Sheryl Jensen, for the News Tribune
Abracadabra! "The Illusionists/Live from Broadway" conjured up an escape from a cold, blustery Duluth "spring" night Tuesday, warming up the DECC auditorium crowd with an entertaining mix of tricks, stunts, sleight of hand, physical feats, mind reading, a few special effects and a whole lot of comedy.
The littlest audience members were happily dancing, clapping, shouting, bouncing and giggling their way through the antics of the colorful animal characters for the opening matinee of "Winnie the Pooh," presented by the Duluth Playhouse's Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA). By contrast, 2-year-old Arthur, sitting next to me on his grandmother's lap, was perfectly still, spell-bound and mesmerized, never making a peep throughout the entire show.
A coupla gay penguins, a pair of heterosexual hawks, and a flock of bird-brained humans all share the "nest" in Renegade Theater's hilarious and touching "Birds of a Feather." The play's main plot line follows the true story of Roy (John Pokrzywinski) and Silo (Rob Hadaway), two inseparable male Central Park Zoo chinstrap penguins who became partners, adopted an egg, and hatched and raised a chick together.
The original 1960 off-Broadway production of "The Fantasticks" ran for 42 years, (17,162 performances), making it the world's longest-running musical. Its winning charm is in the universality of the love story, the bare bones set and props, and its timeless musical score. The simple plot features a boy (Ben Peter) and a girl (Rachel Williams) who fall hopelessly in love, and their parents, Hucklebee (Cathy Berggren) and Bellomy (Kirby Wood), who hatch up an elaborate plot, ostensibly to break them up, but really to bring them together.
Can I get a "Hallelujah" and a "Glory Be"? The sisters of the Queen of Angels Cathedral are rockin' the house at UMD in the musical "Sister Act," directed by William Payne. Based on the 1992 film comedy with Whoopi Goldberg, the musical is set in Philadelphia in the 1970s. A down-and-out singer named Deloris Van Cartier (Tolu Ekisola) fancies herself as the Donna Summer disco queen of South Philly.
Tales of murder, the macabre and midnight's bloodiest deeds have long held the power to capture our darkest imaginations and haunt our dreams. Composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim mixes the style of the Victorian "penny-dreadfuls" and the Grand-Guignol in Paris, with their naturalistic and amoral horror stories, to create his classic "Sweeney Todd/The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
With a mostly barely stage and only a couple pieces of scaffolding, a table, a few remnants of fabric and some scattered gold pieces of paper, 10 UMD actors bring to devastating life a 10th century play by the medieval poetess and playwright Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. Director Jenna Soleo-Shanks, a theatrical historian and medievalist, adapted the ancient text, "The Conversion of the Harlot Thais," bringing a complex and imaginative vision to the production.
Rain, white heather, green land, family feuds, death and unspoken love — Renegade Theater's "Outside Mullingar" has all the ingredients for a supremely Irish "stew" of a play. Playwright John Patrick Shanley won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for "Doubt." He also won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film "Moonstruck."
Paying homage to such classic musicals as "Gypsy" and "Mame" and theatrical soap operas "All About Eve," and even "Valley of the Dolls," the Underground Theater's production of the musical comedy "Ruthless" drew lots of laughs from the opening night audience. The show succeeds on its satirical script and lyrics, providing ample opportunities for actors to overact and "chew the set" at will. The score, however, is eminently forgettable without a single standout song for the audience to hum on their way out.
A love story told in letters from two brilliant but damaged poets seems an unlikely topic for an engaging, comic and tragic play. Yet so it is, with Sarah Ruhl’s “Dear Elizabeth,” Renegade’s current production.