She Loves Me at Lyric Arts

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This past Friday, the Lyric Arts Main Street Stage officially transformed into a lovely perfume shop. This is all due to the opening of their Spring musical, She Loves Me. Whether you're new to this lovely suburban theatre, which was recently highlighted in the Star Tribune (link), or a devoted familiar fan, you will have an absolutely delightful night out when seeing this musical. It's charming, warmly romantic and just downright entertaining. 

She Loves Me is a musical by Joe Masteroff with lyrics and music by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. It revolves around Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash who, despite being consistently at each other's throats at work, are completely unaware they have a lot more common than they think. They are secretly each other's pen pal's met through a lonely-hearts club. The musical originally opened in 1963 but more recently had a successful 2016 revival. The revival was nominated for 8 Tony awards and featured the talents of Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, and Jane Krakowski, who if you haven't seen perform in the Tony awards medley, please do. Krakowski drops into the splits and gets dragged across the stage whilst still singing. 

I was quite unfamiliar with this show until now. I roughly knew what it was about and knew the soundtrack featured a song called "Vanilla Ice Cream," but other than that I was pretty clueless. I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I fell in love with it. Each and every song was engaging and not only fun for the actors but also for the audience. The plot is very simple but somehow so endearing that you can't help but fall in love with it. You know how much I love a show where sometimes I don't have to think about the complexities or themes but more so just sit back and enjoy.

Resident Director Scott Ford cast an absolutely brilliant cast for this musical. There are many familiar faces including James Ehlenz, Kayla Hambek, Brandon Osero, Armando Ronconi, Brendan Veerman and Maxwell Ward. Next to them are more familiar faces and even new ones, making their Lyric Arts debut including the two leads. Katherine Fried plays Amalia Balash and is wickedly talented. An important feature of this musical is the lead female role is a soprano. Many get lost in the flashy vocal styles of new age musicals with belts that last for measures upon measures. However, this one has a soprano and Fried hits it out of the park! Her voice is superb and effortlessly transports you back to perhaps when the musical was first on Broadway. Fried literally had my jaw drop when she hit the highest and purest note in the show, at the end of the song "Vanilla Ice Cream." 

Next to Fried is her leading man, Joseph Hitchock who plays Georg Nowack. Hitchock's tone and portrayal of  Nowack is so dreamy I melted in my seat....multiple times. His voice transcends the meaning of deep and rich. I am extremely excited to see what these two can do in the cities and surrounding suburbs. I will certainly be keeping my eyes on cast lists for their names. Karissa Lade plays fellow clerk, Ilona. Unfortunately, when I saw the show, she could not speak due to illness. However the show must go on and she took that to heart when she walked, danced and mouthed the lyrics and dialogue while Kate Beahen did all the vocals. The joys of live theatre! They both did very well and despite the short rehearsal time they may have had, were both very in sync with each other. 

Another cast highlight for me was Maxwell Ward as the delivery boy, Arpad. I think he was easily a crowd favorite, and certainly was mine. I've had the pleasure of seeing Ward before in Lyric Art's previous holiday show Plaid Tidings and he did not disappoint this time around either. Ward not only delivers each line with humor and excitement but even when the scene does not feature him, he still manages to steal my attention without taking the full spotlight. With multiple comedic bits here and there, I almost want to see it again just to watch him the entire time.

Scott Ford also knows how to pace a show, which is one of the biggest compliments I can give. One of my biggest complaints with many directors is the pacing. At times I feel a show dragging on but Ford directing keeps it moving along. It also helps that I noticed later majority of the song is pretty short, averaging maybe less than 2.5 minutes. A 14-piece orchestra, directed by Louis Berg-Arnold, sounds beautiful despite a few technical sound issues. 

She Loves Me is such a charming musical that it's the perfect show to start spring off. It's light-hearted, joyful and hilarious, the perfect musical rom-com. The cast clearly enjoys the production and performs it with such passion that I really do wish I could go back. Lyric Arts musicals tend to sell out quick so I'll save myself from purchasing one so that someone else can see it!

She Loves Me plays at Lyric Arts through April 15. Tickets can be found at Lyricarts.org.

Superior Donuts at Lyric Arts

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 On February 2, 2017 a new American sitcom premiered on CBS. However, before that, an American playwright by the name of Tracy Letts had his new play premiere on Broadway in 2009 by the same name. That play was Superior Donuts. Fast forward to this past weekend where Lyric Arts made the brave decision to produce this play...and it so paid off.

The play focuses on the relationship between Arthur Przybyszewski, a former 1960s radical who owns a rundown donut shop in Uptown, Chicago, and Franco, his energetic but troubled young African American assistant who wants to update Arthur's shop. While Franco helps to modernize the shop, Arthur is insistent of keeping it the way it is and spending the day reminiscing about his Polish immigrant father. These two begin forming an unbelievable friendship as it gets pushed to the test when previous mistakes from the past come to the surface. 

First of all, let's go back to something I mentioned earlier. Lyric Arts made a brave decision. This is a time for Entertainment when a lot of audiences and companies are pushing for diversity and this show features two African-American characters, a polish immigrants son, and two immigrants from Russia as well. Shows like this are important, especially when we live in a time when the current President of the United States calls other countries "shithole countries." I applaud Lyric Arts for making this decision.

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The cast tells this story so well with each actor giving their given moment. Peter Aitchison keeps the audience chuckling as Max Tarasov, the next door neighbor who owns an electronics store. Martha Wigmore even catches some funny lines here and there as the homeless Lady Boyle. She has a wonderful moment towards the end of the show that had the entire audience in awe and silence. You could hear a pin drop. 

Our two leads are both phenomenal. They include Jeffery Goodson as Arthur and Malick Ceesay as Franco. Actors who want to learn how to act in silence should go see this show. They all can learn just from watching Goodson. He knows how to act his way through complete silence while also still getting every single emotion, thought and memory through to the audience. He was brilliant and certainly an actor I'd like to keep track of for shows around the Twin Cities. 

Malick Ceesay is another actor that I'd love to see perform again. He never skips a beat on keeping the energy high for a large majority of the show. The contrast of his character from the first to the second act showcases his acting chops very well. Ceesay is one who I hope continues to audition and see cast at Lyric Arts. 

The actual show itself is touching. It's been described as a "...soulful play, full of humor and humanity" by Variety and I would agree with that to a certain amount. While I absolutely loved the story of cross-racial and cross-generational friends, there was one thing I didn't quite like. Lett's is an amazing writer when it comes to dialogue. The dialogue in his other plays is phenomenal however Superior Donuts has a few problems in terms of the climax of the production. I try not to spoil exact plot details when I review productions however one of the biggest conflicts of the show seemed to come out of nowhere and then wasn't mentioned again until close to the end. It wasn't the conflict I had problem with, it was just the way it was introduced. 

There are some other significant highlights from this show that I want to say and they include:

  • The scenic design, by Gabe Gomez, is wonderful and nostalgic of your favorite bakery that you would go to as a kid. 
  • Matt McNabb once again directs another fantastic production for Lyric Arts. This production also marks McNabb's 15th production. You can learn more from one of Lyric Art's blog post which is apart of their "Director's Take" series here.
  • The donuts used in the show were provided by Hans' Bakery, a very amazing bakery located not far from the theatre in Anoka. I love to see theatre's join forces with other businesses. It show's a lovely supportive relationship and I loved it.

Superior Donuts opened on Friday, January 12 and runs through Sunday, January 28. This regional premiere is intended for mature audiences and discounted ticket prices through GoldStar, click here.

If Goldstar is sold out, you can buy tickets on the Lyric Arts website and those can be bought here.

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings at Lyric Arts

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The lovely thing about living in the Twin Cities is not only seeing a ton of theatre, but also seeing the abundance of holiday-themed shows that open. A few weeks ago I saw my first one of the year which was How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Children's Theater and now I've seen my second. I absolutely love the holidays so I'm thrilled I was able to see another one joyful holiday production at Lyric Arts in Anoka, Minnesota. Lyric Arts is not only doing one but TWO-holiday shows. Lyric Arts is producing Coney Island Christmas (which runs through December 17) and also Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, which is the one I saw.

This was a very interesting show. Let me preface by saying it was delightful but unlike many shows I'm used to, especially musicals. The musical's plot is easy enough to understand. Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky are sent back to Earth from heaven on a secret mission. Through out the first act they don't know what their mission is as they get heavenly clues from up above. The sing various hits however clues from above let them know they aren't on the right track. They finally realize that they were sent to fulfill the needs of a holiday season by putting on a holiday show. I mention this a lot, but it's nice to see a show that doesn't involve thinking. The plot is simple and cute but the talent is huge and marvelous.

The cast is a quartet of men, all with their own special talents and shining moments. Starting with Christopher Vance, as Jinx. Christopher, a graduate of Viterbo University, I've seen perform before ironically enough. His performance as Abraham in Altar Boyz was great and it wasn't until after the show that I realized I had seen him before. His characterization as a nervous stage fright filled and shy performer was perfection and had the audience giving plenty of "Awww" through out the show. Especially when he broke through his stage fright and sang the lead in "Besame Mucho/Kiss of Fire."

Next is Jake Speikers who played Sparky. Speikers is another actor I've seen perform before in a production of The Little Mermaid as Sebastian. He was peppy and a joy to watch on stage in that production and he didn't disappoint this time. Speikers is completely in his element during this production with his aggressively dynamic portrayal of Sparky. His funny one liners and sides to the audience often had me fanning myself with my program cause I was laughing so hard. Although what really impressed me the most was his voice. They all had fantastic voices and each had something different about them. Speikers has the type of musical theatre voice that fills a room, hits the back row and cuts through the audience. It's strong and lively through out the entire production, never dropping.

Armando Harlow Ronconi plays the worrier, Smudge, wonderfully. The character of Smudge is always worrying about the props, the show and what is going to come next. Harlow knows exactly what he is doing through this show and portrays this character with a perfect ten. Harlow is strong in all three areas of performing. His dancing is great and still stays in check with his character. I've seen Harlow perform in Lyric Arts previous summer production Anything Goes and he brings his tap abilities to this production. Now being the only character that taps, you'd think it'd be a short and fun dance but that is not the case. Harlow comes out with a powerful and advanced technique filled routine. It was one of the handful of moments that made me want to stand up mid-show and look at everyone in the audience to say "THAT IS NOT EASY! BRAVO!" Harlow is solo stage during one of the most beautiful moments of the show and it happens pretty early on. He recalls back when the Plaids were little that they had a dream to have their own holiday special. While he performs the monologue, he shows a tiny set of what their holiday special set would look like. Harlow shines through this moment and tenderly sings a stripped down version of "The Most Wonderful Time / Merry Christmas."

Last, but certainly not least by a long shot, is Maxwell Emmett Ward who plays the leader of the Plaids, Francis. Francis is the caretaker of the group and by far the most confident in his abilities and Ward does this wonderfully. He is by far the most compassionate about the music and the group. Ward has an amazing voice and ability to make the audience laugh. Next to Sparky, he is by far the funniest of the group. Francis has asthma and Ward relishes in the scenes where he gets to play this bit up. During his solo scene, he monologues about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and how it's a horrible story about bullying. This was by far the funniest scene in the entire production and Ward plays is perfectly without going too over the top. His often high pitched rants had the entire audience roaring with laughter. Ward is exceptionally outstanding in this role and was born to play it.

As a quartet these men are fabulous. They really know how to share the stage with each other and let everyone have their moment. While one is shining, the others provide support without taking the spot light through beautifully sung harmonies and complimenting choreography. They have gorgeous voices, charming personalities and amazing on stage chemistry. Their voices are led by the onstage "band." Bradley Beahen plays piano (and was also the musical director) and plays next to Shannon Van Der Reck on an electric bass. Yes. That's right. An electric bass. Pretty bad (b)ass if you ask me. They even have a few bits through out the production that are pretty funny.

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Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings is a delightfully charming and talent filled production. Lyric Arts picked a winner this season and casts it perfectly for the holidays. The production left me smiling and ready for snow and more Christmas music (as I saw it on Dec. 1). It's a spot on show for the entire family to go see as we enter the holiday season.

Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23. Tickets can be bought here.

Flavio Betrayed - A Commedia at Lyric Arts

If you're a thespian and haven't seen a commedia dell'arte show, go see one. Go see this one. Just educated yourself in the ways of commedia. I had the pleasure of actually performing in a commedia while studying theatre in college. It's different, physical, hilarious and extremely entertaining. Lyric Arts is making a bold choice by not only producing a commedia but also a new script by Resident Director, Scott Ford.

First a little background about commedia. Commedia is an early form of professional theatre and originated in Italy. There are many things that go into this form of theatre including masks, stock characters and improv. The performances were based off of sketches and scenarios with very little to the actual script. Now in modern times, theatres often use this as a chance to implement modern references and updated jokes from pop culture or politics for audiences to enjoy.

Flavio Betrayed - A Commedia (FB) is filled with disguise, deceit, insults, romance, and friendship, which is the basic formula for most commedia. It involves mistaken identities, misunderstandings and plenty of laughs. This romantic romp tells the story of our hero, Flavio, whose best friend, Oratio, is trying to steal the hand of his beloved Isabella. However while this happens, Isabella's father is attempting to marry her off to another suitor.

The brilliant thing about watching a commedia is the acting. The acting is everything. Most of the time, as it is encouraged, the sets do not need to be extravagant. When commedia was first discovered in Italy, they often used very quick sets or sheets to depict scenes as they were usually traveling around, performing from city to city. Lyric Art's scenic designer, Peter Lerohl, does this well as he creates three two dimensional type buildings, two houses and an Inn. They are bright and colorful with the doors replaced with curtains, which the actors use often for plenty of bits. The top of the two houses include windows for plenty of other comedic bits. They pay homage to what real commedia is and I respected it greatly.

Since commedia has to do a lot with acting, you need an all star cast who is ready to work hard and willing to try anything. Lyric Arts has done just that with plenty of returning Lyric Arts favorites like Brendan Veerman, Nykeigh Larson, Kyler Chase and Katie Strom-Rozanas (to name a few) along some new ones along with way including one of my new favorite Twin Cities actors, Neal Skoy.

In the spirit of true commedia, I must say that many of these actors were spot on in their portrayals. The entire cast was really on fire the entire performance, never letting energy fall which is extremely important in this stylized type of theatre. Brendan Veerman played the stock character Pantalone (Flaminia's father). The Pantalone is known for his greed and sticking his (usually) large nose in his neighbors business. The Pantalone has a stance that most actors mimic which includes large strides and a hunched back (to protect the money bag that usually is connected to his hip) and Veerman nailed it. His commitment to the part, hilarious physicality of the character and vocal energy had me begging for him to come back onstage every time he left.

Neal Skoy played Isabella's servant Pedrolino was by far the epitome of what commedia should be. Neal has had quite the amount of practice after reading his bio and hearing that he was actually a Professional Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus Clown. Translation? This role is perfect and was written for him. While all actors had an impressive amount of energy, his never fell. From the pre-show before the start all the way to the curtain, his jokes and physicality were absolutely superb. Skoy makes this show.

Other notable mentions include two Lyric Arts alum, Katie Strom-Rozanas as Isabella and Nykeigh Larson as Flaminia. Both of their comical over-dramatic interpretation left many in stitches. It's always an absolute pleasure seeing both of these ladies on the stage, but together is even better! I wish they were in more scenes together because these two both command the stage anytime they are on. Maybe Scott Ford should just write another play about these two characters and have Strom and Larson lead it? Can I start the poll for this?

FB is a hilarious new script that also celebrates Scott Ford's 10 years of theater making at Lyric Arts. I've had the pleasure of working with him before and he is an absolute gem to Lyric Arts and the surrounding theater scene. Lyric Arts recently posted a blog post talking more about his work which you can find here. You can also hear him talk more about the production on their "Director's Take" post found here. I applaud Lyric Arts for successfully producing a hilarious stylized commedia show that not many theatre's in the area would take the chance doing. It was a big risk but obviously payed off.

Flavio Betrayed - A Commedia plays through Sunday, Oct. 29.
For GoldStar discounted tickets, visit this link! http://bit.ly/2fTgmbW
For more information about the show, visit their site. http://bit.ly/2yQYsSX

Always...Patsy Cline at Lyric Arts

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Are you a fan of country music? Do you like musicals based on real events? What about a show led by two women? Well, have I got the show for you! Lyric Arts, in Anoka Minnesota, opened their 2017-2018 season with a remount of their 2016-2017 sold out production of Always...Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley. That's right! It was so good and there was such a high demand for it during its original run that they brought it back for round two!

Always...Patsy Cline about the life and friendship between Louise Seger (played by Lyric Arts and personal favorite Kate Beahen) the famed country singer Patsy Cline (played by last years superstar Gracie Anderson). This simply charming and beautiful story is told through the eyes of Louise Seger and her unlikely friendship with Patsy. The show itself is told in a very interesting format. Louise often breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience while Patsy performs directly to the audience as if you are the audience of the infamous Grand Ole Opry. It's an interesting model and makes for a fun and unique experience, plus it's a jukebox musical so many people recognize a good amount of the songs.

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The talent of these two actresses is simply divine. Beahen, who I've had the pleasure of seeing perform in multiple productions, is perfect in this role. The character she plays invites us into her life and memories of experiencing and meeting Patsy Cline. Beahen commands the stage with off the cusp conversations with audience members and hilarious imitations of other characters within the show. Beahen can make the entire theatre roar with laughter with nothing but a look, and that's one of my favorite things about her acting. She is one actress that I would go to see in a show any show.

Gracie Anderson, who plays Patsy Cline, is so good it's scary. The musical features 24 songs including "Honkey Tonk Merry Go Round," "I Fall to Pieces," "Back in Babys Arms," "Crazy," and one of my personal favorite "Walkin' After Midnight." Her distinct voice is nostalgic of the real life country singer before her untimely death. Anderson's voice hits those smooth and rich tones that Patsy did with the same emotional pull. Patsy Cline had a contralto voice, the lowest of the female voices and Anderson nails it. While her singing is strong, her acting is another thing that perfectly wraps this show up in a beautiful bow. She embodied Patsy and also made us feel like she was an old friend.

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Another notable mention is the use of a live band that is incorporated into the show, which I absolutely love. They sit on a raised stage through out the entire show and even are incorporated in a few scenes. The Bodacious Bobcats Band are made up of all characters with the variation of the name "Bob" including Joe Bob (Louis Berg-Arnold), Billy Bob (Herb Reinke), Jay Bob (Daniel Anderson), Jim Bob (Steve Schmidt), Bobby Sue (Samantha Kuhn Staneart; who also designed the costumes), and of course...Bob Bob (Drew Berg).

This show has a particular fondness to me because of my dad. My dad is a huge Patsy Cline fan (and yes he saw it last year and again this year...and he might see it again.) and I remember him humming her hits through out the house all the time. Becuase of him, I grew up listening to the country legend. This musical was nostalgic for me, personally, not because I'm old enough to have listened to Patsy while she was on the radio, but because it reminds me of my dad. (Disclaimer: My dad is still alive.)

Always...Patsy Cline is a fantastic, heartwarming production about two strong women and their beautiful friendship. Whether you're a long time fan or new to Patsy Cline's music, I guarantee you'll love this show. It has a little something for everyone and the two stars are a force on stage together.

Always...Patsy Cline plays at Lyric Arts through October 1. Tickets can be bought here. This show most likely will sell out, so get your tickets quickly!

Anything Goes at Lyric Arts

Lyric Arts recently opened their closing production of their 2016-2017 season, Cole Porter's Anything Goes. I've seen multiple productions of Anything Goes including the touring production from Roundabout Theatre Company which can be found here.

Anything Goes is a musical about antics abroad the "S.S. American," a ship on its way to London from New York. Reno Sweeney (Jaclyn Juola) is a swanky nightclub singer who boards the ship where she runs into her friend, and stowaway, Billy Crocker (Ty Hudson). Billy hopes that by stowing away on the ship, he can win over the heiress Hope Harcourt (Elizabeth Cassidy) who is aboard the ship with her fiance Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Kyler Chase). Aboard the ship as well is Public Enemy #13 Moon Face Martin (Robert Zalazar) and Erma (Rachel Hudson).

If you've never been to a Lyric Arts production, let me start by saying how much I love their space. It's an intimate 228 space. Scenic Designer Jadyn Vasquez does something different with the set of this production and that is she alludes to the ship being on stage. Most productions of Anything Goes consists of a giant ship in the back ground while her design shows the railing and steps but it is more abstract in a sense. It's beautifully painted with symmetrical colors and I must say I was absolutely in love with it. A huge shout out to Lauri Kraft for her impeccable choreography as well. As I mentioned, Lyric Arts is an intimate space which means it is a little smaller than a lot of stages however Kraft's choreography never once looks messy or too busy in the space. It is clean, precise and, most importantly, so fun to watch!

The talent in this show is spectacular in every sense of the word. Ty Hudson as Billy Crocker had me swooning in my seat. His voice was smooth and he added the perfect amount of charm to the role. Bob Zalazar as Moonface Martin? Could we have asked for a better casting? Zalazar is hilarious in every role he's cast in. Jessica Scott who played Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt, Hope's mother, brought brilliant caricature facial expressions to her role that you could see all the way from Main street. While Beth Cassidy, as Hope Harcourt, had a beautiful voice and dancing, I felt that her acting to be a little underwhelming and had a lack of choices being made. There seemed to only be one or two levels she was playing on. Reno Sweeney's Angels (Falan Dahl Nuhring, Tara Schaefle, Sommer Walters, and Hannah Weinberg-Goerger) were all wonderfully casted as well as they had the perfect amount of sex appeal without going over the top. The Sailor Quartet (James Ehlenz, Alex Johnson, Josh Palmquist and Armando Ronconi) were some serious all-stars in this show as well. During scene changes they were often acting little mini scenes to distract the audience from the changing scenery, and it worked. I rarely noticed the scenes changing.

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Now let's talk about the leading lady Reno Sweeney, played by Lyric Arts new comer Jaclyn Juola. I was blown out of the water. Her portrayal of Reno was something I'd never seen before. With classical musicals like this, it becomes increasingly hard for actresses, especially young actresses, to not copy other portrayals of the character. Reno Sweeney has been played by many great actresses like Patti LuPone, Sutton Foster and Rachel York. That is not the case with Juola. She still manages to create and allow Reno to become her own character. Juola plays this role a bit more swanky and charming than I've seen before versus a total sex pot. Her tone in her singing is beautiful and again, not an exact copy of any of the soundtracks. After the show I managed to introduce myself and confessed I'd love to see her in a Sondheim show sometime. To be able to belt after an intense tap scene is a remarkable skill and perfect for many Sondheim shows. She is easily one of the best Reno Sweeney's I've ever seen. She is certainly a name that I will be looking for in future productions around the Twin Cities.

Lyric Arts continues to shine through out each production. For anyone who has seen a show here before they will know that Lyric Arts consistently produces extremely high quality work and casts some of the most talented performers in the Twin Cities. That being said, this is one of the best productions I've seen on the Lyric Arts stage.

Anything Goes plays at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage through August 6th. Tickets can be purchased here.