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Minneapolis Scene
by Steven LaVigne
February 2006
Both the Outward Spiral Theater and Gaydar Productions have gone on (possibly permanent) hiatus, so it is up to the storefront and semiprofessional theatres to pick up the slack. This isn’t as desperate a situation as you might expect.

Follies

John Command, the Artistic Director of the Bloomington Civic Theatre frequently relies on razzle dazzle musicals he has directed in the past. It was something of a surprise when the area premiere of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s masterpiece, Follies, showed up on this season’s playbill.

I needn’t recount the virtues of this glorious, but flawed work. Ted Chapin, Craig Zadan and Harold Prince are among those who have already expounded about it. I will state, however, that Follies is the musical against which every show since has been measured, because it is about everything, positive or negative, that the musical theatre encompasses.

The show is about a party of Follies performers at a decaying theatre. The four leads appear to be mismatched, and the show explores the follies of love, youth, adultery, divorce, and old age.

Sondheim’s score, his richest and best, is not only filled with character songs, but they resemble production numbers heard at the Follies, as well as pastiche numbers that conform to the style of Goldman’s libretto. As the musical was being developed, director Harold Prince explained that the show must ultimately be about “rubble in the daylight,” using the famous photo of Gloria Swanson standing in the ruins of the Roxy for inspiration.

Command assembled a brilliant cast, headed by Kirsten Iverson as Sally, Karen Weber as Phyllis, Chet Taylor as Buddy, and Carl Shoenborn as Ben. They were more well supported by Debbie Briggs, Shana Eisenberg, Shanti Jensen and Brian Kess as their younger counterparts, Bonnie Erickson as Carlotta, Michael Fischetti as Weissman, and Sally Ann Wright as Stella.

Wright and the women’s ensemble delivered a marvelous “Who’s that Woman,” while Denise Tabet’s Hattie brought the right mix of dry humor and pizzaz to “Broadway Baby.” Weber is to be commended for her delicious rendition of “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” which features Sondheim’s most tongue-twisting lyrics.

I’ve waited 35 years to see Follies, and I enjoyed the Bloomington Civic Theatre production enormously. I hope I have the opportunity of seeing a return engagement.

The Boy Friend

Fifty years ago, Julie Andrews made her American debut in “The Boy Friend,” Sandy Wilson’s loving salute to the 20s, when such composers as Rodgers and Hart, Harbach and Youmans, and Cole Porter were writing them “like they used too.”

A charming boy-meets-girl show, many of us are familiar with it only through the 1972 film version starring Twiggy. For its half-century anniversary, The Goodspeed Opera House and Bay Street Theatre (where Andrews’ daughter, Emma Walton, is Executive Director) convinced Andrews to make her professional directing debut. The response was so positive that it went on tour, playing at the Ordway Center in December, and we can hope it will land at, say the Music Box or the Belasco for a Broadway run.

Played against (Andrews’ ex husband) Tony Walton’s cartoon-inspired sets and in costumes co-designed by Walton and Rachel Navarro, Andrews’ rendition is a charming response to those overproduced spectacles now passing for musicals.

While Jessica Grove’s Polly wasn’t always the energetic wonder that drives the show, Sean Palmer’s Tony, Andrea Chamberlain’s Maisie, Rick Faugno’s Bobby, and Nancy Hess’ Madame Dubonnet covered well. “The Boy Friend” was never meant as more than enjoyable spoof of classic musicals, but this fairly pleasurable revival is worth your while as a change of pace evening.

Reeling

Children’s Theatre Company artistic director Peter C. Brosius has long wanted to stage a “silent movie.” Barry Kornhauser’s script for “Reeling” has giving him the opportunity.

The remarkable Dean Holt appears as the Little Fellow, whose Beloved rejects him in favor of a movie career. He follows her to the big city, where his first job as a street cleaner interrupts the Big Man, on his way to the studio to shoot something that resembles a DeMille epic. The Little Fellow gets there first, everyone assumes he is the director and after raising havoc, it moves toward its inevitable ending.

Both Brosius and Kornhauser have studied silent comedy, specifically the work of Buster Keaton, with several of his most beloved moments, from works as diverse as “The General,” “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” “Our Hospitality,” and the “Police Chorus” have been recreated.

Along with Holt’s astounding athletic performance, Zach Curtis’ Big Man and Rebecca Lord’s Beloved — she bears a strong resemblance to Janet Gaynor — lead an extraordinary ensemble in one of the finest shows ever staged by the Children’s Theatre Company.

Cannibal: The Musical

South Park co-creator Trey Parker’s college graduate project was a movie musical (available on dvd) based on the story of Alferd E. Packer, the only convicted cannibal in American history. Sole survivor of a journey into the Colorado Territory that resulted in starvation, insanity and dismemberment. Packer tells his side of things to reporter Polly Prye just before his hanging.

As the drama unfolds, there are songs, dances, jokes, cross-dressing, and a few jokes about fudge. Parker revised the show for the theatre, and Mechanical Division presented the smashing area premiere. It is evident that Parker admires Richard Rodgers, because with a score that includes such toe-tapping tunes as “Shpadoinkle,” “When I Was on Top of You” (about a horse), and “Don’t Be Stupid,” the show is really just a grittier update of “Oklahoma.”

Josh Mitchell as Packer, Jessica Bergman as Polly, Todd Karner as George, Angela Walberg in several roles, and Jessica Nievinski as Liann, lead an ensemble that makes director Ice Wang’s production a terrific show for an up-and-coming storefront theatre.


There is a rumor that Gaydar Productions will return with a production of “Dirty Little Showtunes” sometime this Spring, but until then, the GLBT audience of the Twin Cities will simply have to take what we can get. The Guthrie has scheduled “Hamlet,” prior to their move into new quarters; the Jungle Theatre will deliver “I Am My Own Wife,” and the Minnesota Opera is premiering Joseph Merrick, “Elephant Man.” It could be a beautiful theatrical Spring here in Minneapolis.


“Maybe if we start listening, history will stop repeating itself.” - Lily Tomlin


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