Jersey Boys at Hennepin Theatre Trust

Jersey Boys is probably one of the biggest and well known Jukebox musicals. It had a significantly long run on Broadway from 2005 to 2017 and has garnered two U.S. tours. In 2014, Clint Eastwood (Yup...Clint Eastwood) directed a movie adaptation. In 2006 it was nominated for a plethora of Tony awards and even won four of them including Best Musical.

Read More

Something Rotten at Hennepin Theatre Trust

I will waste no time in saying that Something Rotten is one of the best original musicals that has come out in some time. I had the pleasure of seeing it two years ago in New York and let me tell you, it's even better the second time around. This musical (about the creation of musicals during the Renaissance) encompasses everything I love about theatre. It's got your typical flashy musical numbers, catchy songs that will have you humming down the street, and gut busting lines that had me gasping for breath. It really is the perfect musical and I can honestly say one of my top five favorites.

Something Rotten is the hilarious tale of two brothers and their quest to write the next great theatrical classic. Nick and Nigel Bottom are always second best with their theatrical writings and are stuck in the shadow of a bard...no...the bard, William Shakespeare. When Nick, the older of the two, decides to attempt to get ahead of Shakespeare, he hires a soothsayer (or psychic) to predict what the next big thing in theatre will be. He is shocked to discover that theatre will soon evolve to include productions with singing, dancing and acting...all at the same time. The brothers set out to write the world's first musical however they manage to run into a few bumps along the way.

RottenTour_1360.jpg

I first saw Something Rotten from the front row in New York City in the Fall of 2016. The musical itself is so well written, clever and witty that I still can't believe someone thought of it. It is one of the few musicals that I love where I can listen to the whole soundtrack and not skip one. single. song. They are all fabulous. The actual book too (written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell) is one of the wittiest I've ever heard. The humor is so smart and clever that it sets a bar on what it means to be a witty show. Whether it's the musical references or the overly accidental sexual lines by Brother Jeremiah, I was hooked. It's surprising that they didn't win more Tony awards. The original Broadway production was nominated for 10 Tony awards, including a win for Best Featured Actor with Christina Borle as Shakespeare. However it was a tough year that year with revival of The King and I and the original musical Fun Home

The set is a wildly and colorful 2D set that is just magnificent to the eyes. Designed by Scott Pask, it includes a multitude of layers that really bring depth to each and every scene. Gorgeous backdrops help complete the transition from scene to scene and really sell the overall look and feel of this show. The ensemble help create that illusion tremendously with their high energy. There is single handily not one weak link in the entire case. Everyone shows up and is ready to make a great and memorable experience for the whole audience.

The principal cast is on their a-game the entire night as well. This musical is so energetic that it can't be easy to keep up and they all do it wonderfully. When I saw it, Adam Pascal was out (who plays Shakespeare) and Rob McClure was out (who plays Nick Bottom). Before I get into the specifics of how fabulous each actor was in their respected role, I want to take the opportunity to call out the fabulous understudies. Being an understudy is not easy, trust me. I know. I am a veteran actor. Being an understudy on a touring Broadway show? Even harder! Having to know sometimes multiple roles (sometimes multiple principal roles) and needing to jump into that role with sometimes little to no rehearsal time? That is not an easy feature and these two hit it out of the park!

RottenTour_1487.jpg

The show opens with one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack, "Welcome to the Reniassance" where the ensemble really gets a chance to shine along with the Minstrel, who does most of the solo work in this song. The Minstrel, played by Nick Rashad Burroughs, was quite the dancer. I'm wondering if the MN weather got to him because his voice did sound a bit quiet but his dance moves were on fire and made up for it. Nick Bottom, played by Scott Cote, was hilarious and so energetic during every moment on stage including bigger flashier songs. Nigel Bottom, played by Josh Grisetti is so freakishly charming that I wish the role was bigger! His passion for writing comes through so much that you can't help but feel for the guy when the going gets tough.

Other highlights include Brother Jeremiah, played by Joel Newsome, has some of the funniest moments as he plays a uptight puritan preacher who believes theaters are the sins of the earth. However he consistently makes sexual puns through out the show that were the best written lines in the entire script! The campy diva attitude and physical feminine characterization he emotes is hysterical. Portia, Brother Jeremiah's rebellious daughter who is played by Autumn Hurlbert, is a perfect combination of sweet and innocent but also hilarious when she gets a taste of rebellion. Her adorkable moments with Nigel really touch the heart.

RottenTour_1685.jpg

I think the biggest for me was Daniel Beeman, who played Shakespeare. The role is completely redefined as a leather pants wearing, provocative dancing, and sexual bard. In other words, Something Rotten turns Shakespeare into a sort of sex symbol rock star. It's comical because at the time of his real life, he really was treated like an equivalent to a rock star. Beeman plays this role perfectly and honestly has a great air about him. I can't imagine how fun this role must be but he certainly seemed to be enjoying himself!

The bottom (puns) line is that Something Rotten is a hilarious and uproarious dose of geniune fun for all audiences. The creators of the show originally set out to make it even funnier for Broadway fans as it references many of our favorite shows (including Les Miserables, Rent, Chicago, Seussical, South Pacific, Chicago, Annie, A Chorus Line and more). However the beauty of it is that it is still extremely enjoyable for non-Broadway fans. So no matter who you are, you're in for a treat!

School of Rock at Hennepin Theatre Trust

I'll be honest, when I first heard that the hit 2003 movie School of Rock was being developed into a musical I thought "Yeah...it could work." When I heard Andrew Lloyd Webber was the one creating it I thought "Wait...really?" I honestly didn't know what to think about it. On one hand it's a pretty good movie and had some really iconic lines including "You're tacky and I hate you," one of my personal favorites. However Webber? The same guy who wrote music for iconic Broadway productions like The Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar. Could it work? Would it work? Guess what...it worked.

School of Rock: The Musical is about a rock star wannabe, Dewey Finn, who gets kicked out of the band that he originally started. Lost and saddened by losing his band he also receives more flack from his best friend/roommate's fiance who pesters Dewey about paying rent and needing to get a real job. After taking a call, meant for his roommate, he worms his way into a substitute teaching job at a very extravagant private school. One day he overhears the class in their music room and soon puts together a rock band with the students to compete against his former band in the 'Battle of the Bands' contest. The journey they take will change all of their lives as a result.

School-of-Rock-Tour-9-1280x853.jpg

The cast rocks harder than anyone I've ever seen. Never did I think I would be attending a musical production where midst performance people would be holding up their hands with the "Rock On" symbol instead of clapping. The pre-show announcement addressed probably one of the most asked questions about the production and it's "Do the kids really play these instruments?" The answer? Absolutely they do. The show features quadruple-threat kids between the ages 9-12. That's elementary school students for those keeping track at home. Not only do they sing, act and dance but they also play the instruments which makes for an even more fun performance.

Dewey is played by Rob Colletti and really is perfectly cast. I don't want to say he was just like Jack Black (who was the original in the film) but he had his moments that almost seemed homage to Black's performance. His high pitch scream was one of the most notable but he still managed to make the role especially finding moments of compassion and love for the kids involved in the newer scenes that the musical featured. Lexie Dorsett Sharp plays the uptight (who later let's loose) principal who has a really beautiful voice both in a power ballad and aria opera solo. Matt Bittner, who plays Ned, and Emily Borromeo, who plays Patty Di Marco, Ned's fiance, have a hilarious chemistry together as Patty pulls off the overbearing and controlling girlfriend.

The students really are the scene stealers in this production, of course and each have their moment. The kids really do work as a well oiled ensemble letting each student have their spotlight moment with the audience.

  • Ava Briglia, who plays Summer, is absolutely hilarious and annoying at the same time as the know it all student that we all know oh too well from school.
  • Gianna Harris, who plays Tomika, has stunning vocals and plays the shy character until she finally learns to speak up. She is also adopted by two men, something not featured in the original musical, and it's nice to see a same-sex couple even if it isn't the main part of the plot.
  • Phoenix Schuman, who plays Zack, is probably the one who rocks the hardest out of everyone as the band's lead guitarist. His numerous solo's had me honestly wanting to stand mid performance and crowd surf through the audience...but I won't cause audience etiquette is a thing.
  • Theodora Silverman, who plays Katie, has a hilarious physicality of her role as the band's bassist. She often had a grunge rock style facial expressions that had me thinking of a rock version of Wednesday Addams. It was hilarious.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater (Lyrics) really do create a dynamic and engaging score. The music includes numbers that feel very much like Broadway and a musical but also could easily be performed at a rock concert. Probably the anthem of the show is titled "Stick It to the Man" and really does encompass everything that the show is about which is basically show everyone what you're made of and never give up. The movie also features original songs from the movie like "School of Rock" which the band performs at the 'Battle of the Bands' contest.

School-of-Rock-Tour-6-1280x853.jpg

While this show is absolutely incredible from the entertaining music to the wickedly talented kids, it does deal with a rather important theme and that's music education. Something that is particularly interesting about the production is that it parallels the story behind Webber's first production Jesus Christ Superstar which was written for a school and performed in a school. In 1992, Webber set up the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation which supports the arts, culture and heritage in schools. This really resonated with me and I'm sure with many of the audience members who studied the arts in school. I was a proud music kid who sang and played an instrument and also acted in the schools theatre department (shout out to Ms. Johnson and Ms. Kjellberg!). To me, that's one of the most important things the musical touches on.

I think that's what makes this production work so well. It keep's the original film's comedic moments, funny and popular lines and the overall zest for music it served. While it does this, it also highlights important themes like the one I mentioned previously and also brings more insight to the relationship between kids and their parents. The musical really focuses more on the fact that these kid's parents push them to learn, what some would say, more useful skills in life. I don't want to get to political but the kids in this production reminded me of the kids who are organizing the march to end gun violence after the shooting in Florida. They stand up for what they believe in and what they want their lives to be and that is truly inspiring.

School of Rock: The Musical is not only funny but it's inspiring and full of hit songs that had me bobbing my head and tapping my foot all the way home. For anyone who is a fan of the movie, I highly suggest you see this. It's a perfect production for new theatre fans and hopefully pulls in new theatre goers into our lovely word of art. School of Rock: The Musical is at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis through March 11th. Tickets can be found here.

*Photo credit to Matthew Murphy

The Humans at Hennepin Theatre Trust

MN_1718_1184x864_Humans-1-592x432.jpg

Hennepin Theatre Trust continues their trend in bringing the Tony Award winner for Best Play to the Twin Cities. I believe last season was the first time they did this with the play The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time. This year Stephen Karam turn with his award winning play, The Humans. I was very intrigued going into this production for one main reason: it was a play...and it was at the Orpheum. I personally have never seen a play there before. I'm used to big flashy musicals with dance numbers and numerous costume changes. This was an interesting change of pace for what I'm normally used to seeing.

The Humans takes place in an apartment in New York City, specifically lower Manhattan, during a families seemingly harmless Thanksgiving dinner. Erik Blake, the father of the family, breaks tradition and changes it up this year by bringing the family to his daughters apartment in NYC versus having everyone over to theirs in Pennsylvania. As the day continues, the Blake family soon realizes that everyone has their secrets and their deepest fears soon come to reality.

Let me start by saying that I've been writing for many years. I work in public relations which means I basically write and communicate for a living. However my skill level as a writer is no where near the caliber it should be to explain how utterly amazing this play is.This beautiful script is written by Stephen Karam and deserves every award it won including Best Play for the Tony Awards, New York Drama Critics Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama League Award. A semi finalist for the Pulitzer for Drama as well!

The production was a refreshing take on the human connection, especially between family members. It deals with sickness, loss, religion, the economy and more themes that no matter where you come from, you'll end up saying "Oh that so sounds like my family." This new American classic will, and should, be studied in every single theatre undergraduate class available with it's riveting dialogue and exceptional raw scenes. It was relatable, real, raw and full of emotion that had me hooked from start to finish. I will admit, I don't see plays too often. A large majority of the shows I see are musicals and this play rejuvenated my drive to see more powerful stories like this.

THE_HUMANS_- _Richard_Thomas__Pamela_Reed__Daisy_Eagan__Luis_Vega__Therese_Plaehn._Photo_by_Julieta_Cervantes.jpg

While it was full of emotion, it had a lot of comedic moments as well which I loved. Some of the lines a little darker than others but the comedic timing and acting of the cast made it simply superb. Speaking of the cast, could they have been more incredible? There family dynamics and chemistry were so on point, you'd think they were actually real life blood related. The cast really brings Karam's scenes to life as they fight one moment only to laugh and change the topic the next. I think we can all relate to these scenes so well with our own families which makes this production all the more relatable.

Couple highlights from the cast specifically include Pamela Reed who plays the mother, Deirdre Blake, of the family and she's probably my favorite. Her delivery, dedication to her kids and love for them shined through the entire production. Richard Thomas plays the father, Erik Blake, and proves to be a perfect father figure with the perfect amount of love for his daughters. Together these two form a beautiful couple, who despite their issues (won't spoil it) they seem to always try to put their family first. Lauren Klein plays, who plays Fiona "Momo" Blake, is the ailing grandmother with Alzheimer. While she is quiet or sleeping for a majority of the show, her character is so important to the overall dynamics between everyone. She also was in the original cast on Broadway!

The Humans runs about 95 minutes and has no intermission. Typically Broadway plays don't go on a National Tour so you know that it's got to be fantastic just for that fact alone. Tickets for this production are still available and can be bought hereThe Humans runs through Feb. 13 - Feb. 18.

SIDE NOTE/FUN FACT: I think it's hilarious that on the eve of Valentine's Day (aka Galentine's Day) I saw a play with Pamela Reed who plays Leslie Knope's mother on the hit show Parks and Recreation.

The Phantom of the Opera at Hennepin Theatre Trust

MN_POTO_HTTHomepage.jpg

One of Broadway's longest-running and highest-grossing musicals (approximately over $1 billion) is back in Minneapolis and bigger than ever. That's right, Andrew Lloyd Webbers stunning masterpiece has returned and I honestly can't even handle how amazing it is. I saw the last tour and I was blown away from the back row in the balcony. This time I was even closer (sixth row) and was once again amazed by the sheer genius of this production. I think a lot of people underrate The Phantom of the Opera. It's a musical that a lot of theatre fans think "Yes. Phantom. It's a great show." But really when I see it or listen to it I can't help but geek out about it. The score is beautiful. The lyrics are stunning and (when done right) the set is superbly superior than many other musicals.

This production is a thrilling new production with newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design. It includes a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions currently on tour. For those who aren't familiar with the production, it is originally based off of the classic novel Le Fantome de L'Opera by Gaston Leroux. Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a masked figure who lurks beneath the catacombs of the Paris Opera House. He falls madly and deeply in love with ballet dancer in the chorus and is also a young soprano, Christine. He devotes much of his time to nurturing her talents and teaching her how to be an incredible singer. However when a new creative duo purchase the Opera house and an old friend of Christine arrives, how far will the Phantom go to keep control?

01. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - Derrick Davis and Eva Tavares - photo Matthew Murphy.jpg

Derrick Davis plays the Phantom and is stunning, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping--need I go on? He plays the Phantom with the perfect balance of romance and creepy stalker. At times you see his love for Christine and it feels genuine and other times you realize how much of a tortured soul he is. Davis is also the first African-American I've seen in the role and it's refreshing (similar to the Ordway's choice to cast Warbucks as an African-American male) to see. Davis has one of the most versatile voices I've heard in many years. He truly can sink to a rich deep tone while soaring above to new notes in a beautiful falsetto. 

Eva Tavares places Christine Daae and does so beautifully. Her acting is innocent until the end where she becomes even braver than she started. The most impressive thing by far is her soprano voice. I think a reason why I love this production so much is it lets actresses of a different caliber shine. It's not about how long and loudly they can belt and riff. It's just a nice change of pace between most of the type of musicals I see. She has absolute control of her voice with each note and phrase and it's absolutely breathtaking. What is better than these two separate? Well, when they are together, of course. The minute we hear that oh familiar organ playing the title song I can't but help to smile. 

05. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - Eva Tavares - photo by Matthew Murphy.jpg

Every single member of this cast is on fire including the ensemble. My absolute favorite song from this musical is Masquerade and this cast did not disappoint. It's a blur of fabulous costumes, beautiful set pieces, and fantastic harmonies. This song really shows off the whole cast very well especially leading into the Phantom's menacing entrance. 

Because of this show's rich and deep history, there are quite a large amount of fun facts that Hennepin Theatre Trust shared with us. They really make the show even more interesting to watch knowing these so I thought I'd also share them with you all:

  • This show incorporates most of the Maria Bjornson designs from the original production
  • There are a few pieces from the original production that are over 245 years old used in this production.
  • There are over 1200 pieces used during the show
  • There are over 75 local stagehands hired in ever market to load the production into the theatre
  • 20 trucks are used to move the production from city to city
  • The original cast recording, with over 40 million copies sold worldwide, is the best selling cast recording of all time
  • The show has won more than 70 major theater awards including seven 1988 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
  • The chandelier has over 6000 beads (632 on each strand) and it weighs 1 ton.
06. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - The Company performs Masquerade - photo by Alastair Muir.jpg

The Phantom of the Opera is a magically breathtaking production and should be seen by anyone who considers themselves a sliver of a theatre fan. Luckily this production runs a bit longer than a large majority of Broadway Across America productions with a three-week engagement. It runs through December 31st. More information, including how to buy tickets, can be found here.

Waitress at Hennepin Theatre Trust

1320x605-Waitress17-Slideshow-1-cc2261ea52.jpg

When I first heard that 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles was writing the music and lyrics to a new musical, based off the 2007 film of the same name starring Keri Russell, I knew I had to see it. I often don't spend time following a musical from rumor to workshop to Broadway but this one I did. I was ecstatic to hear that it would be touring and all my expectations were blown out of the water last night. Not only was it a stellar production but it really wasn't just a night out to see a show. It was a complete and full circle experience from the minute I walked into the historic Orpheum .

Waitress made headlines when it first opened on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in April 2016. Not only did Sara Bareilles write the music and lyrics, but it also included an all-female creative team. Direction, writing, choreography, costume design, musical direction - all by women. While it did not win any of the four Tony Awards it was nominated for (Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actress and Featured Actor in a musical) it is still running on Broadway. One thing I get sad about after the Tony Awards is hearing about all the productions that will close after not winning, however, Waitress beat those odds. It is still going strong and included many popular stars in leading roles. Recently Bareilles even played the leading role for a limited engagement.

Bryan-Fenkart-and-Desi-Oakley-in-the-National-Tour-of-WAITRESS-1-Credit-Joan-Marcus-0054r-1280x853.jpg

Waitress tells the story of Jenna, a waitress at a local dinner in a small town. She is known for making countless of pies, fresh, each day for the diner. Her two best friends Becky and Dawn work at the diner with her and are some of her biggest supporters. While Jenna dreams of getting out of her loveless and abusive marriage, she discovers she is pregnant. A pie baking contest with a large prize and the town's new doctor give her a shed of light and may offer her a chance at a fresh start. She slowly starts an affair with the doctor. Soon Jenna must summon the strength and courage to rebuild her own life and finally put herself, and her soon to be child, first.

The book, written by Jessie Nelson, is beautiful. It's empowering, delightfully funny, charming and, honestly, perfect. All the characters are so down to earth and real. Many times we see musicals with out of this world personalities and scenarios that audiences would only see in a musical, however, Waitress gives a fresh new take on what a plot can be. Each character is struggling with their own problems that many audience members can relate to. It really does resonate with audiences and I think that's so important and noteworthy.

Bareilles writes a commanding and captivating score for this story. There is a nice variety of styles of music from quirky fun songs like "When He Sees Me" which is about Dawn feeling anxious and uncomfortable about going out on a date and "The Negative" which takes place in a bathroom with Jenna, Dawn and Becky as they wait for Jenna's pregnancy test. The music also features powerful songs like "She Used To Be Mine" which is sung by Jenna towards the end of the show. The scene in which she performs this easily tops my favorite performances I've ever seen. Yes, that's right. Ever. This leads me into how utterly remarkable Desi Oakley is as Jenna.

Desi-Oakley-as-Jenna-in-the-National-Tour-of-WAITRESS-Credit-Joan-Marcus-0081r-1280x861.jpg

Oakley embodies what exactly what Jenna is. She is sarcastic but caring. She struggles but also is strong and courageous. She emotes on stage and commands the entire audience, even the back row, to feel what she is feeling. At times I completely related to her on a personal level. Am I in an abusive relationship and pregnant? No, but the way she connects with the audience you feel exactly what she felt. Her voice is a showstopper. She has the ability to effortlessly change from upbeat songs like "Bad Idea" to powerful ballads like "She Used To Be Mine." The longest and biggest note of the show is at the end of this ballad and for a moment I thought the audience was going to stand mid-show. The applaud certainly was longer than most and well deserved. I had goosebumps through this entire song.

The rest of the cast is completely on their A game as well. I really appreciated the role of Dr. Jim Pomatter, played by Bryan Fenkart. He's the definition of a-dork-able. It's refreshing to see a production where the male love interest isn't the brooding, muscular, strong, handsome man. But instead we get a dorky, bumbling doctor...who is also handsome. Nick Bailey plays Jenna's husband, Earl and is great at making the entire audience hate his guts. Becky, played by Charity Angel Dawson, has amazing comedic timing and plays well off of Oakley and Dawn, played by Lenne Klingaman. A fun fact was that Dawson actually played the hilarious role of Nurse Norma in the original Broadway Cast. A true full circle moment.

Overall, Waitress is a beautiful story. It has a variety of themes including friendship, being courageous, taking a risk and believing in yourself. The music is amazing, catchy and will have you rushing to download it. Each actor sticks out in their own way but when they come together as an ensemble they knock it out of the park. This production is literally wrapped up and baked in a beautiful pie and I highly recommend everyone see it. Opening night was in fact sold out, so be sure to get your tickets as soon as possible!

Charity-Angel-Dawson-Desi-Oakley-and-Lenne-Klingaman-in-the-National-Tour-of-WAITRESS-Credit-JM-0769r-1280x833.jpg

Waitress runs at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, Nov. 26. Performance times are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.