THEATER REVIEW | “How to be a Korean Woman,” at the Guthrie Theater, is a humorous and heartfelt take on adoption and identity

Strive for one as we may, there’s really never a finish line in sight when it comes to the search for one’s true self. The same existential questions keep nagging at us for the entire short time we’re here, each adding layer upon layer of doubt that make it hard for any of us to know our innermost core. Who am I? What’s my purpose? Who would I be if things were just a little bit different? For adoptees, especially those who came from an entirely different culture and are given American names like Rachel, those same matters of identity take on an even more insurmountable amount of weight. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Diana Ross at the Orpheum Theatre: Too good to be true

The way in which Diana Ross made her entrance on Wednesday, August 28 at the Orpheum was so quintessentially Diana Ross in execution that it was almost hard to accept that the person sparkling underneath all those house lights was the real diva in the flesh and not just one of the better impersonators from Rupaul’s Drag Race. It was simply too good to be true.All the iconic, highly imitated elements were there: a sequined red caftan complete with matching shawl that looked like a high-end bath product, that notorious mane of curls that probably hasn’t changed since 1979, the same megawatt ear-to-ear smile that made her a superstar over half a century ago. Can an image so emblazoned in a mind be this close to reality? She started the night with “I’m Coming Out” because why wouldn’t you kick off your concert with “I’m Coming Out?” She’s Diana Ross, damn it, and she’s here to entertain you. And entertain she did. Fans looking for Diana deep cuts (sorry, no “I’m Still Waiting” here) may have been disappointed with what’s clearly been crafted as Diana’s nostalgia tour, but no one in my line of vision seemed upset with the singer’s decision to deliver a streamlined set list of one hit after the other in a brisk and undiluted 78 minutes. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Rihanna’s too cool for school during a tepid stop at the Xcel Energy Center

Considering the name of her latest album is Unapologetic, it was a bit surprising that the first image of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” tour was one of forgiveness. On her knees in prayer and flanked with religious iconography, Rihanna opened her concert on a somber note with “Mother Mary,” a song that finds the controversial pop star admonishing herself in the eyes of the Lord for falling back on old habits and ultimately admitting that she’s “prepared to die in the moment” in the name of true love.It’s a heavy sentiment for pop music, although not a surprising one for a singer whose latest album campaign was built entirely around public defiance and sneering Bonnie and Clyde-style Instagram photos of her and on-again boyfriend Chris Brown. Ultimately, the song ended up being a tease, as Rihanna quickly shifted into the hard-edged shit-talking of songs like “Pour It Up” and “Phresh Off The Runway” that defined her latest release.In the long run, it’s better for Rihanna’s sanity that she hasn’t felt the need to center an entire concert tour on defending her incredibly public and incredibly tumultuous relationship with Brown, but for a show that ended up lacking many of the same giddy highlights as her surprisingly good 2011 stop at the Target Center, some sort of narrative focus or cohesion would have been appreciated.Besides not taking the stage on Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center until 50 minutes after she was originally scheduled to appear, the pop diva’s entire set lacked urgency and Rihanna often appeared sluggish and non-committal to her vocals, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks way more than any self-respecting pop star should have to. When Rihanna wanted to, attitude alone helped carry songs (namely on “Phresh Off The Runway,” a feat that’s fairly impressive considering the album version barely resembles a functioning song), but those moments were too few and far between.A mid-evening ballad session fared the worst, with Rih Rih doing little beyond looking gorgeous in a Jessica Rabbit dress to make songs like “Hate That I Love You” and “Take a Bow” stick as well as they did during her last visit to Minnesota. Matters certainly weren’t improved by the confounding decision to support each of the highlighted ballads with a single backing track that sort of sounded like that song Madonna did for With Honors back in the early 90s.It wasn’t until the final segment–the one with all the lasers and club bangers like “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been”–that Rihanna finally became energized. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Penumbra Theatre’s “The Amen Corner” at the Guthrie Theater brings Tyler Perry to mind

James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner has been around for almost six decades now, but as I sat at the Guthrie on opening night listening to the show’s rousing gospel choir numbers and watching its central characters give spirited sermons from the pulpit, I couldn’t help but notice how many similarities there were to the majority of the entries in Tyler Perry’s rapidly growing oeuvre of faith-based films and plays centered largely around themes of morality and spirituality.

Continue Reading

World’s Toughest Rodeo at the Xcel Energy Center: Denim, pyrotechnics, and well-worn Wranglers

Kara Nesvig: So, Marcus, we went to the World’s Toughest Rodeo at the Xcel Center on Saturday night. What did you wear? I think we better address our ensembles straight off the bat; inquiring minds want to know.

Marcus Michalik: I tried to get into as a much of a character from Country Strong as I possibly could, so I put on my best three colors of denim and accented it with a little blue bandana. I think the people would much rather know what you wore, however.

Continue Reading

MUSIC | Glee! Live! In Concert! ranges from gorgeously ethereal to cringe-inducing

Let me get this out of the way: by definition, I’m a Gleek. I’ve seen every episode of Glee, downloaded at least a handful of the songs from iTunes, and even follow a few of the cast members on Twitter. But I’m assuming that amidst the crowd of screaming girls who flocked to see Glee! Live! In Concert! at Target Center on Wednesday night, I was the only one in the audience who frequently likens watching Glee to a painful endurance test.

Continue Reading

MOVIES | “Prom” makes you forget you actually hated high school

The funny thing about Prom is that hardly anything actually happens at prom. It’s still a movie, so of course there’s a last-minute declaration of love and a totally embarrassing moment for the prom king, but for the most part, the film’s titular celebration is represented by shots of kids dancing to vaguely suggestive pop tunes and girls complimenting each other’s dresses.Considering this is a Disney version of the ritual in which everybody is happily enjoying their punch and limos are being used solely for the purpose of transportation, it would be naive to say the film presents a realistic portrayal of high school, yet Prom somehow manages to achieve the seemingly impossible feat of making the idyllic seem firmly grounded in an Anywhere, USA ethos.There’s a strong core of guilelessness and heart-on-sleeve earnestness to Prom that actually becomes more and more infectious as the film chugs along. First-time screenwriter Katie Wech, who wisely realizes that her audience of preteen girls are still idealistic enough to hear lines like “This is our forever night” without rolling their eyes, injects her script with enough sweetly-worn character moments and sneakily resonant morsels of teenage anxiety that Prom surprisingly ends up breaking free of its bubblegum pretense right at the moments when it counts.The film’s cornerstone drama comes courtesy of class president Nova (Aimee Teegarden) and bad boy Jesse (Thomas McDonnell), who are forced to work together after the shack housing all the dance’s “Starry Night” decorations goes up in flames. For Nova (you won’t get an explanation for her name—kids are just that much cooler these days), the after-school hours of light untangling and tulle folding are of utmost important civic duty. For Jesse, whose bad-boy persona basically means he wears leather and drives a motorcycle, they’re a form of after-school detention. Continue Reading

MOVIES | “Sucker Punch”: When Catholic schoolgirls aren’t enough

Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch is the latest in a seemingly neverending parade of action movies that masquerade their own soft-core porn tendencies with a cloak of unearned girl-power pretense. If the marketing campaign for the movie is anything to go by, Snyder clearly thinks that giving his five leading ladies riot-grrrl nicknames and the ability to operate heavy artillery automatically makes them pop-feminist icons. In reality, the characters in Sucker Punch are indistinguishable from one another, serving as little more than cheesecake set pieces created to please schoolgirl fetishists and teenage boys who still mistake constant sneering as self-assured sexuality.There’s a plot (incomprehensible as it is) in there somewhere, but let’s not kid ourselves here; Sucker Punch is not much more than a non-stop T&A show, eager to shove as many pairs of lacy underwear and loud green-screen segments in your face as possible before you realize just how puerile and brain-dead the whole concept was in the first place.Set in one of those hazy and indeterminate Steampunk universes, Sucker Punch tells the story of Baby Doll (a perpetually blank Emily Browning), a young girl who gets shipped off to a Vermont insane asylum after a calamitous incident with her wicked stepfather that results in the death of her sister. It’s there she meets the head orderly, Blue (Oscar Isaac in the type of role John Leguizamo used to overindulge himself with), who immediately pencils her in for a frontal lobotomy. Before the blunt instrument hits the nose, the asylum is suddenly transformed into a burlesque club and Baby Doll finds herself in the company of four other smoking hot babes in fishnets. Continue Reading