Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Precocious Peter Pan

Tyler Michaels is perfectly cast as the infamous imp Peter Pan

Photo courtesy of Dan Norman
It's no secret that I'm a Tyler Michaels fan, but I promise, there's a reason: he's just so darn good.

Especially when it comes to musical theater. It's very difficult to find people who are equally great actors, singers, and dancers; Tyler is not only all of those things, but an accomplished acrobat as well.

Which is why, when I heard he had been cast in the new Peter Rothstein production of Peter Pan at the Children's Theater, I rushed to attend. I wasn't disappointed.
Photo courtesy of Dan Norman
This was my first time at the Children's Theater, and I can now confirm: the hype is true. This was a beautifully produced show with astonishing attention to detail. The sets were gorgeous and perfect for kids, a winsome mix of Dr. Seuss and Eric Carl come to life. Costumes were equally appropriate, hitting the fine line between silly cartoonish and way-too-much.

Peter Pan is not stingy with effects. There is a little of everything to be found here: sword fighting, dancing, STOMP, fairy dust, acrobatic tricks, and most spectacularly, flying. Michaels literally glides through the air, pirouetting with a grace that is rarely seen in a harness. His astonishing acrobatic talents totally sell the Peter Pan effect, despite the fact that you can see ropes and other props helping him out.
Photo courtesy of Dan Norman
The ensemble cast was also terrific, Michaels aside. In particular, Reed Sigmund (as a blustery Mister Darling and a simpering, devious Captain Hook) and Alanna Saunders (as silver voiced Wendy - honestly, she's a gorgeous singer) were standouts. The lost boys and other child performers were great too, and clearly well rehearsed; they flipped around on-stage with the precision only a Rothstein rehearsal can imbue. Performances are always more fun when the actors themselves are having a good time, and it's clear that this cast is having a blast.
Photo courtesy of Dan Norman
It's a testament to the quality of the show that of the innumerable children in the audience, not one made a peep throughout the performance. There was no crying, no talking - not even fidgeting. Each kid was completely entranced with the vision of Peter Pan, and it was super fun to witness.

This terrific show is running through the end of June. Make sure you get your tickets! For more information about the show and attending, click this link.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Feeling Good at "Happy Days"

The classic TV show comes to the New Century Theater

2015 seems to be the year of television-as-stage-art. First there was I Love Lucy; one could argue that variety shows such as Motown are riffs on the ever popular singing reality shows such as The Voice or American Idol; and now we have Happy Days.

This production is a mash-up of multiple episodes of the popular show; fans will recognize several main themes. The combination translates surprisingly well, with very little feel of skipping over important points or missed plot elements.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
This is a very young cast, many of whom have performed in this year's past productions at the New Century Theater. Comebacks include Kameron Nelson, Gregory Adam, Jill Iverson, and Andrew Newman. Newcomers play the leads, including Eric Heimsoth as Richie and Kory Pullam as Chachi; both are musical standouts and absolutely carry the show.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust.
Audience favorites, of course, included Quin Shadko as a feisty Pinky and John Zeiler as the infamous Fonzie. Both are a little pitchy in their parts, but they portray them with gusto and an enthusiasm that totally sells it. Their energy is infectious, and it drew the audience in.

Sets and costuming leave a little to be desired, although some of that is the double edged sword of the space; audiences are so close to the stage at New Century that it's easy to notice minute flaws that would be impossible to detect in a larger theater. Be aware of this if you attend.
Photo Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
Happy Days runs through May 17; for more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

A Classical "Carmen"

Bizet's masterpiece gets a modernized setting at the Minnesota Opera

Many may disagree with this, but I think opera is the most international of all art forms. Nowhere else will you find a story about Spain, told in French, that is then subtitled in English for a live audience. There are all sorts of artistic and athletic cross pollination that can be found in our post-internet 'flattened' world, but opera remains one of the few art forms that people flock to view in its original language and context, and that was intended to be multilingual and cultural from the outset.
Carmen being arrested; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
The Minnesota opera has modernized the setting for this Carmen, from its original fin de siecle oeuvre to a bullfight in the age immediately after fearsome dictator Francisco Franco's death. The setting works, in particular the gorgeous light work with ominous and sinuous shadowing; it takes a while to notice, but once you do it's mesmerizing.
Carmen smoking in her mountain hideout; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
As one of the most famous operas, I won't bother retelling the doomed love story; you can find all you need to know in the photo montage throughout this article. It was interesting, however, to think about how much the way we define things changes our perception of it. For example, operas like Carmen are most often viewed as tragedies, in which a woman 'loses her morality' and pays the price for it. I believe we can just as easily name Carmen a feminist triumph, in which a woman defies authority and social mores to live the life best for her, and eventually becomes the victim of unflinching societal standards. It's an interesting thought, and a question that I foresee growing as audiences and casts become more diverse and settings become increasingly modernized.
Carmen and her toreador; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
Nora Sourouzian is lovely as Carmen, with a deceptively sinuous voice that pulls you through the show, particularly through the infamous Habanera that has been covered by everyone from ad execs to Stromae. Her cast mates keep up, especially her lovers Morales (Gerard Michael D’Emilio) and toreador Escamillo (Kyle Ketelsen). Standout voice of the production goes to the gorgeous tones of Marita K. Sølberg, who plays jilted lover Micaela.
Morales pleads for Carmen to return to him; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
The ensemble cast is a little looser, particularly the children. I found myself wishing for a little more of the precision of an Osmo Vanska or Peter Rothstein here; the production is good, but could reach great with just a little more crispness in execution. It's also extremely long; there are three intermissions, so be prepared for an all-night experience. Still, this is Bizet, and it's impossible not to like this most gorgeous, gorgeous of operas. Habanera is just as well known as the Torreador bit, or any of the orchestration throughout the piece (if you'd like a closer explanation of why Carmen is such a masterpiece, check out this excellent video from the Minnestoa Opera).
Morales kills Carmen; Photo courtesy of the MN Opera
Carmen runs through May 10, and ticket sales have already broken every presale record of the Minnesota Opera. If you want to go, get your tickets NOW; you can find more information by clicking on this link.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Amazing Annie

'Little Girls' shine in this wonderful production of Annie

It's always great to see old musical favorites get a spit-shine. The lovely new production of Annie at the Orpheum does just that.

This is a magical cast, beginning with the headliner. Issie Swickle is capital A Awesome as Annie, with a crystal clear voice and near perfect pitch that will break your heart. She's exceptional on every song; it's hard to pick a favorite, but if you twisted my arm I'd give it to "Maybe" and "I Don't Need Anything But You."

Her castmates are equally fabulous; this is a super, super strong group of little girls. Each of them has fully individualized her character, and their youthful but strong voices put a spring in the show's step.

The grownups are great too. Gilgamesh Taggett is gruffly winning as Oliver Warbucks, and Lynn Andrews puts all thoughts of Carol Burnett out of your mind as she swills her way through Miss Hannigan. Even supporting members such as Garret Deagon (Rooster Hannigan) and Ashley Edler (Grace Farrell) are terrific.

The pit is very tight as it carries each performer through the show, and the sets and pacing are well edited to keep the plot moving. It's worth noting that this production is slightly different from both the original movie and the new one; expect to see some small differences in the plot and songs.

It's always nice when a show surprises you, and this Annie did. I've seen several versions of the show and it had become somewhat careworn for me, but this beautifully executed production and spunky cast lent a whole new shimmer - in fact, it may be my favorite show so far this season. If you have a chance, make sure you see it. For more information about Annie and other coming shows, click on this link.