MUSIC REVIEW | Stevie Wonder a marvel at the Target Center

The very moment that Stevie Wonder was lead out to the stage by India Arie, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.The nearly sold-out crowd in the Target Center rose to their feet for an extended standing ovation before even a single song was sung, before even a single word was spoken, a grand tribute to a musical legend who decades-long legacy has left an incredible impact on the industry. This crowd knew who this man was, and from the start were aching to show him both respect and appreciation on a grand (and very audible) scale.For his part, Stevie Wonder did not disappoint. Accompanied by a massive supporting cast of musicians and singers, Wonder displayed an incredible vocal range for his age as he guided the audience through the ups and downs of his Songs in the Key of Life album. The setlist was wonderfully arranged, maneuvering deftly between the slower, more soulful tracks, tracks like “Village Ghetto Land” and “Love’s in Need of Love Today”, and those fast, upbeat, and infinitely danceable tracks that brought the crowd to their feet again and again to dance like no one was watching, tracks like “Sir Duke” and “I Wish.”Wonder was more than just on point with his music; his playful stage-banter was a sight to behold. In engaging with a bit of improvisation with his backup singers, Wonder simultaneously showed off a very warm personality while giving those folks in the background a chance to shine.If there was really any criticism to lob at this performance, it would have to be levied at a rather long and ponderous jam session that seemed to drag a touch. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Gregg Allman timeless at the Pantages Theatre

Gregg Allman and his eight piece traveling band, in the midst of a spring tour, played to a sold-out house at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Pantages Theatre on March 27. The storied bluesy-rock icon still wears his hair long and his tattoos proudly. He looks great and his signature voice still resonates with a tender clarity that welcomes you while his rasp makes you ache. As a founding member of the legendary “The Allman Brothers” band, he’s been writing and performing for 50 years—give or take a few-but his talent, and contribution to music history, is timeless.Allman, on vocals, guitar and Hammond B-3 organ, was playing his customarily stage right position for most of the show. He shared the spotlight (center stage) with guitarist and music director Scott Sharrard. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Blue Water Theatre Company’s “This Is Our Youth” very youthful

I’m not sure I should be reviewing Blue Water Theatre Company’s production of Kenneth Lonergan’s play This Is Our Youth. On the one hand, it is part of Southern Theater’s ARTshare offerings, and Blue Water is one of the resident companies this year. On the other hand, this could only charitably be called a full production, and I don’t think it helps anybody if I start grading on a curve. If reviewing Defying Gravity felt like kicking a puppy, I’m not sure where to take that metaphor if I start evaluating This Is Our Youth.“My father’s not a criminal, he just does business with criminals.”Part of it isn’t Blue Water’s fault. It’s the script. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Kenneth Lonergan because of his film You Can Count On Me—early pre-Hulk Mark Ruffalo; beautifully crafted, funny, human story; a soundtrack of songs that still haunts me, I could go on. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Gadfly Theatre Productions’ “Vile Affections”: God only knows

I’m fully behind Gadfly Theatre Productions’ mission of creating queer and feminist theater and art. (Heck, I even took part in their original shorts festival last summer.) But Vanda’s Vile Affections isn’t doing them any favors. The script has so many unreliable narrators for this supposedly true but sparsely documented story of nuns under investigation in 17th century Italy that I not only lost the thread of the story, at a certain point I wasn’t even sure what the story was anymore. The case of Sister Benedetta Carlini (Amanda Kay Thomm Bahr) is notable for being one of the earliest documented cases of a lesbian affair. But Benedetta’s sexual relations with Sister Bartolomea Crivelli (Bart, for short) (Emily Weiss) don’t take place until well into the second act. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “The Manchurian Candidate” infiltrates, conquers at Minnesota Opera

There is much that is not well in the opera world at large, but The Manchurian Candidate is not part of the problem. This new opera by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell is thrilling, fast-paced, varied, and moving, with a story that excites and music that pulls the audience into a shifting world of paranoia, subterfuge, and love. In an industry where “saving” opera has too often meant protracted labor disputes and aesthetically confusing attempts to shock audiences, Minnesota Opera’s production of The Manchurian Candidate offers a third way forward. It presents a story that resonates with contemporary themes and concerns, populated with interesting and nuanced characters, told through fast-moving music in a presentation enhanced (rather than distracted) by technology. The formula works tremendously well.The story of this opera is adapted from the 1959 novel of the same name by Richard Condon. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” enchants the Orpheum Theatre

The crowd that filled the seats on Tuesday, Mar. 10 for the opening night of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast consisted heavily of children, but that doesn’t mean their parents weren’t humming along during intermission (and in the bathroom). The age range indicates throwback Disney movies aren’t going anywhere (as if there was any question), and reincarnated forms like the musical production of Beauty and the Beast only prolong Disney’s success. Among being a master at creating ear worms, Disney productions strike a chord with generations across the board, even despite the criticism the movies have received on social issues like gender and racial stereotypes.Beauty and the Beast is set in a 19th-century French village where Belle (Jillian Butterfield) finds herself wanting more than what “this poor provincial town” has to offer. Because she is a voracious reader and her father is an eccentric inventor (Thomas Mothershed), the people of her small town treat her as an outcast (“Look there she goes that girl is so peculiar / I wonder if she’s feeling well / With a dreamy, far-off look / And her nose stuck in a book / What a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle”). What really makes people—especially the women—question Belle is her rejection of the egotistical town hunk, Gaston (Cameron Bond), who’s drawn to her beauty and sets out to marry her. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Mary Bue: A new freedom in Holy Bones

I was thinking about how to describe Mary Bue and her music on my walk today. She’s cute and the music is light. Some songs are introspective and she seems to have a sense of humor. Then I visited her website and there were the words I needed: Pop Rock Candy. It’s perfect for someone with a sweet voice and rainbow Clydesdale-like boots.I had not seen Bue before March 10 at the Turf Club but I got a big introduction to her music from the guy standing next to me. 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

Interview with Kevin Newbury of the Minnesota Opera’s “The Manchurian Candidate”: Paranoia, spying and politics

The world premiere performance of the opera The Manchurian Candidate takes place this Saturday at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’s Music Theater. This new opera by Mark Campbell and Kevin Puts was commissioned by Minnesota Opera as part of the company’s New Works Initiative, and adapts the bestselling 1959 thriller novel by Richard Condon. The Daily Planet sat down with The Manchurian Candidate’s stage director Kevin Newbury to discuss the opera.When were you first engaged to direct The Manchurian Candidate?I know Mark Campbell and Kevin Puts fairly well, so as soon as I heard about it I started angling for the job. I have a long relationship with Minnesota Opera, so I read the first draft of the libretto and called Dale [Johnson] and said, “I really would love to do this,” and everything worked out. I was involved very early on – I could attend all the workshops, be part of the writing process, and really be involved from the beginning.Is getting hooked up with productions that you hear about through the grapevine a normal process for you?It happens in many ways – sometimes companies call me up and you’re involved at the genesis of it, sometimes I come in after the piece is already written…which is not what I prefer to do. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | Mixed Blood Theatre’s “Hir” an extremely queer play

You should go see Mixed Blood’s current production of Taylor Mac’s comedy Hir, under the direction of Niegel Smith. It’s a chameleon of a play that can look different to everyone who watches it. Regardless of whether it ends up bewitching you or just weirding you out, it’s still a heck of a lot of fun to watch in action.“I want to know how far down I have to go before I can drag you back with me.”Isaac (Dustin Bronson) returns home, dishonorably discharged from the military during wartime, to find his childhood home transformed into a dump. His mother Paige (Sally Wingert) has taken over and is finally running the place the way she sees fit. His father Arnold (John Paul Gamoke) is adjusting to life after a debilitating stroke, which Paige sees as an opportunity to reform his behavior. Continue Reading