THEATER REVIEW | “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Guthrie Theater: Joe Dowling’s darling

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most-studied and most-performed plays, but only rarely in anything approaching its entirety. The main plot wraps up well before the actual ending of the play, and many scenes and monologues pose impressive dramatic challenges to sustain. Dramaturges and directors have, for the most part, confronted this issue with scissors in hand and trimmed down the work to what seems a more manageable size. As a result, patrons seeing the Guthrie’s current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream might wonder why they hadn’t seen some scenes before.Joe Dowling, in his final season as Artistic Director at the Guthrie, has pulled out the stops for a farewell production that either captures everything that the Guthrie does right or everything that it does wrong, depending on your point of view. Many of the cast members are new to or relatively recent arrivals at this theater on the banks of the Mississippi, with a few stalwarts like Peter Thomson, Kris Nelson, and Tony Vierling making reappearances. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Retrofabulus steampunk “Oliver!” at the Pantages Theatre fun to look at

Retro chic is not a new phenomenon, but the inevitable accentuations of the Internet Age have given rise to a newer term to describe imitations of the past that seize on select elements and exaggerate them to wondrous effect. This term, retrofabulous, is the best word to describe the Hennepin Theatre Trust/Theatre Latté Da co-production of Oliver! now playing at the Pantages Theatre. This classic tale is re-envisioned less as a gritty Dickensian tale cum musical and more as a tongue-in-cheek pageant. Victorian steampunk is the overriding design aesthetic and plenty fun to watch.The fast and loose connection to realism is both this production’s strength and weakness. The clouds of fog, pipes and machinery, and dramatic lighting by Rick Polenek and Paul Hackemueller create a delightfully heightened world; fans of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films will be happily at home. Continue Reading

Hennepin Theatre Trust announces 2015-16 season

The Hennepin Theatre Trust announced today a Tony Award-studded 2015-2016 season of Broadway musical tours. Spinoff tours from three of the 2014 Tony Award winners will land on Hennepin Ave next season:A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction, Best Costume Design)Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Best Sound Design)The Bridges of Madison County (Best Original Score)Also making their first Twin Cities splash include tours for updated Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Disney’s Newsies, and If/Then. Some more familiar shows reprising their runs include Disney’s The Lion King, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and (back for a three-week engagement) The Book of Mormon. Theatre Under The Stars will also visit with their production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, as will Blue Man Group.This announcement also brought word of the next collaboration between the Hennepin Theatre Trust and Theater Latté Da. Having recently dazzled audiences with scantily clad dancers (Cabaret) and adorably exploited children (Oliver), the two have decided to combine the themes to produce a show about an exploited stage daughter who turns to stripping in Gypsy.The full press release and performance dates are available online. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Minnesota Orchestra’s “West Side Story” in Shakespeare Winterfest: Unexpectedly cool

The Minnesota Orchestra’s Shakespeare Winterfest is a wonderful piece of season programming. Using material connected to the works of William Shakespeare provides an often-missing focus to a stylistically disparate body of music, and lets listeners hear first-hand how different composers interpreted the same plays. The varying proportion of Shakespeare-related material in a given concert is a strength, as a whole month of nothing but this music might have grown tiresome – but sprinkled here and there and sometimes concentrated, it works quite well. Larsson’s A Winter’s Tale, for example, contrasts excellently with Dvořák’s more familiar New World Symphony, even though the latter having nothing whatsoever to do with the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon. The New World Symphony would have been even better paired against Dvořák’s Romeo and Juliet overture, but since the latter work has been lost, it remains an impossible match. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s “Calvin Berger” a modernized classic at New Century Theatre

Calvin Berger is a musical update of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac. That’s a big nose to fill, but the production now playing at the New Century Theatre is smartly done. The music and script are fun, funny, and enough of their own animal so as to not invite too many comparisons with the wonderful poetry of Edmond Rostand’s classic play. As Minneapolis Musical Theatre & Hennepin Theatre Trust collaborations go, it’s also a story that fits particularly well with the space of the New Century Theatre.This version of Cyrano strips down the essentials to just four characters: Calvin (the Cyrano analog), Rosanna (Roxanne by another name; Calvin’s object of affection, but distinctly not his cousin), Matt (the Christian analog), and Bret (Calvin’s sort-of-maybe-not-platonic-it’s-complicated female best friend, a character without a straight analog in the source play). Instead of 17th-century France, this story unfolds in the setting of a present-day high school, with cell phone use, text messaging, and Bluetooth headsets factoring in. Continue Reading

More tickets available for Minneapolis’ Luminary Loppet

Art walk fans rejoice–more tickets are now available for the previously sold-out Comcast Luminary Loppet. This curated, candlelit walk around Lake of the Isles takes place this Saturday, January 31, and is one of the signature events in the Loppet Foundation’s City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, which runs from Friday, January 30 through Sunday, February 1. The new block of tickets is available due to one of several tweaks to the festival resulting from the Twin Cities’ relatively mild winter thus far. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Minnesota Opera’s “The Elixir of Love” has body, pipes

Classical music audiences are not as loud as they used to be. Eighteenth-century opera patrons could eat, drink, and converse during a performance; through much of the 19th century, many operagoers treated the opera as a participatory event, shouting encouragement and boos, calling for encores, and stopping performances with applause. The present culture of silence in the concert hall and opera house is largely a product of the last century or so. It was in many ways a blast from the past on Saturday when Minnesota Opera’s performance of The Elixir of Love paused due to riotous applause.More than one opera performance has charged on in spite of applause, drowning out clapping in the conductor’s drive to create a seamless musical and dramatic experience. Leonardo Vordoni shrewdly did not try this and waited out the applause before continuing, and a good thing, too – the audience would have won that battle. Continue Reading

Opera in the color of Siena: A conversation with Siena Forest

Minnesota Opera is nationally known not just for its flagship productions, but also its programs devoted to the future of opera. Its New Works Initiative is still riding high on the success of Silent Night, a commissioned opera that has been picked up by other opera companies both domestically and abroad, and has built considerable buzz about its upcoming Manchurian Candidate premiere. Among early-career opera professionals, however, the program that attracts the most interest is MN Opera’s Resident Artist program. Originally started by Dale Johnson to train singers, the program has since expanded to include professional training and apprentice roles for a conductor, a stage director, an artistic administrator, and two coach-accompanists – in addition to six singers.This article is Part 6 of the Daily Planet’s Opera Week coverage, a series of articles about opera in Minnesota leading up to the opening night of The Elixir of Love. Over the course of seven days, our coverage will examine some of the individuals and organizations that write opera, produce it, and perform in it in the North Star State. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Snowflake” masters puppetry at Children’s Theatre Company

There is a line in entertainment when something passes from the comedic to the profound, from the parody and sendup to the deeply moving. On the one hand are Charlie Chaplin’s silent comedies starting The Tramp, films like Gold Rush that speak with a humor that knows no language barriers. Then, on the other, is the same filmmaker-actor’s The Great Dictator. Both are greatly amusing, but with one comes a slow realization of the undergirding – that some of the laughs add up to something terrible or tragic. To do this without words is something genius.A similar parallel might be drawn between The Red Balloon, which played last season at the Children’s Theatre Company, and Snowflake, which plays there now. Continue Reading

Opera minus the high costs and testosterone

The French playwright and actor Molière (1622-1673) once remarked, “Of all the sounds known to man, opera is the most expensive.” A glance at the budget of the Opéra National de Paris today does little to dispel this perception: annual expenditures exceeding 200 million euros (approximately $225 million), a professional orchestra of 170 players, a chorus of 110 singers, and a ballet corps of 150 singers – to say nothing of the administrators and backstage staff required to support this flagship operation. This is opera in one of its grandest forms.This article is Part 5 of the Daily Planet’s Opera Week coverage, a series of articles about opera in Minnesota leading up to the opening night of The Elixir of Love. Over the course of seven days, our coverage will examine some of the individuals and organizations that write opera, produce it, and perform in it in the North Star State. You can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 online.“Large” is difficult for many people to separate from opera, especially with lingering but outdated stereotypes involving fat women in horned helmets, but the genre’s origins are much smaller. The earliest operas were small and compact works, designed for performance in a salon or small theatre, not an expansive space like the Paris Opera’s flagship 2,700-seat Opéra Bastille theatre. Continue Reading