Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Sunny Sunday in the Park With George

Taking a risk is almost always a good thing. 


Photo by T Charles Erickson


That was my thought while watching Sunday in the Park With George, the Guthrie's latest mainstage offering. For the past several years since they really started focusing on producing extraordinary summer musicals, the Guthrie has chosen to stick with relatively safe classics a la standards like Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, My Fair Lady and The Music Man. As much as I love those shows I've seen them a million times, so I was grateful this year for a breath of fresh air with the new-to-me Sunday in the Park With George by Stephen Sondheim, incredibly the first time a Sondheim show has been produced at the big G.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

A truly postmodern musical, Sunday in the Park With George is really two separate stories. Act I imagines what is passing through the mind of Georges Seurat as he paints his now infamous pointilist classic A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, a true epochal piece in the span of the impressionist era that moved painting forward into a more abstract realm. Act I sees the characters of this painting step outside of the frame into vibrant, breathing life and not only imagines each of their stories and personalities but how they are interrelated. A special focus is George's love affair with Dot, a muse whose inner strength ultimately can't allow her to spend her life languishing in a dark studio amongst the absence of George's affections. Act II fasts forward 100 years or so to George's grandson George 2.0, also a visionary artist (although of modern sculpture), as he reconnects with his roots on his predecessor's home soil and learns of his filial connection with Seurat through his grandmother's beautiful stories.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

As always, the Guthrie outdid itself with the set. Designed by Jan Chambers, the bulk of the action is set against an enormous empty painting frame. For Act I, a sinuous, billowing sheet cascades through one side of the frame and hosts a myriad of painterly projections; for Act II, several lovely objects (such as young George's modern light sculpture and an unbelievably well-made copy of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte) are suspended in front of it. The simple staging has the effect of making the characters truly seem to step to life out of the painting, and it was my favorite part of the show. Set pieces otherwise are nearly non-existent and consist of simple furnishings popped up whenever we are in the elder George's house. The costumes are period-specific and lavishly outlandish (but wonderful); outsized bustles, precariously tied corsets, a plethora of parasols and the most superb 1980s wigs I've ever seen fly around the stage, and they bring rich color to the otherwise starkly colorless set. Wigs off to costume designer Ton-Leslie James; her work is inspired and I hope we see more of her.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

The cast is quite talented, particularly the riveting Erin Mackey. Mackey stars as Georges' lover Dot in Act I and George's grandmother Marie in Act II, and she easily has the most lovely solos of the bunch in both roles. She is vivacious, captivating and pitch-perfect; Erin, please stay in the Twin Cities! Randy Harrison is dry and difficult as the elder George but much more engaging as the younger George in Act II. Something about his overwhelming beard in Act I really dulls the emotion of his character somehow, but his zest and passion are much more apparent in Act II. The company includes a tour of other well-played characters. Sasha Andreev is the comic standout as Franz; Ann Michels is perfectly snobby as Yvonne; Paul Nakauchi is imperious as Jules; and Emily Gunyou Halaas is vibrant as the Nurse for George's mother, played with nuance by Christine Toy Johnson. There weren't many musical standouts for me in this show aside from Mackey's perfect dictations; the melodies were not nearly as interesting as the story. Still, the cast sings with gusto, and if you happen to already love the songs of Sunday in the Park, you'll be well pleased with their efforts.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

I have a hit and miss relationship with Stephen Sondheim, who won a Pulitzer for writing Sunday in the Park With George. I tend to enjoy his work in film much more than on stage, and at first I thought that was the case with this show. With the passing of a few days and some time to let it sink in, however, I have found that Sunday in the Park With George really lingers with me. I think it's because of the show's focus on the nexus between dreams and reality, something that all of us struggle with (although not always in such sharp relief as it is depicted here). How do you choose between disparate things which you love equally? Can you die of a broken heart? Is pushing your intellectual vision at the expense of your spiritual happiness really worth it? Why does knowing your heritage matter? Sunday in the Park With George is steeped in a certain pomposity that can be a little difficult (Is it true that making art is "extremely difficult" in the realm of this show's bubble? Sure. In the greater scope of all human life on earth? Hell no, let's be real). But if you can get over that hump and into the park with the Georges, you just may find some questions worth answering on your own.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

You have plenty of time to see Sunday in the Park With George, as it runs at the Guthrie through August 20. It's something I'd definitely recommend attending to fill a rainy day, maybe coupled with a visit to one of the excellent museums in the Twin Cities. This unique show will give you a lot to contemplate in addition to some gorgeous staging to enjoy along the way. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Reveling in the Mystery of Nero Wolfe in Might As Well Be Dead

Nostalgia can be a beautiful thing. 


Photo by  Petronella J. Ytsma

Continuing our cinematic theme for the month of June, I have to tell you another little bit of my past: I am obsessed with Hollywood's "golden age." Nothing makes me happier than a snowy day, a great glass of wine and a series of Thin Man films lined up on my projector. I can happily bathe in the luminous sepian tones of Myrna Loy, William Powell, Clark Gable and Jane Greer for hours without pause, and I regularly enjoy dipping my toes into work by authors like Dashiell Hammett and Ian Fleming on the regular.

Photo by  Petronella J. Ytsma

This explains why I was so delighted to enjoy the premiere of Might As Well Be Dead at Park Square Theatre on Friday, a world premiere commission for a new story in the Nero Wolfe* mystery series. Surrounded by fellow cinephiles (and hardcore murder mystery fans, including the delightful Wolfe Pack), I reveled in this marvelous new story that will please any fans of old Hollywood, murder mystery, detective shows and plain old good storytelling.

Photo by  Petronella J. Ytsma

Might As Well Be Dead picks up in private detective Nero Wolfe's apartment as a woman commissions him to find her long-estranged son. The case seems hopeless, but Wolfe uses his intuitive understanding of initials and missing persons to find the man, who is currently on trial for a murder he did not commit. Loathe to inform his client of this disappointing turn of events and risk losing his retainer, Wolfe sets out to prove the man's innocence. Along the way he meets a motley crew of local socialites; brushes with some high rolling gangster forces; discovers many illicit romantic trysts; and enjoys some absurdly luxurious meals. I should mention that the footwork here (as well as the narration) is committed by Wolfe's amiable assistant Archie Goodwin, a charming fellow who glosses over Wolfe's more brusque demeanor. The crime is eventually solved - although I won't tell you how - and many captivating details are strewn throughout to lighten the mood, like a clever tango dance and the elucidation of those lavish menus.

Photo by  Petronella J. Ytsma

E.J. Subkoviak stars as Nero Wolfe and brings just the right gruff bluster to his part, preening over his sitting room like the peacock Wolfe is. He's well partnered with Derek Dirlam as Wolfe's assistant Archie. It takes a while for Dirlam to warm up, but once he does he proves to be a seamless guide through the narrative. Michael Paul Levin is hilarious as Wolfe's foil Inspector Cramer, with just the right comedic timing and over-the-top outrage at being passed up at every turn of the investigation. And the women of the cast really light up the stage; it was so lovely to see a diverse group of women well utilized (even though one could have made a case that historically they were irrelevant; new writers, take note! You can absolutely improve upon history. This casting was inspired.). Am'Ber Montgomery sashays through scenes as Wolfe's secretary Dol and Suki Molloy, the secretive wife of the dead man. Austene Van is marvelous as several characters, including Wolfe's haughty client Mrs. Herrold. And Marisa Tejeda is vivacious as the informant Delia Brandt, lighting up the stage every time she comes on.

Photo by  Petronella J. Ytsma

The set is static but extremely well utilized, covering every ounce of vertical space. The focal point is Wolfe's office, which has the overstuffed furniture, plethora of books and dim lighting one would expect of such a private and intelligent man. To either side are an apartment overhang for investigating Suki and a curved staircase that is used in multiple ways. The vignettes are passed between quickly and elegantly, and the strategic lighting helps poise them as asides in the action. I really enjoyed how thoughtfully it was laid out, and it kept the pace moving quickly and focus on the action onstage. Costumes evoke that well-heeled 1940's aesthetic I love so much, and everyone seemed chic but comfortable.

Photo by  Petronella J. Ytsma

I can't overstate how much fun I had seeing Might As Well Be Dead. It tickled all the elements of my old Hollywood funnybone that I love so much, and it was so wonderful to have a truly escapist night at the theater. I love the story behind the origin of the show, too - the playwright originates from Minnesota and the entire process was crowdsourced through Park Square's Mystery Writers Producers Club, further proving why having general audience input in the creative process is a really good thing. Might As Well Be Dead is fun, imaginative, enticing and a breath of fresh air. As we all know I love socially conscious art and I think it's a really good thing to hash out social issues on stage, but sometimes you need a break from all the seriousness in the world. Might As Well Be Dead is the perfect example of such an escapist show, done to pitch perfection by Park Square and ready to suit anyone's gumshoe tendencies. There are so many cute touches throughout the theater (like voting for the culprit with pearls at intermission - make sure you don't miss it!), and I am sure audiences of any age can enjoy this wonderful show. Might As Well Be Dead runs through July 30 at Park Square Theatre; for more information or to get tickets, click on this link.

*For the uninitiated (like me), Nero Wolfe has been around for quite some time. I'd encourage you to check out some of his amazing book series, or the television adaptation of his stories (which you can find for free here on YouTube!). It was great Sunday viewing and a whole lot of fun. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thrillist: The Best Small Towns in Minnesota 

Can you even really say you're American if you haven't spent time in a small town? 


I mean between country songs, pickup trucks, watery beers, and endless road trips, what else really is there? 

As a girl who proudly grew up in small town Minnesota, I have no shame in declaring that I loved writing and researching my latest piece for Thrillist. It was fun, full of heart, and brought me home in all the best ways. 


Summers are made for enjoying the gorgeous landscapes we have so readily available in Minnesota. For an extremely short time investment you can really get out of the city and into the world of clear lakes, river tubing, green spaces and pig races. What's not to love about all that?

Please take advantage this year and road trip it out to one of these rural gems! Your dollar goes a lot further there and I promise you will have the best time. To read my piece about the best small towns to visit in Minnesota, click on this link.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

FREE ALERT: New Indigenous Direction Partnership at the Guthrie NEXT WEEKEND

More and more Native American artists and characters seem to be lifted up into the mainstream these days...


Photo by Mark van Cleave

And it's so incredibly exciting to me! It was one of the first things that stood out to me about Wonder Woman, and I hope this trend continues. I know shamefully little about the Native American diaspora, and any chance to be more immersed in it is something I'm interested in.

So when the Guthrie released their announcement today that they are partnering with Indigenous Direction to bring FREE shows to the Dowling Studio next weekend, I was thrilled. This is a continuation of the Level 9 series program that started last summer under Artistic Director Joseph Haj to provide more diverse, accessible (read: free or discounted ticket prices) programming. I loved the pieces I've seen so far under this program (see my reviews for Acting Black and Hold These Truths here - both thought provoking, rich performances), and I can only say that this new program promises to be very interesting. Here's a description from the press release:

"Curated by award-winning Indigenous artists Ty Defoe and Larissa FastHorse, Water Is Sacred combines ceremony, music, text, dance and discussion to honor and celebrate water and to recognize the ways it has been threatened on Indigenous lands. Since this past winter, Indigenous Direction has worked with the Guthrie to create a community-centered, community-driven presentation of local Indigenous artistry that highlights the relationship between Native communities and water rights in Minnesota. FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota) and Defoe (Oneida/Ojibwe), the founders of Indigenous Direction, have both worked extensively in the Twin Cities area as artists and community builders. Water Is Sacred will be followed by community discussions with Defoe and FastHorse, and Indigenous artists will sell merchandise in the Pohlad lobby on the Guthrie’s ninth floor."

With the disappointing reports (and inspiring global solidarity from indigenous communities worldwide) coming out of the Standing Rock protests and more environmental tussles to come, as well as the controversy over the Walker's Scaffold piece, the time couldn't be better to bring Native American artists to tell their own stories on stage at a primetime arts institution. You can click here to find more information about this upcoming performance and instructions to acquire tickets (all tickets will be FREE, but you have to reserve them in advance). I'd love to see these performances sell out and encourage the Guthrie to bring more Native Americans in to create their own individual work (maybe on the main stage next time?) - please help get the word out!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ghost: The Musical Glitters at the Old Log Theater

Let me tell you of my love for big Hollywood films that are adapted for the stage. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

It all starts with my childhood. I grew up in rural Minnesota, where even movie theaters were few and far between, much less fancy theatrical shows. The most theater I was exposed to generally would be a single annual community theater production of a family favorite such as Beauty and the Beast or Oliver! or, when I was really lucky, I got to see a show at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre on a school trip. I also grew up in a large family, which meant that buying tickets to shows (or even movie theaters) could get very expensive, very quickly. 

So it goes without saying that I didn't grow up going out very often. When we did it was a real event, even if the "trip" was just to go see a movie. Most of the movies that got us out of the house were big blockbusters like Harry Potter, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings (Wonder Woman would have fallen neatly into this theme). Often our weekend entertainment was watching movies on syndicated cable channels, which is how I first saw Ghost

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

I can't help but think of this history every time I see such a film adapted to the stage. Are these shows cheesy? Of course. Are they overwrought? Duh. Do I love them? Almost always. Every time I get to see a Ghost or The Bodyguard (which, seriously guys - if it comes back, go see it! So good, my review will tell you), it reminds me of the fun I had seeing such movies - any movie - with my family and friends in my small town. I also think such shows are a great entree into the world of theater for people who are generally intimidated by the concept. The stories are friendly and familiar, they're guaranteed to have great pop songs or special effects, and it feels like less of a burden to make an hours-long-one-way-drive to go see it in the big city than something more frou frou like Cabaret or Les Miserables. Don't get me wrong, I love those too, but let's be real: the everyman's show they ain't. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

For anyone who feels like me (or just needs something escapist to watch), Ghost: The Musical is currently playing at the Old Log Theater through September 21, and it's the perfect way to beat the heat this summer. If you're unfamiliar with the film (but it's got Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Tony Goldwyn before Scandal and even won Whoopi Goldberg an Oscar so get on it!), here's the plot: Sam Wheat is a man leading a charmed life with his live-in girlfriend Molly Jensen. He has a great relationship, successful job, good friends and beautiful new apartment in pre-gentrified Brooklyn. All of this takes a dark turn, however, when Sam is mugged one night and killed in the process. It turns out the mugging isn't a simple robbery and instead was a set-up from someone he never would have expected. In order to avenge his untimely death and protect the love of his life, Sam haunts this person until the full circumstances behind his murder are revealed, all of the wrongs are righted, he kisses Molly goodbye, and he is able to assume his rightful place in heaven. Along the way he befriends an eccentric psychic named Oda Mae Brown, whose clairvoyance is instrumental in helping Sam attain justice. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

In Old Log's production, Frank Moran stars as the buoyant Sam Wheat. Frank was previously seen as Elvis in Million Dollar Quartet, and he brings the same swivel-hipped swagger to his role here. Frank serves surprisingly well in Patrick Swayze's iconic role, and I was impressed by the energy he brought to his performance. Starring alongside Frank is Mollie Fischer, playing Sam's girlfriend Molly Jensen. Mollie can be a little pitchy but has a lot of heart, bringing more strength and independence to her role here than the original on screen; her portrayal will appeal greatly to any country music fans. Mathias Becker is fitfully villainous as Sam's friend Carl Bruner, with the appropriately snobby attitude (and abs to match). Heather McElrath is delightful as Oda Mae Brown and provides many of the show's most comedic scenes with a winsome smile. The rest of the cast makes the most of their many appearances as tangentials and ghosts, and they manage to really make the stage into a slice of New York City with their energy and verve. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

There is a lot going on here set and effects-wise. The set (which is constantly moving) is backdropped by inner-lit panels of window that change colors or receive projections periodically to help place the action in separate boroughs. Sam's apartment features the requisite pottery wheel (which is used to great effect in Act 1), and everything is used efficiently. The staging can get really busy at times, so be prepared, but there are some really cool moments too (for example, in the way everyone "rides" an elevator together early in the show). I think a lot of this will settle down as the performers get more comfortable. There were also some severe sound issues at our performance - turn down that keyboard! - but again, nothing that can't (and I'm sure won't) be fixed quickly. 

Photo courtesy of Old Log Theatre

Ghost is a relic of cinema in 1990 that has aged surprisingly well. The story is still pretty engaging and it was nice to see an old faithful on stage (there may have been some teary eyes at the end of the show). There are some elements here that trouble - some of the stereotypes in portrayal of the extras, for example, and do we *really* need to have a white woman parody a Latina? Really? - and it's a little hard to tell if those are scripted or directorial choices at all times. Still, Ghost represents a huge step forward for the Old Log. At the Twin Cities Theater Blogger talk back after the show I counted 7 women and 5 people of color on stage out of a total cast of 12 - that's a ratio that many theaters in Minneapolis or St. Paul struggle to achieve - and while I don't think this cast is always utilized to their fullest potential, it's still a great progression to see.

Let's be clear: Ghost is never going to be the next Les Miserables. But that's okay! It doesn't have to be. For anyone who thinks theater is too snobby or elitist or needs something a little more candy-coated than the usual fare, Ghost: The Musical provides all the star-studded treacle you could ever want. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link

And while we're at it, check out some other famous films that I enjoyed on stage: 
And plenty more - check the archives at right! 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thrillist: The Definitive List of Summer Movies in St. Paul and Minneapolis

Are you broke? 


Photo courtesy of Thrillist

If you are (like many of us), you need free things to do that are also fun. Thank goodness it's summer so there are a plethora of options available at your fingertips.

One of the best free things to enjoy in the summertime in the Twin Cities is the extensive outdoor movie series. I mean outdoor picnics, steamy screenings, shared enjoyment of some of the most palatable films ever made - what's not to love?

My latest piece for Thrillist compiled all of the movies available this summer in St. Paul and Minneapolis. It's an exhaustive list - seriously guys, they knocked this out of the park - so make sure to head over to Thrillist and check it out! It includes classics like the original Star Wars, Rogue One, Hidden Figures, Fences, 42, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Clueless, and way, way more. You can find the link here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

My Thoughts About the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Refugia Panel

Hard conversations seem to be happening simultaneously all over Twin Cities arts organizations these days.


Photo courtesy of the Guthrie. 


First it was the controversy over the Walker Art Center's Scaffold piece in the new sculpture garden. Then it was a truly excellent panel hosted by ALMA at Mixed Blood Theatre to discuss the recent production of West Side Story at the Ordway. And last night it was a conversation at the Guthrie Theater regarding their recent production of Refugia, which closes this weekend.

The panel was organized between the Guthrie and the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB) (full disclosure if you don't know already: I'm a member of that group; second disclosure: all opinions included here are solely my own and do not represent the group as a whole). This was the first time TCTB has reached out to try to organize such an event and to my knowledge the first time a reactionary panel has been set up to discuss a Guthrie season performance. I had a few thoughts moving forward about the process and conversation and I didn't want it to end with that single panel, ergo this post.

The panel moderator asked some really interesting questions of the audience during the Q and A session, and I didn't feel like we got the time to fully dive in as deeply as we should have. The most interesting to me was "What do you want to get out of this discussion?" I was glad to see this posed, as I think often when concerns are raised about a piece of art/action/event, it can feel like there is a lot of complaining without proactive solutions or that there isn't a clear end goal in sight. Speaking only for myself, there were two main goals I wanted to see coming from the Refugia panel, and they were:

1. To bring the Guthrie to the table to discuss the creative process. 

This goal was obviously successful with the creation of the panel. I was so glad to see the G be open to having a conversation rather than refusing to address serious concerns many in the community had about the piece (for reference, please check out Laura Van Zandt and Kory Pullam's excellent pieces, linked here and here). From what I saw, the process of creating the panel was relatively smooth and it was prioritized on the Guthrie's end, and that was really good to see. Although the makeup of the panel was lopsided in the end - I would have liked to see more parity in numbers between those who had concerns with the piece and the creators of the work itself - the fact that it happened at all is a win in my book. I hope this won't be the last time the Guthrie or The Moving Company hold such a conversation with the public if/when concerns are raised about future production.

2. To create proactive guidelines and plans to try to have an inclusive, intentionally diverse process for creating new works. 

This is the goal that I'm not sure has been achieved and was the muddiest takeaway (for me) from the Refugia panel conversation. Although the Guthrie and the Moving Company know that there are issues the community has with the piece, the discussion felt to me a little more like a brush off than a really difficult dive into evaluating the creative process. I would have really liked to see a more specific set of changes in play to create a transparent set of guidelines for creating new work and helping people not to be alienated in the process. As an institution that receives public funding (and as the recipient of a large amount of those funds), I do think the Guthrie and Moving Company, respectively, are beholden to try to maximize the use of those dollars in a way that is helpful for all communities moving forward, not just a niche set of patrons. Those conversations may be happening behind closed doors - we don't know! - but I didn't see much explicit address of this publicly in Wednesday's panel, and that was disappointing.

So where do we go from here? These questions - about how public funding is used for the arts, who is prioritized in those choices, how to address concerns once they are raised in an inclusive and respectful way, how to self-evaluate when something is not received as you wanted it to be, how to respect free speech while also being accountable - are all incredibly important, and no matter what I don't think a one hour (or even a 10 hour!) panel conversation could truly address all of those things. Personally, I'd love to participate in some ongoing conversations to proactively talk about how we set up projects (and receive them) from the ground up. Would you be interested in joining me? Please comment and let me know.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Rent Celebrates 20 Years at the Orpheum

Can you believe Tuesday is the first time I've ever seen Rent on stage? 


Photo by Carol Rosegg

I know, I know. How is it possible that a young theater reviewer has somehow bypassed THE musical that ushered in our modern age of new works?

But it's true, so I was excited to check out how Rent holds up 20 years after it made its debut. An overall glance? This show is a little dated - but in a good way - and the audience couldn't have loved it more.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Rent, for the fellow uninitiated, is about a group of friends living in New York City at the end of the 1990s. They're a hodge podge collection of freaks and geeks, renegade artists, drag queens and activists who share romance, homes, parties, and diseases; many of the characters suffer from AIDS, a fact that was revelatory at the time Rent opened. There's not really an overarching plot line (other than the across the board avoidance of paying their rent and protesting The Man). Instead, Rent reads more like a Dear Diary entry of sorts, with periodic episodes throughout one year (usually on major holidays) that detail what the gang is up to at that time. The music is similarly stream of consciousness, with most songs blending into each other in a conversational, Millennial operetta.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

This Rent features an energetic, very young cast filled with the trademark diversity that helped Rent become such a sensation when it first opened. Although they can be a little pitchy across the board, I will say that it was so refreshing (still! 20 years later!! come on Broadway!!!) to see such a truly representational cast that covers every demographic, both racial and sexual, you can come to think of. Kaleb Wells leads the cast as the fiery Roger Davis. Wells exudes the ethos of an enlightened metalhead, and his bellowing voice and moody duds truly encapsulate the emo-heavy ethos of the post-Nirvana late 1990s. Aaron Harrington has an ethereal bass voice as the loving Tom Collins, and many of Harrington's solos are the highlights of the whole show. Joanne Jefferson, played by Jasmine Easler, is a lovely female foil to Harrington with an equally rich voice. And David Merino was the clear crowd favorite as the incandescent drag queen Angel, the true beating heart of Rent's plotline.

Photo by Carol Rosegg

The music was honestly a little muddy to me, with much of it blending together and some of the lyrics hard to understand. I don't think this is a problem for those who have seen Rent many times before, but it may be worth noting for first-timers. There are still several lovely pieces, usually when the whole cast gets on stage to sing together. In particular the poignant "Contact, "I'll Cover You," and an astonishingly beautiful "Seasons of Love" are all musical standouts. The set and costumes are pretty par for the course, all featuring Rent's trademark grunge-meets-Spice Girls aesthetic, and are sure to be nostalgic for any long-term fans (or those who were the youth of the 90s).

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Overall, how does Rent hold up to someone with fresh eyes? It's honestly a little dated, but in a really good way. It's hard to overstate how revolutionary Rent was when it was first released in 1997; even today the diverse and pan-sexual cast is still a rarity on major stages. Many detailed elements, such as the presence of a drag queen, lesbian kisses and an open discussion of AIDS, don't strike the same shock value as they did 20 years ago thanks to RuPaul, Orange is the New Black, and medical advances that have turned AIDS from a killer into a manageable disease. Those are all very GOOD thing, and they signify a cultural shift that would not have occurred without at least some help from the original Rent. And it was fascinating to see how much love (truly some of the loudest cheering I've heard in the Orpheum yet) the audience exuded throughout the show. Rent is clearly a piece that is having a renewed cultural relevance and signifies an important point of development for many people. This is not the best musical cast I've ever seen on stage, but boy do they have a lot of heart and energy. If you're a true Rent fan I think you'll find this walk down memory lane a very fun one. Rent runs through June 11 at the Orpheum Theater; for more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Why Everyone Needs to See Wonder Woman

Rarely has a film moved me so instantaneously as Wonder Woman did on Saturday night.

Photo from themarysue.com


Some things you should know about me: I am unafraid of trashy films. I like action and sci-fi as much as I enjoy artsy cinema like Truffault or Fellini, for which I will never apologize. And I almost never see movies in movie theaters.

Why, you ask? One, it's unbelievably expensive, especially if you want to go on a regular basis. Two, I happen to have a projector at home, which provides a near-cinematic experience on demand (and for which I can have my chilled box wine in whatever state of dress calls to me that evening #nojudgement #hatersgonnahate). And three? I don't often feel like lining the pockets of Hollywood producers who make boring (or sometimes downright irresponsible) choices about which projects they fund and who they choose to lead them.

I am a person who completely believes in consumer power and that we truly vote with our dollars, even with something as seemingly simple as going to see a movie. I am often frustrated at the lack of diversity and representation in major Hollywood films, and I want to make sure that my entertainment dollars are helping to "vote" for the kind of media I want to see.

One big focus of support for me over the last few years have been female led and created films. As has been detailed extensively in excellent pieces by Manohla Dargis at the New York Times (especially in this piece about black women directors and this series about women in Hollywood in general), studios have been sorely lacking in providing opportunities to women (and especially women of color) to create films. Anytime I find a major picture starring or made by women, then, I make sure to do my part to ensure the box office is high enough that more movies and opportunities of similar ilk will be prioritized in the future.

With all of the above context then it's a pretty big "duh" that I had to see Wonder Woman on opening weekend. What an incredible surprise, then, that not only is this a damn good film on it's own, but it's shattering glass ceilings and providing the final nail in the coffin of the myriad ridiculous arguments studio execs love to make about why women can't helm (or star in) big budget films. I won't detail all of the radical history Wonder Woman is making right now - Buzzfeed has already covered those swimmingly in this exhaustive article - but I will give you a fun list of the top 10 reasons you (and everyone you know) needs to go see Wonder Woman while it's out!

1. Themyscira (Which Needs Its Own Film)

Let me see: an island of totally badass babes who live in diverse harmony, push each other to the physical and intellectual limit, celebrate and defend peace, and only use violence as a last resort (but rock at fighting when it's necessary)? What's not to love about this Amazonian paradise? I think it's safe to say movie audiences wouldn't mind an origin film about this Sapphic paradise stat.

2. Gal Gadot (Diana/Wonder Woman) Is A Revelation

Everyone loves a fresh face, right? And while Gal Gadot has been around for a few cameos here and there, we've never seen her in her full-throated splendor. As Diana Gal manages to be tough and soft, naive and wise, badass and hilarious all at the same time, and she's wonderful. I can't wait to see her career take off after this, and who could possibly have had a more cinematic name to accompany her superhero title?

3. Robin Wright Kicks Ass and Takes Names 

Those of us who are O.G. Robin fans know she can kick ass whether as the Princess Bride or Clare Underwood, but the Robin of Wonder Woman (where she plays the deadly General Antiope) is a next-level badass. Secretly training Diana from a young age, Robin manages to create a warrior with as much heart as she has strength. This is what true leaders are made of, and it's inspiring some next level humor on Twitter:

The best tweet I've seen in ages. 

4. Chris Pine (Steve Trevor) Reinvents the "Love Interest"

I am *so* here for the new feminist toy boys we are starting to see popping up in blockbuster films. Whether it's Channing Tatum's shredded yet emotional dancers in Magic Mike, Thor's tenderhearted charms, or even the Rock and Zac Efron's unabashed bromance in Baywatch, men are becoming ever-more multifaceted on screen and I am here.for.it. Chris Pine's Steve Trevor may be sexually attracted to Diana (I mean who wouldn't be TBH?), but he's far more interested in working with her for her strength and intelligence than he is in ogling her tits. Pine's total support of Diana and ability to step out of her way and resist trying to control her provided such a refreshing rewrite of the typical soggy damsel-in-distress, over-machoized superhero narrative and left me thirsting for more. I can't wait to see how they reinvent Diana's romantic relationships in future sequels.

5. Representation

Many have commented on the diversity of the Amazons living in Themyscira; while I think the studio could have done even a little more in that department, it's certainly a much better casting call than most other summer blockbusters. Many real-life fighters were hired to play these roles, and their athleticism is unquestionable. The diversity even extends beyond the female characters, with speaking roles for a Native American and Muslim male character helping Diana find Aries. And it goes without saying that this film passes the Bechdel test, an absurdly low bar that only about 50% of 2016's top 20 most seen and buzzed about films managed to hurdle according to Bustle. I want an earth shattering statistic to lay at the feet of everyone who argues that diversity is a waste of time, stories about women are too weak or niche, women can't handle the role of superheroes, etc. etc. etc. To all the haters, all I have to say is: bring it on.

Frfr.

6. Patty Jenkins (Director)

Representation isn't just important on-screen; it's arguably even more important when it comes to who gets to fund, choose and create projects behind the scenes. With this in mind it's about time a female wunderkind was handed the keys to a multi-billion dollar film franchise, and Wonder Woman is it. Thanks to Wonder Woman's incredible opening weekend (which smashed all previous records for ticket sales for a female director's opening dates), Patty Jenkins has now crushed the glass ceiling of blockbuster milestones that Hollywood often likes to use as an excuse to not hire ladies to direct big films. Let's see more of this, shall we?

7. Diversifying Our Heroes

Yes, Wonder Woman is yet another comic book superhero - but she's a female comic book superhero and arguably the most powerful one in the DC universe. When I was growing up I had Princess Leia and Captain Janeway to look to for my non-Disney Princess role models. I will always love them, but how cool to be able to add Wonder Woman to the cinematic hero club? If you really need more reason, the below photo should say all you need to know:

Yes Mike. Yes. It. Is. 

8. America Still Isn't Used to Women in Charge

If there's anything that the 2016 presidential cycle taught us all it's that Americans are still not used to having women kick ass and take names (at least in public). I don't mean to get overly political, and there are a million reasons the election went the way it did, but it is impossible to deny that sexism was involved (at least to some degree) in the outcome. We are so used to seeing women caricatured in the horrific dichotomy of either a docile/amenable slave or slut/wicked witch that we struggle to embrace them as complex, rich, complicated, provocative, contributing members to society. This has begun to change (particularly on television) in recent years, but to see such an unapologetic portrayal of female power at the frontline of a marquee is almost absurdly inspiring and couldn't be better timed in our current political climate.

9. It Matters That It's A Summer Blockbuster - and Even More That It Breaks Sales Records

Considering the list above, there are many people who might say but wait: there are already movies  that star female characters, or that tell the story of Wonder Woman. If you really look, you can find representation of any kind in a film somewhere. Why is Wonder Woman any different?

The answer: this is different because money talks, and as over 50% of the population women (or any minority group) should not have to search the dusty corners of the internet to try to find a story that resonates with them. I cannot count the hundreds of mediocre movies starring dudes that I have watched simply because they were there and I didn't have another option at the time. That's all fine - like I said, not all of my movies need to be the next Citizen Kane - but shouldn't I at least have an equal amount of choices starring women if that's what I want to see? Again, Hollywood has made arguments for decades that movies about and by women simply won't sell and as such are not deserving of major funding. Several highly notable exceptions to this lie such as The Hunger Games or Frozen have proven this stereotype wrong, but none of them has truly laid this rumor to rest yet. If Wonder Woman can maintain its box office momentum there will be nowhere left for studio executives to hide when it comes to decisions about funding for future projects. It also bears mentioning that Ave DuVernay's upcoming A Wrinkle In Time has the same game changing potential, and I'll be heading out to support that too once it's out.

10. Wonder Woman Proves that Men Will See Movies About Women

As I typed that I recognize how stupid it sounds out loud, but it's true: there is a widely held misconception that men won't see movies starring women or centering women's stories (a similar misconception stands for white audiences attending movies starring actors of color). The overwhelming success of films such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi or the Fast and the Furious franchise should lay such rumors to rest but they unfortunately haven't so far. Wonder Woman's unapologetic femininity and so far consistent track record of having roughly 50/50 gender parity in the audience destroys this misconception and proves the further need for more diversity in the movies we see.

In the end: if all you want to see is a damn good movie, Wonder Woman can do that for you too. But regardless of why you see it, please make sure that you go. There are a lot of things Wonder Woman can change by continuing to be a smash box office hit, and I would love to be around for the world that will remain once she lassos us all into the future.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Full Circle Theater Fleshes Out 365 Days/365 Plays

This truly diverse undertaking tackles representation of all stripes. 


Photo from MN Playlist

If you haven't heard of Full Circle Theater yet, you could be forgiven. The new-ish venture from a vanguard of Twin Cities theater legends including Rick Shiomi, Martha B. Johnson, Harry Waters Jr., Stephanie Lein Walseth and Lara Trujillo, Full Circle Theater has only been around since 2015 and is currently on its second production.

But no matter, because there is ample time yet to see the close of this second show by June 11 and bask in the promise of a company that is truly working to fill the gaps in representation in our local theater scene.

365 Days/365 Plays is currently showing at the Penumbra with a cast as close to a rainbow as you'll ever see. Don't let the lengthy title scare you; 365 Days/365 Plays is a selection of 46 plays of a larger project by Suzan-Lori Parks, who in the early 2000s committed herself to writing one play per day for a whole year. The result is a surprisingly rich diary of sorts that chronicles the ebb and flow of emotions, cultural observations and insights traversing one black woman's view of the world for an entire year. The selections here have been updated slightly to reflect a more 2017 sensibility and range through all sorts of subjects, from relationships to fairy tales to political observations to simple down home stories. Some are imaginative, some are realistic, and most completely redefine your expectations of what a play can be. A couple of favorites? A truly gallows humor look at mother/daughter relationships in The Executioner's Daughter; the wry indictment (and comedic skewering) of white Christian America in Flag Waver; and a haunting insight into the mind of a serial killer in the chilling Veuve Cliquot.

Direction for these plays is split between each of the founders of Full Circle Theater, and it succeeds surprisingly well. The pace between plays is extremely short and the production clips along at only two hours despite the amount of subject matter being tackled. While this could have been a hot mess, I really enjoyed the rotation between perspectives of each director. It really inspired me to look deeper into 365 Days/365 Plays and to challenge myself to more similar projects. It's amazing what can be created when a person sticks to a discipline of creating something every day, and I'd love to revisit the original text. I do wish there were a little more explanation of why each piece was chosen, as there doesn't seem to be an overarching main theme to really tie them together, but the show is still quite enjoyable without it. The cast is truly interchangeable and works extremely well as a team. I won't pull them out individually here, but I do encourage you to go see the piece and the way they interact. It's a real collaborative effort, and I think many companies could learn from their clearly excellent rehearsal practices and streamlined performance manner.

Costumes, sets, lighting and sound are generally kept simple to allow for quick transitions between the many plays. The set reminded me of Mu Performing Arts' trademark simplicity with its restrained collection of boxes, ladders, and painted walls, but was kept interesting by being used in unexpected ways (for example, a seeming platform is actually a box that actors pop out of) and kept lively by an endless rotation of clever props. Each show has a track of sound effects and separate lighting wash to distinguish it from the previous, and the attention to small details between characters and settings for each piece really does make each play feel like it exists in it's own separate context.

365 Days/365 Plays is an excellent primer for diversifying your expectations of what can be done on stage and how. Not only is it a fascinating glimpse into the playwright's psyche, but it's really a workshop for creatives on representation, jump-starting one's imagination and bringing together a team to work in a truly collaborative manner. There are so many great elements in each brief vignette of 365 Days/365 Plays that I could see being carried on into a more full-fleshed production of it's own, and I hope the founders at Full Circle Theater continue to develop these concepts into more shows. In a region that is under some hotly contested disagreements about representation and perspective these days, I definitely encourage all theater-goers to attend 365 Days/365 Plays to see an example of a company that is doing diversity right. You still have a week to go see this show at the Penumbra before it closes on June 11; please don't miss it! Find more information and buy tickets by clicking on this link.

Also, I'd be remiss to omit a PSA for two amazing community discussions coming up this week. TONIGHT go to Mixed Blood Theatre Company at 7 p.m. to join ALMA for a conversation about the Ordway's production of West Side Story and the local casting controversies with that production. On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., join the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for an in-depth conversation with Joseph Haj and Dominque Serrand about the hotly debated production of Refugia at the Guthrie, which recently closed. Both look to be productive conversations about future productions in the Twin Cities and both are free to the public; don't miss out! 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Brownbody CoMotion's Profoundly Moving "Quiet As It's Kept"

When is the last time you saw African dance performed live? How about on ice skates? 


Photo courtesy of the Million Artists Movement

For most people the answer to the first question is likely rarely; the answer to the latter is almost always never.

Thanks to Brownbody CoMotion, that no longer has to be the case. Running for only three more days before it closes, Brownbody CoMotion is telling the history of African Americans from the Reconstruction Era on through interactive monologues, dancing and ice skating at the Highland Arena in St. Paul. The show is split into two parts: a locally created (by Thomasina and Charles Petrus) piece called Quiet As It's Kept, and a second act filled with translated choreography including Give Your Hands to Struggle, Walking with 'Trane, and A Journey to Solace. It's a truly collaborative effort, with the former a locally developed production; the latter an adaptation of choreography produced by NYC-based dance collective Urban Bush Women; and all performed by long-time ice skaters (some of whom came out of retirement) from around the country.

Photo courtesy of Brownbody 

Quiet As It's Kept is a clear focal piece of the entire performance. The audience is immediately led behind the arena under a gorgeously backlit tree of ancestors into a room filled with relics and reminders of the Reconstruction Era. Most of these visual cues, (which include stocks, clear signs of poverty, and outright lynching photos) leave little to the imagination. Before the performance even begins the audience collectively participates in a physical greeting to the ancestors. Thomasina, clad as Ida B. Wells, then leads the audience with Charles through a piece that is part dance, part drums, part monologue and part song, incorporating quotes about the time period, songs and dance of the era, and an overwhelming sense of legacy. Quiet As It's Kept then transitions the audience from the relic room into the arena itself, where original musical compositions (performed live) are complimented with a strikingly literal dance on the ice. Thomasina sings the skaters literally into the strange fruit they are born of in a gorgeously chilling invocation of Billie Holiday, and music and red and blue lighting are interspersed with the sound of gunshots, sirens and a single word: GUILTY.

Photo courtesy of Brownbody

The twisted movements and broken angles of Quiet As It's Kept's choreography are echoed in the second act's dance pieces, which more literally translate dances normally performed on land onto the ice. This obviously creates some awkward moments for those who are used to the more lyrical, balletic ice skating of the Olympics or Disney on Ice. In fact at times it's downright uncomfortable to watch - these performers do not glide or passe, they score and chop and hack at the ice, burning through their pieces in a blaze of passion. There are no swan-like, extended limbs slowly floating through the air here; these are dances of twisted angles, more like a peregrine falcon searing through the air as it seeks its prey (or escapes becoming prey of its own). It's a totally unique experience and unlike anything I've ever seen, and it definitely forces the audience into a very thoughtful consideration of our cultural expectations of certain sports and gestures, and of our own preconceived notions of what art (or ice skating or dancing or....) is "supposed" to be.

Photo courtesy of Brownbody

Brownbody has been around for some time but unfortunately dormant for the last few years. They have returned this year as partners with Urban Bush Women dance to help create these unique pieces and perform community outreach, such as giving free skating lessons to students of color. Brownbody's mission statement says that it aspires to:
1. Make the ice welcoming to communities of color by opening the rink doors and telling stories of significance.
2. Show that the ice is a medium for more than jumps, spins and sparkly costumes.
3. Bring stories from the edges to the attention of the mainstream, to expand horizons and change perspectives.
If last night's performance is any indication, Brownbody has succeeded at these goals swimmingly. This CoMotion piece is a truly intersectional work, a fact attested to by the artists in the talk-back after the show. Several (many of whom are veterans who have worked in ice skating and the arts for decades) said that this was unlike any experience they've ever had, truly collaborative and intentionally intersectional, and that although it was more difficult than previous work they have done, it was also the most meaningful career experience they've had so far. Several young black women in the audience said they were inspired to learn to skate after never having considered it before, and it was clear that this was a truly unique experience for the audience as well. I love Brownbody's mission (in fact I wish we had a whole lot more Brownbodys shaking up every industry!), so I do hope they are able to continue performing with a shorter hiatus this time in between pieces. Representation is so incredibly important, as is having a deep understanding of history. Brownbody CoMotion has provided both representation and history in spades here, and it was clearly a profound moment for many in the audience.

Photo courtesy of the Million Artist Movement

An additional testament to Brownbody's holistic approach to their subject? The lobby and arena are filled with power tree quilts from the Million Artist Movement (MAM), a project that "believes in the role of Art in the campaign to dismantle oppressive racist systems against Black, Brown, Indigenous and disenfranchised peoples." Community members work together to create individual works of art about their experience and beliefs on quilt squares, which are assembled and displayed as full size quilts with the power tree symbol at the center. The power tree is described thus:
"The strength of a tree is in its roots; the same is true for the movement. Therefore the roots represent the critical work that we must do to be grounded; 1) Explicate/Claim/Reclaim our narratives, 2) Honor and remember stolen lives, 3) Recognize and learn from our REVOLUTIONARIES, SHEROS, AND ANCESTORS." 
So far the MAM is based in the Twin Cities, and I'm sure it will spread further soon. For more information (and you want more details, it's amazing): click here.

Photo courtesy of Brownbody

It's such an interesting time to have debuted Quiet As It's Kept. With storms brewing over the Ordway's production of West Side Story, the Guthrie's questionable production of Refugia, and the brouhaha over the soon to be burned Scaffold at the Walker Art Center, there is quite a conversation happening in the Twin Cities over literal depictions of racial trauma. What sets Quiet As It's Kept apart from the aforementioned pieces is that it is the only one written, created and performed by and for audiences of color, in this case specifically to African Americans. Quiet As It's Kept is filled with troubling, dark subject matter, but it never enters the realm of the macabre or tasteless because this is simply a case of people telling their own story. There were many references to the ancestors, invocations for them to join us, and an overwhelmingly long eye towards history throughout the piece as it unfolded. This solid foundation of self-identity grounds Quiet As It's Kept and leads it to being a powerful statement for audiences of any stripe that will leave you much to ponder for days after you see it. For more information or to buy tickets (this only runs through June 4 so get your tickets now!), click on this link.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thrillist: Best Twin Cities Rooftop Patios

Are you craving some fresh air and something cool to sip? 


4Bells image from Thrillist piece


If so then look no further than my list of the top rooftop patios to drink on, now up on Thrillist! Click on this link to see the detailed list, which includes information for (in no particular order):
  • Union
  • Crave
  • Uptown Tavern
  • Seven Sushi Ultralounge & Skybar
  • The Liffey
  • Amore Uptown
  • Louis Ristorante & Bar West 7th St
  • Moto-I
  • Brit's Pub Downtown
  • 4Bells
  • Target Field and CHS Field
  • Libertine
  • Ox Cart Ale House and Rooftop
  • Stella's Fish Cafe


What did I miss? Do you have more suggestions? Please leave me your thoughts in the comments! 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Trademark Theater Impresses with Premiere of The Boy and Robin Hood

An impressive debut from a dynamic new company, The Boy and Robin Hood is an engrossing play and marks Trademark as a company to watch


Photo by Rick Spaulding

What would you create if you could create anything?

I've thought about that question many times. I like to fancy myself an artist of sorts, but at the end of the day I haven't really ever built a major project. Sure, I have some sketches and paintings and scribbles here and there, and I have this blog (of course), but I've never really taken on a visionary project and assembled it from start to finish.

You know who has created something marvelous? Tyler Michaels, who launches the premiere performance of his new company Trademark Theater this weekend with The Boy and Robin Hood, showing at the Ritz Theater through June 11. Michaels is joined by Tyler Mills, who pens the plays, and Michaels' wife Emily Michaels King, who handles their (beautiful) social media and graphic design (I mean really, their program is inspired! And their website is worth a peek as well). So, the Trademark gang founded a company; why not write, choreograph and score a completely brand new show while they were at it too? #ambitious

Photo by Rick Spaulding

The result is the familiar yet singular show The Boy and Robin Hood, which covers a very new perspective on who Robin Hood (and the rest of the infamous constellation of characters around him) really was. This is a much darker Robin Hood than you may be used to; there is no attempt to oversimplify the story or to lionize his myth. We come to Robin through a boy named Much, who escapes into the forest after he witnesses the Sheriff of Nottingham commit a murder. Much quickly adapts to life with Robin's crew (particularly Robin's right hand man Alan) and through Much's curiosity, we learn many stories about how Robin came to be in the woods, watch him rob the king, and settle into the familiar story. Things take a dark turn when Much informs Robin that Robin's mother is the woman he saw the Sheriff kill, and the ensuing action not only breaks the merry band but little Much and Robin himself. It's a powerful cautionary tale about the vagaries and corrosive capabilities of power, both in the sense of popularity and wealth, and it couldn't be more timely. Accompanied by a gorgeous score from local composer David Darrow, The Boy and Robin Hood is a full circle theatrical event with something for everyone - friendship, sword fights, heartbreak, action, laughter, and everything residing in between.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

This cast could be a little more diverse, and the show unfortunately doesn't pass the Bechdel test, but don't let that discourage you from going; these actors are excellent and clearly well rehearsed. The entire show clips along without a pause in the action, and although it's two and a half hours in length it never drags or feels long. This is thanks mainly to the gorgeous choreography from Tyler Michaels and fight choreography from Annie Enneking, and the painterly lighting from Mary Shabatura. This piece will truly have you gasping in your seat at some of the cinematic dioramas and nimble footwork, and the excellent attention to the minutest detail keeps the story feeling fresh. All of these elements make it feel like you're living inside of the story, and The Boy and Robin Hood really wraps you up into the fold.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

Riley McNutt swaggers on stage like a lanky Tony Goldwyn as Robin, and his fiesty spirit is perfect for the part. He is well matched by the rest of his merry band - Paul Rutledge (holding down the role of John with gravitas); Theo Langason (loveable as Friar Tuck and radiating a Questlove level of warmth from the stage); Ryan London Levin (a firecracker as the energetic Will; he really reminded me of The Princess Bride's Inigo Montoya); and Nathan Barlow, who absolutely steals the show as Alan, Robin's right hand man. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Alan is really the hero of the show entire - brave, strong, kind, thoughtful, surefooted, and Barlow plays him with such strength and vivacity that it is impossible to look at anyone else while he's on stage. He's an inspired member of a very strong cast, and worth the show alone.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

Jason Rojas and Dan Hopman are deliriously devilish as the rotten Sheriff and his hired assassin Guy of Gisborne, respectively. Hopman in particular brings a Game of Thrones level darkness to his baldly bad guy, and he provides an excellent antithesis to Robin's bands' relentless positivity. Kendall Anne Thompson is inspiring as Marian and the Hermione of the Hood; Thompson is wonderful in her part, and I wish she had another woman on stage to interact with throughout the show to play up that singular female strength. Peder Lindell is a clear Michaels apprentice as the boy Much, and he gives a lively performance that helps us to truly see this world, warts and all, through a child's eyes. Lindell is quite the ingenue; keep an eye out for him in future productions around the Twin Cities.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

I don't usually list out members of the pit or chorus, but I really loved the music here and I'd be remiss if I omitted them. The dissonant, expansive vocals of Anna Beth Baker, Tim Beeckman Davis, Benjamin Dutcher, Elizabeth Hawkinson and Lars Lee provide the ideal backdrop for the riveting action on stage, and their beautiful canticles are destined for a cast recording (but really guys, can you record this stuff? It's glorious). There are only four instrumentalists backing them up - Nic Delcambre on piano, Kris Anderson on guitar, Jack Barrett on bass, and Matt Barber on percussion - something you might be surprised to know considering how lush the soundtrack is. And I'd be neglectful not to mention sound designer Nicholas Tranby as well. This is one of the first live shows I can think of where I noticed an extraordinary attention to detail in each sound effect, down to the sharpening of a sword or the tapping of a finger, and it really stood out.

Photo by Rick Spaulding

I was so ready to see something like The Boy and Robin Hood. The world is a scary place these days, the news seems to grow darker and drearier by the hour, and I had had enough. I needed a mystical universe to disappear into for a few hours and come out refreshed with a new perspective. What a blessing that in addition to providing deep societal respite, The Boy and Robin Hood has a rich set of lessons to offer as well. There is a parable for everyone here, and we need it. Some of my favorites?

  • Never let your anger get the best of you. 
  • Even alleged villains have hearts and goodness in them. 
  • Beware lionizing your heroes; you will likely find they will disappoint you in the flesh. 
  • Don't believe everything you hear in fairy tales (aka the fake news). 
  • Face your fears head on and you will have nothing left to dread. 
  • Preserve your innocence, as you can never get it back once it's lost. 
  • Listen to the women in your life. 
  • And best of all: love harder, look deeper, and expect more of the world around you; if we all did that, maybe we'd be a little better off like the Merry Men of Robin's forest


The Boy and Robin Hood is a rich, rewarding retelling of one of British mythology's favorite legends. It's a crowdpleaser for audiences of all types, particularly those who like swashbuckling swordfights, but may be a little scary for young kids. The Boy and Robin Hood is a truly impressive debut, particularly considering the fact that it's an epic, originally authored piece, and I can't wait to see what else Trademark comes up with.  Kick off your Memorial Day weekend right with a viewing at the Ritz Theater; more information and tickets (ranging from $15 - $20) can be purchased by clicking on this link.