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

(foreground) Rimbaud (Austen Fisher) in the arms of Verlaine (Alex Brightwell) with Verlaine's wife Mathilde (Felicity Stiverson) just over their shoulder in Black Label Movement's The Illumination.

THEATER REVIEW | “The Illumination” at the Southern Theater: A visual and aural feast

One of the reasons I was looking forward to the first year of ARTshare programming at the Southern Theater was the inclusion of dance companies in the mix of resident artists. After all, the Southern is a great venue in which to see dance, and I don’t see enough dance outside of the Minnesota Fringe Festival each year. I figured having access to regular programming by dance companies already slotted into my schedule would get me out of my habit of only managing to see dance for one week in August. I knew of Black Label Movement, but I hadn’t actually seen one of their shows. Their latest presentation, The Illumination, made me take a closer look at their name. Continue Reading

Some of the vintage costumes and wigs from Jersey Boys. Foreground: Marlana Dunn, Leslie Rochette, and Jaycie Dotin; Background: Keith White, Tommaso Antico, and John Rochette. Photo by Joan Marcus

“Jersey Boys” by the numbers

Jersey Boys has 33 songs in its score, drawing off a song catalog that sold 175 million records worldwide and several cover songs from the Four Seasons’s early years. Many of the show’s other numbers are quite impressive. Number of People in the Company: 52

Actors: 19
Musicians: 10
Crew: 14

Largest Number of Roles Played by an Actor: 18 (Leslie Rochette)
Number of Distinct Costumes and Looks: 196

Pairs of Shoes Worn per Performance: 87
Most costume changes for a lead character: 15 (for Frankie Valli)

Valli’s quick changes: 12
Valli’s shortest quick change: 15 seconds

Fastest costume change overall: 9 seconds (“My Eyes Adored You”

Lighting

609 lighting cues
401 fixed lights + 96 PAR lamps for concert lighting
77 moving lights

©2015 Basil Considine Continue Reading

The Four Seasons performing their hit 'Walk Like a Man' in Jersey Boys. From left to right: Frankie Valli (Hayden Milanes), Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley), Tommy DeVito (Matthew Dailey) and Nick Massi (Keith Hines).

THEATER REVIEW | “Jersey Boys” shines at the Orpheum Theatre

November 6 of this year will mark the 10th anniversary of Jersey Boys’ opening on Broadway. For a show that starts with “Oh, what a night!” this means an awful lot of nights of rocking the charts 60s-style. So what does it mean when this show tour – still running after nine years on the road – touches down on Hennepin Ave? Is the magic still there? The answer to the second question is, “Yes.” The answer to the first is, “If you haven’t seen it already, buy your tickets for a ride on an amazing musical rollercoaster.” The show production is a tightly paced, comedic yet affectingly serious journey through a profoundly varied song catalog of hits. Continue Reading

The Penumbra Theater brings to life segments of history that many of us didn’t read in our textbooks. Detroit ’67 is an inside look at the race riots from the view of a basement in Detroit near the epicenter of the riots. Main characters Chelle and Lank have inherited the house from their parents. They host house parties in the basement to make money; the work is more regular and profitable than factory jobs.The house parties feature Motown music that punctuates the action throughout. An interesting tangent in the play is the change over from records (45’s) to 8 track tapes – a movement that represents a leap into the future. In retrospect, it’s a leap that is symptomatic of the snapshot in time. We make the best decisions we can at the time; in hindsight we might make different choices. We might wait for cassettes. But in 1967, who knew that 8 track was going to be quickly surpassed by something even better? And who is to say that taking a leap into the future, isn’t worth the risk regardless of the outcome? Lank observes that “life ain’t about just keeping what you got; it’s about getting something new.”That theme reverberates in other plot twists. When is it right to take a risk and when do you hold back? Who do you trust and who do you put at risk? And how does your skin color impact your risk?I brought my favorite 10 year old date to the show. It was a powerful perspective for her to see. After the show, we talked a lot about history and what’s changed and what hasn’t. Director Shirley Jo Finney notes that “The events and circumstances inside the play do not read as a period frozen in history but as current events.” And for better or for worse, almost 50 years later, my 10 year old was not unfamiliar with the idea of a race riot. There’s a lot of today in the story and there’s a lot of opportunity to see that today is simply a later chapter in the same book and what happened in those earlier chapters frames today. We talked about the historical references that were woven into the dialogue. (Like the Tuskegee experiments.) We discussed language and the historical context of a term like uppity because recent incidents indicate that many of us could use a lesson in historical context of language. Most powerful I think were the speeches from Lank on how Detroit could become a Mecca if only the African Americans were allowed to grab the reins. Looking back at the history of Detroit, it makes you wonder what a difference that might have made to everyone and opens the door to recognizing again that today is just another chapter it’s not too late to open opportunities to everyone to help strengthen our communities on a micro and macro level. The acting was superb. Jamecia Bennett as Bunny and James T. Alfred as Sly bring strong personalities to life in a way that brings a balance of levity to the show. (I would like to talk to Mary Farrell in wardrobe about where to score some of Bunny’s outfits.) Austene Van as Chelle and Darius Dotch as Lank deftly deepen their characters qualities to add that universality. They aren’t characters on the edge; they are everyday people battling the need to raise kids and pay bills with the urge to make things better for themselves, for strangers, for their community. They wrestle with rules and understanding which rules you follow out of self-preservation and which ones you follow out of internal sense of morality and what happens when those rules clash. And the actors do it without sentimentality or bravado but as a matter of course that is very believable.The play is reflective at a time when I think we need to learn from history to change the course of our next few chapters. The language is not PG. Yet I think it’s a good show for kids; it portrays real events from an everyday viewpoint that is how I think it directly loops us from 1967 to present day. Some things have changed but people still do laundry, listen to music and make the best choices they can for their future. Maybe if we learn from a play like this we can save someone from buying an 8 track tape, or burning down bar or trusting too little or too much.

THEATER REVIEW | “Detroit ’67″ at Penumbra Theatre: A look back at the future with a great soundtrack

The Penumbra Theater brings to life segments of history that many of us didn’t read in our textbooks. Detroit ’67 is an inside look at the race riots from the view of a basement in Detroit near the epicenter of the riots. Main characters Chelle and Lank have inherited the house from their parents. They host house parties in the basement to make money; the work is more regular and profitable than factory jobs. The house parties feature Motown music that punctuates the action throughout. An interesting tangent in the play is the change over from records (45’s) to 8 track tapes – a movement that represents a leap into the future. Continue Reading

Sheena Janson (left) and Max Wojtanowicz (right) in Fruit Fly: The Musical.

THEATER REVIEW | “Fruit Fly The Musical”: Fringe show buzzes back at Illusion Theater

This is the season of Minnesota Fringe Festival show planning. Lottery numbers were drawn in late February, venue assignments and showtimes went out to producers last week, and Minnesota Playlist is sprouting Fringe-related casting notices and other classifieds. For some teams, now is the time when the writers first begin to frantically craft material; for others, the scripts and scores were set in stone well before their applications went in. The clock is ticking: in less than four months’ time, the country’s largest unjuried theatre festival will have come and gone, bringing about 50,000 attendees – 10,000 more than Target Field’s maximum, and about 91% of the capacity of the old Metrodome – to Minneapolis stages.So what happens to a Fringe show once the festival has come and gone? For most shows, a quiet repose and a few playbill credits await. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | The Chameleon Theatre Circle’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” powerful, frightening

Passion Sunday has come and gone, but the passion and drama live on in Burnsville in The Chameleon Theatre Circle’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This staging of the classic musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber is recast by co-directors Jim Vogel and Bradley Donaldson as a pot of mob violence on the verge of boiling over. The result is striking, arresting, and often frightening in its power.When the music of Jesus Christ Superstar was first released 45 years ago, the BBC banned its broadcast on the grounds that its content was sacrilegious. This ban proved much more temporary than the musical’s success, which was enormous. As stagings proliferated around the world, however, many of the once-controversial elements in the story—the sympathetic treatment of Judas, erotic overtones in Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Jesus, and Jesus’s struggles with his impending crucifixion—have been toned down.“Toned down” scarcely describes CTC’s production. Continue Reading