesota Opera’s Carmen may have closed, but its gypsy cast – the titular zingara included – appeared to be alive and well on Sunday, when four of the principles appeared in the Mankato Symphony Orchestra’s concert performance of the musical Kiss Me, Kate. Unlike their last onstage appearances, there were no stabbings involved and hippie chic was nowhere to be seen. The general mood of Sunday’s concert was pleasant and amiable: an afternoon idle to enjoy some excellent music with a full orchestra. Kenneth Freed led the orchestra with from the podium, while the spotlight fell alternately on Bergen Baker (Mercédès in the previously mentioned production), Brad Benoit (Le Remendado), Rodolfo Nieto (technically not present at said production, but who’s to quibble about an extra barihunk?), and Victoria Vargas (one of the Carmens). Technically, each member of this quartet sang a character in this abbreviated version of Kiss Me, Kate, but none of those details matter nearly so much as the basic recipe of classically trained singer + live orchestra + fun musical theater songs. Continue Reading

Photos by Patrick Dunn

MUSIC REVIEW | New Kids on the Block at the Xcel

On the surface, one would not think there would be a lot of overlap between fans of Nelly, TLC, and New Kids on the Block. While all three are essentially a sort of danceable ’90s pop, there’s something about the mental image each group conveys that makes it difficult to put them together. Take that gritty, sexy, maybe a little vulgar, club sound from Nelly, mix it up with the smooth almost R&Bish sound of TLC, and throw in the, well, straight pop sound of the prototypical boy band that inspired all those knock-offs in the ’90s, and you’d seem to be on the right track to make about the most indigestible musical smoothie you could ever fix up. Really, the only common thread I can think off for all of this is “songs I had to listen to on the school bus growing up because the driver wouldn’t change the station from KDWB.”

But given the audience reaction throughout the evening, this trio of 90s superstars (for the sake of ease we’ll lump them in there, even though NKOTB had a bit of the ’80s in, too) were a perfect match. The crowd was electric all night for this eclectic mix of talent, which delivered a very, very good show last night at Xcel Energy Center. Continue Reading

Kathryn Fumie as the title character in Theatre Unbound's all-female production of Hamlet. Image by Richard Fleischman Photography.

THEATER REVIEW | Theatre Unbound serves up an all-female “Hamlet”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. You should go see Theatre Unbound’s production of Hamlet because you should see Kathryn Fumie in the title role. Not because it’s a woman playing Hamlet. Because it’s a great actor playing Hamlet. Just like every Hamlet I’ve seen over the years, in good productions and bad, the problem with Hamlet is never the actor playing Hamlet. Continue Reading

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MUSIC REVIEW | Chicago at the State Theatre

Chicago came into the State Theatre on May 19 loaded to the teeth with a full catalogue of hits and classics that span over 40 years, and they unleashed a wide variety of those hits, from the funky and jazzy to the slow jams and ballads, upon a largely energetic and enthusiastic audience. Right from the get-go, trombonist James Pankow, one of four founding members of the act still with the band, was into the show, moving with a swagger and energy that maybe one wouldn’t expect from the guy who is rocking the trombone. … Wait, did you expect me to say a man his age? Oh no, let me tell you, there was no sign of age on Pankow, nor really any sign of age or rust on this lot. Continue Reading

Photo credit Richard Fleischman Photography

THEATER REVIEW | Sandbox Theatre’s “War With The Newts”: A darkly funny cautionary lizard tale

I had the pleasure of seeing the original War With The Newts back in 2007 when Sandbox Theatre first tackled the Karel Capek science fiction novel, so I knew this reimagined revival was also bound to be a lot of fun. In a way, Capek’s tale is not your standard sci fi cautionary tale. Normally, you’d use the race of newts as a stand-in for human behavior and the audience would have just enough distance from themselves to be able to see the pitfalls of the newts’ way of dealing with one another. Here though, the newts are addressing us in the audience as fellow newts, using human beings themselves as the cautionary tale, putting on masks in order to imitate human beings and just making the whole thing a lot harder to ignore as a straightforward indictment of human folly. “No sensible man has any business going to Devil Bay.”

Sandbox Theatre as a company has also been evolving over the eight years since this story last hit the stage, and it shows in this new improved version of War With The Newts. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Billy Joel at the Target Center

There is something wonderfully refreshing in seeing a performer on stage who is completely at ease with himself, his band, and his surroundings. A performer who is simultaneously at ease with himself but ultimately controlled and professional, who knows when to play and when to reel it in for the big moments. And that was definitely Billy Joel on May 16 at the Target Center. There were moments in between songs where Billy Joel just did not seem to care, but in a good way. His talk was loose, his demeanor friendly and playful, and his banter sharp. Continue Reading

Photos by Emmerlee Sherman

MUSIC REVIEW | Rush rocks hard at the Xcel Center

It wouldn’t take a detective of Holmesian skill to immediately notice upon entrance to Xcel that Rush draws a die-hard crowd. Even ignoring overhearing a gentleman letting a total stranger know that he has been to “every Rush show since I was 14, and I’m 52 now,” it was clear by the sheer amount of Rush merch that the majority of those in attendance were rocking that this was really not anyone’s first rodeo. These folks knew exactly what they were into. Any by God, were they ready. Aside from the upper level, who can be forgiven for not standing because that can be quite a vertigo-inducing situation, there was not a fan in attendance who wasn’t on their feet from the time that curtain rose to the time that show finished. Continue Reading

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MUSIC PHOTOS | All Time Low at Myth

A mostly younger crowd packed the Myth Live Event Center in Maplewood, Minnesota Monday, May 11 and let it be known they are huge fans of pop, punk, rock band All Time Low. Bandmates Alex Gaskarth, Jack Barakat, Rian Dawson and Zack Merrick recognized their fans enthusiasm immediately and rewarded their supporters with a first-rate performance. This group has the ability to elevate the quality of their songs for the live experience and always bring a lot of fun to the stage. The Future Hearts Tour in support of their sixth studio album with the same name also included a solid cast of supporting acts including Issues, Tonight Alive and State Champs. ©2015 Patrick Dunn Continue Reading

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MUSIC REVIEW | Mary Chapin Carpenter sings her stories at State Theatre

Mary Chapin Carpenter, the five-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter with a 13-album catalog, returned to Minneapolis to play sans mosquitoes (her last Minnesota performance was at the MN Zoo Amphitheatre) at the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s State Theatre on May 2. It was an acoustic performance featuring her long-time friends and extraordinary musicians, John Carroll on keyboards and John Doyle on guitars and bouzouki. Chastity Brown, a relative newcomer to singer-songwriter fame, opened with a 30-minute set featuring, among others, “Solely,” “Colorado,” and “When We Get There.” Ms. Brown sings with an old soul’s expertise and resonance. She has guts and she’s not afraid to show that. Her performance was acoustic—impassioned and spirited—interspersed with charming personal points of reference to how she made her way to Minnesota from Tennessee. Continue Reading