MAMMA MIA! Zephyr Theater

Mamma Mia! was the perfect show for the inaugural “Broadway by the Bridge” series with Zephyr Theatre. I have been singing all the songs from this popular jukebox musical ever since and for that I say…“Thank you for the music.. for giving it to me”. It was first time seeing a production with Zephyr Theatre and it has quickly risen to the top of my outdoor theatre going experiences so far this summer.

They have transformed Lowell Park in Stillwater into a venue that reminded me of a music festival but in my opinion much BETTER because we got to see a musical! The park area is fenced off with chairs set up and ready for excited patrons to fill them. There is a VIP ticket option with reserved seats and a General Admission option that allowed us to walk around for a bit until we found our perfect seats to settle in to for the performance.

When you looked past the familiar Greek town on stage all you could see was water of the St. Croix River, which added an element that just isn’t possible to achieve in a theatre space. We were transported to this island so quickly and I never wanted to leave. The impact of Donna (Burleigh-Bentz) climbing to the top of the cliff side on stage belting out the final few lines of “The Winner Takes it All” as she overlooked the river was greater than I even know how to put into words.

Now let’s talk about this dreamy cast! Some of them I have had the pleasure of seeing in other productions but so many of these faces were new to me and look forward to seeing them in future shows. Jen Burleigh-Bentz fully encompasses the spirit and many layers of Donna as she plans her daughters wedding while reflecting on who she was (and the choices she made) when she was the same age. Emily Scinto as her daughter Sophie who decided to invite 3 men from her moms past in hopes of discovering who she is and her biological father. She portays the multiple sides of Sophie as both a young wide eyed woman seeking answers about who she is and the woman confidently in love with some steamy chemistry with her on stage her fiancé Sky, played by Mitchell Douglas with such ease.

The trio of “potential dads” Sean Dooley (Sam Carmichael), Reed Sigmund (Bill Austin) and Charles Fraser (Harry Bright) were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Kristina Mitchell (Tanya) and Lynnea Doublette (Rosie) as Donna’s friends and the Dynamos had wonderful comedic timing and brought their characters to life. Doublette and Austin in their duet of “Take a Chance on Me” was an absolute highlight of the production that had the whole audience laughing.

Filling out the world on their little island is an amazing ensemble including; Angela Steele, Ali Daniels, Stephen Neff, Jameson Pieper Brianna Galligan, Cassidy Hall, Jaclyn Mack, Laini Devin, Michael Dufault, Robyn Pfeifer, Tessa Larson, Carter Hoffer, and Chad Bracewell.

In true Mamma Mia! fashion the show ends with a beach party sing-a-long of the favorite tunes that we couldn’t help but jump onto our feet to dance along. #dancingqueens The show closes this weekend so act now and get your tickets and keep a close eye on what’s coming next! For more information and tickets : https://www.stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org/event/mamma-mia-july-22/

COMPANY: Lakeshore Players Theatre

I am slowly working my way towards seeing a show in the Hanifl Performing Arts Center. I have joined Lakeshore Players Theatre virtually with THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS and WAIT UNTIL DARK. This past weekend I was able to join them LIVE… in their parking lot for COMPANY and would gladly sit in a parking lot for another production! Looking forward to being inside their new space soon.

I knew very little about this musical before attending but recognized numbers such as The Ladies Who Lunch and Being Alive. The synopsis found on the Lakeshore Players Website states “On the eve of Bobby’s 35th birthday, their friends are celebrating, but not without their probing questions… “Why isn’t Bobby married? Why can’t they settle down? Why can’t they find the love of their life in the bustling city of New York?” …Sondheim peels back the complicated layers of adult relationships and dives into why being single, being married, and just being alive in the 21st century is enough to drive a person crazy”.

We follow Bobby navigating the world of being single in a group of friends who are all married through a series of vignettes that aren’t in any specific chronological order. It was a very relatable story line with moments of reflection and heart paired with LOTS of laughs.

The cast includes Billy Krager, Lydia Wagner, James Lane, Lindsay Shimizu, Bradley Johnson, Kiko Laureano, James Person, Audrey Johnson, Brendan Finn, Wendy Short-Hays, Martin Swaden, Mary Palazzolo, Katie Rowles-Perich, and Abilene Olson. This amazing ensemble quickly took me into their world of these characters. Each of the “married couples” had quick chemistry wonderfully cast to play off each other.

This is the perfect show if you are looking for a fun way to spend a few hours this weekend full of laughs, heart, friendship, and the puzzling questions involved with finding yourself and a partner to navigate life with. Run time 2 hours 45 min with an intermission. Running until July 25th! Learn more or get tickets: https://www.lakeshoreplayers.org/company

HAIR! The Concert Experience: Theatre55

I was so excited to see that Theatre55 had plans to perform this summer. I attended URINETOWN last year and had a wonderful time. They are back with HAIR! The Concert Experience at the Caponi Art Park in Eagan. The cast was full of energy and excitement as they took the stage LIVE and outdoors.

The concert experience moved quickly through each song of Hair! as the cast danced with contagious joy. In the program they have included some of the lyrics to sing along as the cast works the crowd to keep everyone engaged. The final song “Let The Sunshine in” had the whole audience on their feet singing and swaying along. It was hard not to leave with a smile on your face and “Aquarius” stuck on your head.

It was my first visit to the Caponi Art Park and it was the perfect backdrop for the music from HAIR! and added so much to the experience. There is something about the context of the show and music that just makes more sense to be performed in a park space. We all brought our own seating and spread out on the hill spaces to enjoy the show.

Running through July 25th! For more information or tickets visit their website: https://theatre55.org/shows/hair-the-concert-experience/

The Islander: Theatre Elision

I could not think of a better introduction to Theatre Elision and the wonderful space at the Elision Playhouse than Islander. It was recognized at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival as the top musical and went on to a successful run at the Southwark Theater in London. From the moment the lights turn off we are transported to a small island in Scotland with gorgeous projections and music. Folklore and reality collide when the tide washes a mysterious stranger onto the beach and changes the future of the small community remaining on the island. The result is truly enchanting.

Islander is presented with 2 rotating casts featuring Emily Dussault, Christine Wade, and Deidre Cochran. I had the pleasure of seeing Dussault and Wade create the world of characters found in this small island village, seamlessly transitioning between each scene and character like smooth choreography. This story of folklore is rooted in the important relationships of the characters and this duo brought them to life on stage. With palpable chemistry, every new set of characters they portrayed felt as real and honest as the last one.

The music and lyrics by Finn Anderson are a beautiful combination of Scottish folk music and traditional acapella. With the assistance of a looping machine, they layered their voices and clapping to create mesmerizing music that filled the theatre. I have been playing the soundtrack on repeat since Sunday and keep finding new moments to love. It’s intricate and interesting, which makes me very excited to think about the future of musical theatre and the possibilities of what’s to come. 

Islander is 70 minutes long with no intermission. Running until July 31, do not miss this one! For more information or to purchase tickets visit their website: https://www.elisionproductions.com/islander

MIXTAPE: I FORGOT HOW TO DO THIS Wayward Theatre Company

MIXTAPE: I FORGOT HOW TO DO THIS brings together five amazing storytellers from the Twin Cities to share true stories about their experiences about getting back in the groove.

The storytellers are Avi Aharoni, Matthew G. Anderson, Kathryn Fumie, Kymani Kahlil, Anika Taylor with special guest host Miss Shannan Paul. They cover topics from returning to the dating world and transitioning back to working in an office to processing and growing through the events of the last 14 months. Including the understandable feeling of being lost during the pandemic, following the call to participate, and finding new perspectives on the importance of your voice on social media and in real life. I want to thank all the storytellers for letting us into part of their lives through these personal stories, each one was relatable, raw, charming, funny, thought-provoking, and real.

Throughout the whole evening Artist Chris Gorecki was painting live and between each storyteller the House Band Carol and The Churchills had us tapping our toes and singing along. For many people in the audience it was their first live performance in-person in a long time. It was a wonderful way to dip our toes back into being an audience member. The atmosphere on the rooftop of The Bakken (which has become one of my FAVORITE outdoor venues this summer) was inviting, a real sense of community and support, and full of excitement.

This was my first experience with in Wayward Theatre Company and I am excited to see what comes next. Learn more or get your tickets here: https://www.waywardtheatre.org/ Running just this weekend July 15-17.

On the Line: Audio Play 45North

On the Line, a new audio play by Dessa, was released as part of 45North’s Written on the Waves series. Jessica Rose McVay directs Emily Carewe, Dessa, and Ross O’Donnellan in a 35 minute audio piece that explores the complexity of friendships and love.

Simon (O’Donnellan) has recently moved away to live with his girlfriend Misty (Carewe) meaning for the first time in 6 years, Simon and his long-time friend Gina (Dessa) must celebrate his birthday via a phone call. It felt like I was eavesdropping on the conversation as they caught up with a quick rapport that only long time friends have. They are the type of friends that could talk for hours and still have so much more to say, seamless and natural conversation almost finishing each other’s sentences. After some fun banter Gina transitions into hard questions forcing Simon to examine his decision to move and the relationship with his girlfriend. The moments when Misty popped into the call to day hello left me holding my breath as the unknowing and blissfully unaware third wheel in the conversation. This beautifully written dialogue shows us that honesty is hardest to hear from those who know us best. As Simon and Gina dig deeper they must analyze their own relationship and what lines they are willing to cross. 

Take a half an hour to enjoy this new audio play that was incredibly relatable, fast moving, and leaves you thinking about the risks involved with crossing the line between friendship and a romantic relationship. Listen here: https://www.forty-fivenorth.com/on-the-line-by-dessa

Last Train to Nibroc- Create Together Theatre

I have not attended a production in-side a theatre space since March of 2020! Coming back to the Phoenix theatre there was a mix of emotions, but the strongest one was excitement. Once entering the space I was hit with romantic 1940s music transporting me into the era, I have taken for granted just how lovely it is to hear pre-show music. I had the biggest smile on my face as I got to watch people find their seats and catch up with those sitting near them. The audience sat patiently in the theatre all truly taking in how special it was that we were able to gather in this setting once again.

Last Train to Nibric by Arlene Hutton is a 90 minute production presented in 3 scenes that drops us into the lives of May, a small town and bookish woman who is firm in her beliefs, and Raleigh, a playful recently discharged soldier who is quick to anger but faster to chuckle. Their “meet-cute” is on a train with May returning home and Raleigh considering all his options of where to go next. The show is a funny, charming, emotional love story of 2 strangers to help each other find their place in the world. Faith Winship (May) and Jonah Smith (Raleigh) are a real-life couple which adds a tremendous level of chemistry as they banter and begin their “will they, won’t they” relationship. 

Create Together Theatre is a new company whose mission is “to provide opportunities to make theatre and experience community. Our first love is the education and emboldening of children in the theatrical arts… CTT also endeavors to create a new space for local Twin Cities artists to further expand their craft, with productions that, above all, require us to create together”. You can learn more by visiting their website: https://createtogethertheatre.com/

Last Train to Nibroc has finished their in-person run this past weekend but it is available for streaming July 1-3. Take some time this weekend to cool off from the heat by watching this charming play, you will be glad you did.

Ordway Cabaret Live at the Loading Dock

The Loading Dock at the Ordway is the most surprisingly perfect space for a cabaret. It works so well as an outdoor venue that I would happily attend future events there. The evening was delightful with a wonderfully accessible feel to it, like a group of great friends getting a chance to perform their favorite songs. Luckily for us they just so happen to be a wonderfully talented ensemble! I had a permanent smile on my face the entire hour and wanted MANY encores.

The cast features Reese Britts, China Brickey, Ruthanne Heyward, and Tyler Michael King with Music Director Sanford Moore on the piano. The feeling of excitement about performing live for an audience radiated from the performers. There was a genuine joy about being on stage AND to watch their fellow performers sing. These feelings were reciprocated from an audience hungry for live in-person entertainment. The song list consisted of songs from the Ordways upcoming season AND a few teasers for shows hopefully coming to the Ordway soon!

As the musical nerd I am, it was so fun to hear popular music from Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast, and one of my personal favorites, Little Shop of Horrors. These classics were intertwined with new music from shows (I must now go and download the whole soundtracks for) like Triangle and Ever After. I glanced around and every toe was tapping along to the 80’s jams of An Officer and a Gentleman which will be presented Jan 20-23, 2022.

Closing this weekend there are still 3 chances to catch this wonderful cabaret, ticket information can be found here: https://ordway.org/events/ordway-cabaret

A PICKLE Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company

I officially attended my first in-person live production since last October! The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company is closing out their 26th Season with A PICKLE by Deborah Yarchun. This one-woman production starring Sally Wingert is being performed throughout the Twin Cities. We set up our lawn chairs in the most gorgeous backyard in St.Paul with a small (but mighty) socially distant audience and settled in for one entertaining hour. We had beautiful weather but after this long intermission I would have sat through a rainstorm if I had too! 

A PICKLE first premiered at the Minnesota Fringe Festival and was inspired by the true experience of Doris Rubenstein and the Minnesota State Fair. Doris (Wingert) tells the story of how she began making her own pickles with the traditional kosher brining method and submitted them for judging at the Great Minnesota Get Together. Unfortunately multiple years in a row they were left unopened on the rejected foods table due to lack of proper understanding of the brining method and the willingness to rectify this. After speaking to a member of the press Doris (“the pickle lady”) began her crusade to get kosher pickles accepted and judged properly at the MN State Fair. Now I don’t want to give any spoilers but at the end of the day I found that the story isn’t as much about the outcome with the Fair, but more about the importance and history of the people behind the recipes. 

I have a plethora of recipes that have been passed down from family members and shared amongst my friends. Recipes show lineage, carry such strong memories, and help preserve traditions and cultures. You can feel the love and history in every recipe that have always inspired me to look more into my own heritage. I will be able to pass along these recipes and smile while telling the stories that go with them. A community made from the food we can all bring to the table is an exciting thing I hope we can all works towards.

Theatre Going Buddy aka MOM

One innovative moment to highlight from the show is that a select group of patrons were handed bike bells as we entered. When cued (by Wingert) we rang them to create a phone call sound effect. This was a super creative way to engage the audience while creating the sound needed in our outdoor setting. A PICKLE was an hour of engaging storytelling with heart, humor, and delivered with some serious chutzpah. Luckily for MJTC (but maybe not for everyone…) the entire run of the show is sold out, but you can still submit an interest form on their website. I will cross my fingers for you that this means more performances are coming. More information at http://www.mnjewishtheatre.org

“The Revolutionists” Lyric Arts

I never anticipated that my first time seeing a production with Lyrics Arts would be streamed to my living room, but after seeing “The Revolutionists” I look forward to driving to Anoka to visit as soon as we are able to.

In a fictional meeting of four women during the French Revolution, feminist Playwright Olympe de Gouges (Alyson Enderle) uses her interactions with assassin Charlotte Corday (Kiko Laureano), former queen Marie Antoinette (Courtney Vonvett), and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle (Dana Lee Thompson) as inspiration for her latest script and to find her own voice in the revolution. This power-house of an all-female cast had such great chemistry in any combination, but especially when they all took the stage together. The script by Lauren Gunderson is packed full of witty banter that this cast delivers without missing a beat. I’m actually kinda glad I got to see it recorded so the pace of the delivery wasn’t thrown off by pauses for audience laughter (though we almost had to pause/rewind anyway). Their discussions of revolution, family, role in society, activism, and the arts were real, relevant, dark, and at times felt overwhelming for them but the way in which comedy is used to lighten the mood kept me wanting to hear more.

“The Revolutionists” is quick-witted, funny, smartly written, thought provoking, and incredibly relevant. This modern play allows women who often don’t make our history books to have a prominent voice. I am intrigued to learn more about who each of these women were, what they were working towards, fighting for, or speaking out against and how their actions remain relevant and can inspire us moving forward. Any theatre lover will give a few extra giggles at lines slipped into the show about the wonderful (and sometimes not) sides of working in theater and the arts. One line that so poignantly stuck with me was “Theatre isn’t flourish, it’s fundamental” as she argued the importance of her work and the role of theatre in society. I find this more important now than ever and it will stick in my brain for a long time.

The production switched between the more traditional staged filming with a single shot of the whole stage and thoughtfully planned scenes that make you feel like you are right there with the woman as she makes her speech or (spoiler alert) right before she is killed. These moments brought an extra layer of depth to the show and I applaud how creative this production was presented. As we continue our #virtualtheatre experience I have enjoyed seeing how directors and videographers can re-think a script to incorporate elements and moments they may not have been able to before. This new element is keeping me engaged in streamed productions more than I had anticipated and for that I am impressed and thankful. It also makes me curious to see how the same moments would have been portrayed on stage and will be keeping my eye out for when an in-person production can be staged.

Run time is 2 hours with an optional intermission and is available just until May 2nd so don’t delay if you want to see this production! Lyric Arts