Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Edina Becomes Reality

Reality television gets local in The Realish Housewives of Edina

Photo courtesy of the Hennepin Theatre Trust
Come on, admit it: You love reality television.

Who doesn't? Reality shows like The Real Housewives of [insert here], Keeping Up With the Kardashians and 19 Kids and Counting may have started as the laughingstock of the entertainment world, but that is true no longer. With Kim passing Beyonce* as the most watched person on the web and the million (and extremely profitable) spin-offs that have followed these shows, no one is laughing any more - unless it's on the way to the bank.

Or if, in this case, you're attending the most local iteration of the Housewives franchise. Thanks to some spiffy writing from the folks at Second City in Chicago**, there are some new Housewives on the block - from Edina.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust
The show is cleverly tailored to long circulating urban jokes about the suburbs***, for this show the heavily gentrified area of 50th and France. There are tiny dogs, big purses, bloody mary fountains, and sequins galore. Like the reality show itself, there's not much of a plot or a set, just concentric rings of trifling interpersonal conflict set on a couch whilst drowning in champagne. But no matter. Not all of our entertainment can be serious, nor should it be: sometimes it's nice to drink too many martinis thinking about someone else's made-up problems.

It's also nice to see a show flipping the usual casting and featuring almost entirely female actors. Each actress approaches her role with ferocity, best evidenced by the absolutely hilarious performance of Kim Kivens as Ravonka. Kivens carries the show with rude comments made in a pitch-perfect "Eastern European" accent, and it is delightful to watch her snipe at the rest of the cast.

New Century veterans Karissa Lade (Desiree), Quinn Shadko (Claudia-Louise), and and Adan Varela (Randy) are all familiar with the up-close-and-personal style of the theater, which is arranged as a comedy club for this performance. They have a great time as they weave through the audience and cajole each other, and their chemistry is great.
Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust

Anna Hickey is another standout as Brooke, the butt-writing businesswoman who brings gravity to the housewives and provides Ravonka with an excellent foil. The director, Matthew Miller, is also of note. With a hit web series and a hot new television show about to debut on TV Land, Minneapolis is lucky we snagged him for this.

The Realish Housewives of Edina is a perfectly candy-coated show, great for a blitzy happy hour with girlfriends****, clocking in at under two hours including intermission. It's an affordable, entertaining microcosm of the insane state of entertainment today boiled into a relatable***** format. It has a long run (through November 15), so make sure to get your tickets by clicking this link.

*Yes, THAT Beyonce
**Which has spawned the careers of giants such as Stephen Colbert and Chris Farley, among many others.
***Admit it: you do that, too.
****Although my boyfriend did enjoy it.
*****Geographically, at least.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Charming Cinderella

Roger and Hammerstein's beloved version gets classy treatment in the new production at the Orpheum

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
With its illustrious history, it's surprising that Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella seems to often fall in the back of the minds of musical fans. Originated on television by a then-unknown Julie Andrews in 1957 on CBS, and repeated in a much beloved 1997 ABC television broadcast (with a spectacular cast that included Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Bernadette Peters), it hasn't seen much stage time.

Thanks to Minnesota native Laura Osnes, that has all changed. Osnes revived the role on Broadway to critical acclaim two years ago, and the show is now traveling (alas, without Osnes or her successor Keke Palmer in the title role) around the country.

It's a good thing, too. This Cinderella is not the Disney cartoon most of us remember from our childhoods. There are modern, witty jokes; Cinderella is not only determined and intelligent, but political; and the special effects have been upgraded. This is particularly noted in a series of spectacular costume changes for Cinderella, in which she twirls on-stage and her costume magically becomes something else. I've seen a lot of theater, but I have no idea how they do it. The trick never gets old and is a special draw for the show.

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
The cast is solid, but can be a bit disappointing for those who are fans of the earlier televised versions. It would be nice to see a little more diversity among the cast; with such loaded political lyrics, it would certainly add a depth of subtext to the script.

That being said, the main cast has excellent voices. Paige Faure is winningly winsome as Ella (aka Cinderella), and moves with a fairy tale grace. Andy Huntington Jones has a beautiful voice as Topher the Prince, although I wish he had the dance training to match Faure; he moved a little too stiffly for such a dance-heavy show. Kaitlyn Davidson is equal parts hilarious and heartwinning as Ella's good stepsister Gabrielle. In fact, Davidson is the show's brightest comedic star; I wish we had a little more of her.

The sets are gorgeous, evoking Disney's iconic hand-painted film without being too literal. They are also surprisingly nimble, considering they include a three sided house, full forest and palace staircases. Sets and stunts are some of the main draws of this show, so make sure to take note of them.

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
It's wonderful to see this charming show brought back to life. It's not one of Rogers and Hammerstein's best, but it is a classic. With a little modern magic, this pumpkin turns into a golden carriage - and it won't change back at midnight. Make sure to stop by, especially if you have kids. It's good to show them that there is more to fairy tales than the Disney version. Cinderella runs at the Orpheum theater through September 13. Click here to get your tickets.