Newsies at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

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Chanhassen Dinner Theatre is currently celebrating their 50th season and will be taking the state of Minnesota by storm this summer with their sublime production of Disney's Newsies. I'm one of the few theatre people out there who hadn't seen the musical yet. I have never seen the original musical, which recently had a filmed version in theaters for a limited time. I haven't even seen the original 1992 movie starring Christian Bale. So needless to say, I was in for a treat when I was invited to review Chanhassen's production.

Newsies  is a musical that first aired on Broadway in 2012. This electrifying musical is inspired by the real-life events of the Newsboys Strike of 1899. It takes place in New York City where a group of Newsies try to start a revolution after the New York World publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, raises the prices of the newspaper to maximize his profits. However this move ends up jeopardizing many of the Newsies work to sell the papers. Jack Kelly, known as the leader and almost father/big brother figure to many of the newsies, leads the charge in declaring a protest and strike against the publishing giant. Soon Jack realizes it's going to take more than just his group of friends but the newsies all across the state of New York to take on the publishing company.

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First of all, the musical is splendid. The writing is catchy, inspiring and beautifully written. Honestly can you even go wrong with anything written by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Sister Act, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin)? One of the very first songs starts with exhilarating group dance number with one of the catchiest songs in the production, "Carry the Banner." The song really does set the mode for the night with the determined group of young men (and women too! Yes women were newsies too) committed to selling as many "papes" as they can. The sheer volume that this cast reaches is literal music to my ears. They sounded phenomenal.

This cast really threw down the gauntlet this summer for musicals across the Twin Cities. The choreography was single handily the best I have ever seen. Yes that includes traveling  Broadway casts. Despite the size of the stage compared to some other theaters, choreographer Tamara Kangas Erickson brilliantly composes group numbers that look clean, concise and consistent. After the opening number dance, I thought "Can it even get better?" and it did. Again...and again...and again.

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That being said, a choreographer is only as good as the actors she or he works with. This ensemble is everything that is right with Twin Cities theatre. They prove that the theatre scene here is thriving, bustling and shows how spoiled we are to witness it. Aleks Knezevich plays Jack Kelly and is so charming I almost fell out of my seat. He's the perfect amount of charisma and almost sleazy all wrapped into one. His voice is beautiful with a stunning tone that echos through out the entire space. Kersten Rodau plays the swanky theatre owner, Medda Larkin. Her voice is classic and her belt has an almost old time Broadway flair that I absolutely fell in love with. Ruthanne Heyward plays the female lead, Katherine who is the real feminist icon of this production. Despite some wanting her to lead a life of luxury and being a socialite, she refuses by wanting to be a reporter with a career.

This show has a really important theme that I want to touch on as well. It is obvious that this story is more relevant now than it probably ever was. It's about a group of young people who see the injustice, greed and wrongs of society. Do they whine and complain about it? No. They stand up for what they believe in. They fight for what they believe in and courageously don't stop when the going gets tough.

CDT just gets it when it comes to musical theatre. They know exactly what they are doing from all aspects of performance and hospitality with the overall goal of surprising and delighting their patrons. The staging of this musical is spot on due to the real life images that are projected behind the actors at some points during the show. What I adore about CDT is the moments when the actors come into the audience. It just sort of adds that one extra special flair to the production that makes it memorable and fun.

There are plenty of chances to see this production as it runs through the end of September. This production doesn't get produced often so I highly suggest seeing it if you are debating it. Tickets can be purchased here.

*Photos by Rich Ryan Photography.

Sister Act at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre

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Last week I had my first full-blown Chanhassen Dinner Theatre and I think I'm in love. The entire evening was perfect from the minute I walked in the door. Chanhassen is known for their long-running productions, extremely talented casts, and their delicious dinner. I had an amazing time and I'd do it all over in a heart-beat. I'd even pay money to see this fabulous production again! Chanhassen Dinner Theatre is bringing back it's 2015 regional premiere production of Sister Act - A Divine Musical Comedy.

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Sister Act is a hilarious musical comedy about Deloris Van Cartier, a wannabe diva whose life takes a surprising and frightful turn when she witnesses a crime. After seeing someone, from her boyfriend's group of thugs, murder someone. After running to the police for help, they hide her away in the last place anyone would expect - convent! Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she also rediscovers her own in a sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship.

This production was brought back by popular demand and for good reason. Everything about it is perfectly and expertly done. From the innovative and unique set design to the hilarious acting and to the outstanding vocals. The cast in this production is nearly all of the original cast from their 2015 production. Even Regina Marie Williams returns as the one of a kind Deloris Van Cartier and let me tell you...she's brilliant.

I've never seen Williams in a production before but she certainly won over a new fan that night. I spoke with another blogger who told me that she is pretty Twin Cities famous. Her portrayal of Deloris should be award-winning. She has impeccable comedic timing that would even make Whoopi Goldberg laugh her ass off (the one who originated the role in the movie). Her vocals were nothing short of stunning as well. Anytime she was on stage my mouth was either dropped in pure awe of her or smiling from ear to ear as to how hilarious she is. She is the definition of a powerhouse.

The rest of the cast is energetic and unforgettable. They each have their moments of shining whether it's a quick witty comment or a solo here and there. Sister Mary Robert, played by Britta Ollmann, has a voice that I'm surprised didn't legitimately blow the roof off. Norah Long, who plays Mother Superior, is strict, firm but kind and has a beautiful voice. I can't speak highly enough of this cast as they were one of the best group of singing nuns that I've ever seen.

Not only was the performance heavenly but the dinner was sinfully delicious. It really does make the experience unforgettable. Our waiter was superb. He anticipated each and every one of our needs, was just amazing. Both of our dinners were cooked to perfection and I'd drive all the way to Chanhassen just for the tiramisu again as well!

Chanhassen Dinner theatre is not just a theatre. It is not just a stage. It's a destination and an experience. Anyone who loves theatre should treat themselves to a night out and see this production. It's one of the best things I think I've ever seen or at least is easily in my top three favorite productions.

Sister Act runs through February 24, 2018. For reservations, call Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's box office at 952-934-1525 or visit their website here.

*Photo Credit: Heidi Bohenkamp