THEATER | At Park Square Theatre, “2 Pianos, 4 Hands” makes for an entertaining evening of music

Many of us share memories of childhood music lessons, whether conscripted by our parents or by our own choice, in either case including the many frustrations of learning a new instrument and the tedium of hours of practicing the mechanics of chords and scales. We also have an understanding of the difficulty in going beyond our beginners’ books and achieving a high level of proficiency. 2 Pianos, 4 Hands draws upon those experiences and the ambitions of those who wish to fulfill a dream to perform at the top level.

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THEATER | At the Old Log Theater, “Jeeves in Bloom” droops

The venerable Old Log Theater in Excelsior has been presenting British farces and contemporary comedies since 1940. In Minnesota theater circles it’s considered a granddaddy, having helped to launch careers of local actors from Loni Anderson to Steve Zahn. The theater’s most recent offering, Jeeves in Bloom, written by Margaret Raether and based on characters created by the author P.G. Wodehouse (the second such play by Ms. Raether), is now playing through February 5, 2011. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t promise to be among the golden children of that illustrious history.In this episode, Bertie Wooster (David McMenomy) is a well-to-do London bachelor who apparently doesn’t need to work but does require the constant supervision of his wise butler Jeeves (James Cada) to guide him through life. Bertie’s aunt Dahlia Travers (Sally Ann Wright) demands Bertie’s immediate appearance at her country home near Worcestershire, where she lives with her husband Thomas (Steve Shaffer) and employs a French chef, Anatole (also played by Steve Shaffer). Continue Reading

THEATER | At the Chanhassen, “I Do! I Do!” is new again…but not new enough

Back in 1993, when the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ first run of I Do! I Do! ended after 22½ years of continuous showings, nearly 700,000 people had participated in what had become a Minnesota tradition. Clearly the show was beloved by many or it wouldn’t have lasted that long. The actors for that entire run, David Anders and Susan Goeppinger, became famous in their own right, marrying in real life after 500 performances as husband and wife, breaking a record for longest-running musical with its original cast, and even landing a People magazine article. Continue Reading

THEATER | “All Shook Up” at the Chanhassen: Make it now rather than never

Now playing at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, All Shook Up by Joe DiPietro is a musical romp in the style of Mamma Mia!, using Elvis Presley tunes to tell the story of a guitar-playing roustabout who changes the lives of the citizens of a small, conservative town in 1955. This show also cleverly invokes the spirit of countless worthy predecessors including The Music Man, Hairspray, Footloose, and even Shakespeare. Chad is a charming, womanizing guy whose motorcycle breaks down in a middle-America town where excitement is outlawed and monitored by the mayor. There he meets Natalie, a female grease monkey who immediately falls in love with him and his spirit of adventure. (None of the ladies can help falling in love with Chad, but Natalie is particularly affected.) After Chad puts a quarter in a broken jukebox, mayhem breaks out in song and dance at Sylvia’s Diner, where townspeople are transformed into excitement-seeking lovers, and all their secret longings are brought to the fore, including endearing nerd Dennis’s love for Natalie, Sylvia’s love for Natalie’s widower dad, Jim, and a young interracial couple’s love for each other. Continue Reading

THEATER | Brave New Workshop’s “Toyota! The Runaway Musical Hit!” is funny and timely

It’s a good thing I didn’t bring my friends Michele Bachmann or Susan Boyle to the Brave New Workshop’s latest production, Toyota! The Runaway Musical Hit! They may not have appreciated the humor in this timely and hilarious take on current events nearly as much as the small but enthusiastic audience did on Friday night.With recurring appearances among these 18 brief musical sketches, politician Bachmann and singer Boyle are offered up as comedic fodder in typical BNW fashion, with Bachmann played by wide-eyed Ellie Hino and Boyle portrayed by a surprisingly look-alike Bobby Gardner. Hino’s characterization includes wildly expressive physical tics that may bear only a slight relationship to the actual Bachmann, but that create an evocative caricature. The title comes from a few scenes in which characters are riding in Toyotas that suddenly experience uncontrolled acceleration, thereby provoking conversations while they dodge collisions and wait out the ride. Continue Reading

MUSIC | Judy Garland returns, via digital technology, for a weekend appearance at Orchestra Hall

On Saturday night a pared-down version of the Minnesota Orchestra provided the occasion for iconic singer Judy Garland to come back to life, at Orchestra Hall. With exuberant guest conductor Doug Katsaros decked out in white tails, the group performed 25 songs with the Grand Rapids native, who was shown on three large screens above the stage.First presented last year in Boston to sold-out crowds, the Minnesota Orchestra picked up the Garland program for their Sounds of Cinema Festival, which has featured movies like The Wizard of Oz and The Gold Rush. The orchestra played live while accompanying film footage from a variety of Garland’s performances on stage and television.The performance featured both well-known and unfamiliar songs, with montages of Garland’s personal life and career shown on the screens throughout the performance. Narration between numbers told the story of her life in show business, starting at the age of 2½ performing with her older siblings as the Gumm Sisters, and ending with her untimely death in London in 1969. During that time she made movies, hosted a television show, performed hugely successful live shows, and had three children, who sometimes joined her onstage. Continue Reading