Pirates of Penzance is still a “Glorious Thing” in its 135th year

“It is a glorious thing to be a pirate king,” declares the Pirate King, setting the stage for W.S. Gilbert’s and Arthur Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Pirates was first presented on Broadway one hundred thirty-five years ago and its most recent incarnation at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts shows that this comic opera has staying power. Continue Reading

Ordway Takes Damn Yankees into Extra Innings

From the doorman welcoming patrons to “Griffen Stadium,” to the hotdogs and beer for sale, Ordway Center blends baseball and Broadway in its revival of the 1955 smash musical show Damn Yankees. Though a bit dated, the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross musical, under the direction and choreography of James A. Rocco and Sharon Halley, shows one does not need to be a baseball fan to have an enjoyable summer evening at the ballpark. The musical is a re-telling of the Faustian story with Joe Boyd, a middle-age real estate agent, who is a die-hard fan of the Washington Senators (the team that later became the Minnesota Twins) in the 1950’s. The Senators can’t seem to beat the New York Yankees. Upset with the Senators’ latest loss, Joe cries out that if the team had a “long ball hitter” they could beat the “damn Yankees.”   He then seals his fate uttering: “I’d sell my soul for a long ball hitter.” On the spot pops in “Mr. Applegate” who takes Joe up on his offer. Continue Reading

Violet at North Hennepin Community College

Over the years, I have found theater productions by local colleges to be hit and miss. As an adjunct instruction at North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) in Brooklyn Park, I have been attending the college’ productions over the past 18 years and similarly found the quality to be uneven. But NHCC’s Theatre Arts Ensemble has undergone a tremendous growth in the quality of its student productions over the last couple of years meriting some attention by the theater community as a whole. The growth of the program was evident in last year’s production of Dames at Sea which was such a splendid production that it compared to musicals I have seen performed on Broadway. The Ensemble’s most recent production of Violet, takes on a more edgy musical. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “The Other Place” transcends subject matter at Park Square Theatre

The Other Place, one of the most powerful plays I have seen in the last year, opened at Park Square Theatre on April 3. Shari White’s play concerns a medical researcher working on a drug to combat dementia who, herself, is suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s. Aditi Kapil masterfully directs this intense show which highlights how fragile the mind can be.Given the subject matter, one at first cannot help comparing this play to the recent movie Still Alice. But any comparisons soon go by the wayside. In Still Alice, the audience sees the character’s illness from the perspective of people who still have their minds. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “And the World Goes ‘Round” showcases John Kander and Fred Ebb’s hits (and nonhits) at Jungle Theater

And the World Goes ‘Round  at the Jungle Theater is a musical revue of songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team that gave us the great musicals of Cabaret and Chicago. The production was “conceived by” Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson. Although the songs from these two musicals are featured, so are the songs from lesser known musicals by the pair including The Happy Time, The Rink, The Act, Woman of the Year, and Flora, The Red Menace. Unfortunately, for the most part the songs in these lesser known musicals only serve to demonstrate why they are lesser known musicals.Among the plusses in this production directed by John Command is the very talented singing of the performers and Raymond Berg’s musical direction of the orchestra. As fitting for a Broadway musical revue, the orchestra plays on stage against a colorful back drop of the New York City skyline. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Shooting Star” asks “if only” at Park Square Theatre

Reflections on the divergent roads taken by past lovers are explored in Steven Dietz’s play Shooting Star which opened at Park Square Theatre on March 27. Director Leah Cooper’s direction of the former lovers meeting at a snowed in airport removes the “fourth wall” to reveal the play’s humor and the characters’ pathos.At a non-specific, large middle-America airport shut down by a blizzard, Reed and Elena meet for the first time in decades. The two were lovers for 22 months at the University of Wisconsin-Madison when they were young and in college. Reed has married, has a child and became a middle manager for a corporation. In contrast, Elena has remained a free spirit, never married, meditates and does consumer survey phone research to support herself. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Illusion Theater’s “Thurgood” a civil rights’ reminder

A hundred years after the end of legal slavery, Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American to sit on the United States Supreme Court. George Stevens, Jr.’s play Thurgood, about the life of Justice Marshall brings to light many little known facts about Marshall’s early years and some of the significant accomplishments he made as an attorney before he was elevated to the high court. Michael Robins directs James Craven in a one-man show about Marshall at Illusion Theater.George Stevens, Jr., is best known to me as the writer of the screenplay for the television movie Separate but Equal which provides a detailed history of the facts behind the landmark 1954 school desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education. This case, as noted in the play, was the most significant decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 20th century. It rendered illegal government sanctioned segregation of the races in school systems and, ultimately, it was the legal underpinning for elimination of all government laws that segregated people by race. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “The Color Purple” inspires at the Park Square Theatre

Park Square’s Theatre ambitious production of the musical The Color Purple creates an exuberant production that was well deserving of the standing ovation it was given on opening night. The musical is based on the Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name. The book for the musical was written by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. In the regional premiere of the musical, Lewis E. Whitlock directs an exceptionally talented cast in a production that brings out both the humor and pathos of the story.The story revolves around 40 years in the life of Celie, a black woman living in Georgia between 1909 and 1949. Celie’s story is one of woe. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” charms Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round’s staging of Jay Presson Allen’s play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a rare treat. Dann Peterson directs a well-paced production with some excellent performances. Allen’s play is based upon Muriel Spark’s novel with the same title. The story revolves around a Scottish school teacher in the 1930s named Jean Brodie. Brodie is a charismatic woman who lives in an idealized romantic world where she admires the fascist leaders of the era: Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. She challenges the traditional social mores of the time by choosing not to marry while engaging in sexual relationships with two different men who teach at her school. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story” at highlights the singer’s musical inspiration at History Theatre

I missed the first two times that Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story played at History Theatre, but I had heard it was a lot of fun.  On its third go-round, I made a point to finally catch it and I can confirm that this show is great fun. History Theatre is co-producing this Alan Jane’s play with the McNally Smith College of Music. Director Ron Peluso and musical director Gary Rue provide an entertaining production that seeks more to recreate the early excitement of rock and roll rather than to simply tell a rock biopic.  Buddy Holly was a country singer who in 1956, at the age of 19, switched to rock music with his own original compositions. He succeeded in exciting a generation with his music. Continue Reading