THE NORMAL HEART
by Larry Kramer
by William Shakespeare
Featuring Zach Curtis, Antonio Duke, JuCoby Johnson, Torsten Johnson, Michelle O’Neill, Adam Qualls, Grant Sorenson, and Michael Wieser
Directed by Joseph Stodola
Presented by New Epic Theater
This is going to be a slightly unusual review for a number of reasons. When I had heard that New Epic Theater was planning on performing William Shakespeare’s political tragedy Coriolanus and Larry Kramer’s agitprop drama The Normal Heart in repertoire, I was surprised by the decision. At first blush, the pairing didn’t make sense. But now, having seen both plays (which will play in repertory at The Lab Theater in Minneapolis through April 16), I was stunned by what director Joseph Stodola and his brilliant company of actors (a powerhouse ensemble consisting of Zach Curtis, Antonio Duke, JuCoby Johnson, Torsten Johnson, Michelle O’Neill, Adam Qualls, Grant Sorenson, and Michael Wieser) have accomplished with these two pieces.
To explain what they managed to pull off, I will have to get very specific with this review, which will lead into major spoilers regarding how the plays are presented and staged. And I beg of you, do not read the rest of this review until you have seen both plays for this will only make sense if you see them both and see them cold. By all means, do know the plots going in if that’s your ilk, but the real power of what is going on here is if you the audience do not know what surprises lay in store with these productions. And if you can, see The Normal Heart first, and then Coriolanus.
But since this is supposed to be a review and I’m supposed to have an opinion on this matter, I’ll make this brief: Go! This is one of the most audacious theatrical experiments I’ve seen in town in a long time delivered by a top-flight ensemble that manages to take some serious risks that work.
So get over to the Lab and see both of these shows! When you’re done, come back and then we’ll talk…
Music by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Adapted from the play La Tosca by Richard Condon
Conducted by Anne Manson
Directed by Andrea Cigni
Featuring Kelly Kaduce, Leonardo Capalbo, and Stephen Powell
Presented by Minnesota Opera
Given its status in the international scene as one of the biggest developers of new opera, and specializing in presenting the world and American premieres of new works, it pays to remember that Minnesota Opera can deliver fantastic productions of the standard repertoire when it chooses to. And there are few operas that embody the standard repertoire more than Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece Tosca, which is getting a thrilling production from our local opera company in spite of a few dissonant staging decisions, and a casting choice that could have doomed the production but actually redeems it.
In an exciting bit of news, I was asked by the Walker Arts Center to share my thoughts on Paola Prestini, Rinde Eckert, and Julian Crouch’s new opera / music-theatre work Aging Magician, which played at the Walker on March 5 & 6.
Photo Credit: Jill Steinberg
by William Shakespeare
Featuring Wayne T. Carr, Brooke Parks, Jennie Greenberry, Jeffrey Blair Cornell, Michael J. Hume, and Armando Durán
Music by Jack Herrick
Directed by Gary Briggle
Presented by The Guthrie Theater
When his appointment was announced nearly a year ago, the Twin Cities theatre scene as a whole wondered what Joseph Haj would bring to the table as artistic director of the Guthrie Theater. When it was announced that he would be tackling Pericles in the middle of the season for his directorial debut, many were confused. After all, the production was an expansion of the version he did for PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (where he had just finished his term as artistic director) that was being co-presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Folger Theatre in Washington D.C. And now, after appearing in both of those other venues, how would it hold up in the massiveness of the Wurtele Thrust Stage? Well, wonder of wonders! This production of Pericles is exactly what we should be seeing from the Guthrie; a movingly lyrical, breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally satisfying production that also happens to be a hell of a fun for the audience anchored by some smart acting, a gorgeous production design, and a smart approach to one of the oddest plays in the Shakespearean oeuvre.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Music By Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
Based on the book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp
Starring Billie Wildrick,Dieter Bierbrauer, Kersten Rodau, James Detmar, and Tammy Hensrud
Directed by Gary Briggle
Presented by Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
Here’s a question for you, theatre fans: How do you solve a problem like Maria?
A MIDWINTER NIGHT’S REVEL
Written by John Heimbuch
Featuring Jessie Scarborough-Ghent, Jaxen Lindsey, Peter Ooley, Heidi Fellner, Daniel Ian Joeck, and Neal Beckman
Directed by Amy Rummenie
Presented by Walking Shadow Theatre Company
At Red Eye Theater
Ah, the holidays. The time where every company in town is trying to capitalize on the holiday cheer (see: the Guthrie Theater), or run away from it as fast as it can (see: the Guthrie Theater). Thankfully the Twin Cities is filled with holiday shows of every stripe to coordinate with your level of holiday celebration (many of which can be found in the latest edition of l´étoile’s “Weekend What’s What”).
For this review, I’m going to focus on two very non-traditional holiday shows. But be warned; I use “non-traditional” in the very loosest of senses, because one deals with tradition head on, while the other has become a holiday tradition in the Twin Cities.
NUTCRACKER (NOT SO) SUITE
Based on the ballet by Tchaikovsky and the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Featuring Deanna Gooding, Kelly Vittetoe, Jordan Lefton, Stephanie Fellner, and Kevin McCormick
Conceived, Directed, and Choreographed by Myron Johnson
Presented by James Sewell Ballet
At The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
I know the expression “Christmas Miracle” gets tossed around a lot, but a genuine miracle is taking place at The Cowles Center right now; because after years of trying to find a holiday show to call their own, they finally have hit paydirt with James Sewell Ballet’s glamorous revival of Nutcracker (Not So) Suite. Even better, this is a double miracle as it heralds the return of Myron Johnson, the iconic director and choreographer and impresario of the late, lamented Ballet of the Dolls. But this is far from sympathy praise. Thanks to some fantastic performances across the board from the company (including two iconic performers returning to the work in their signature roles), buckets of camp and glamour anchored by some dark underpinnings, and Johnson’s ruthless re-examination of his most iconic work, this is the dance equivalent of unwrapping a bottle of wine to realize that you’ve been gifted a bottle of ‘98 Dom Perignon.
A season opener for any classical group is always a tricky affair. You want it to be a fun event that will dazzle the subscribers and first-timers and keep them excited for the rest of the season. This weekend’s season-opening concerts of the Minnesota Orchestra were a lovely, if slightly disjointed celebration of the celebrated local orchestra.
As we enter the home stretch of this year’s edition of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, continuing till This Sunday, August 9, there have been many great performances in this year’s line up of 174 shows. Covering every genre from classical theater to avant-garde performance art and every possible variation in between, the United States’ largest non-juried performance art festival is a great mash-up of professionals and debutantes all united by their love of the theatre.
Here now are the reviews I wrote for l’étoile‘s massive omnibus review. Unfortunately, there is no possible I or the rest of the l’étoile team could have reviewed all 174 shows at this year’s festival, so let us offer one sage piece of advice: If, when looking at the list of shows, something intrigues you, then for heaven’s sake go see it! It could be wonderful or woeful, but that’s the risk (and the beauty) of The Fringe! Also be sure to check out their Facebook and Twitter on the evening of Saturday, August 8 as they will be announcing which shows get the Fringe Encore, which is the last show slot of The Fringe on Sunday at 8:30pm at all the various venues and is reserved for the most popular show at each venue.
And now, without further ado, and in alphabetical order….
A NOTE BEFORE WE BEGIN: What follows is my preview of the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival that I wrote for l’étoile. However, there was one show I couldn’t mention there for obvious reasons, but I can mention it here…
I am making my long-awaited return to the Fringe in Total Eclipse Of The Heart, an ensemble-created piece for The Peanut Butter Gallery, under the direction of Christopher Kehoe. Here’s the official synopsis..
“Forever’s gonna start tonight…”
You never know who you’ll run into at the Preston Wright Gallery; a pop mogul, the ex-lover who broke your heart, or even the illegitimate daughter of a famous Italian artist. Whatever you do, try not to make a scene. And if you have 30 seconds, be sure to take the survey.
Total Eclipse of the Heart is an original, ensemble-built comedy inspired by Bonnie Tyler’s iconic 1983 power ballad of the same name. Turn around, Bright Eyes, because every now and then we all fall apart.
Featuring Ron Giroux, Todd O’Dowd, Atim Opoka, Kaitlen Osburn, Marika Proctor, and Laura Ricci. Stage Managed by Logan Toftness. Directed by Christopher Kehoe.
Best of all, we got lucky in our venue; we’re performing at Illusion Theater. Performances are as follows:
- Thursday, July 30 @ 7pm
- Saturday, August 1 @ 7pm
- Sunday, August 2 @ 4pm
- Tuesday, August 4 @ 7pm
- Saturday, August 8 @ 10pm
I am so excited to be back at the Fringe and in company with some lovely people. Get your tickets and be there!
And now, onto the other 173 shows I’m excited by at this year’s festival….