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WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
In the first class in Media & Society each semester we consider which dystopian novel successfully predicted the world in which we now live: George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The academic consensus favors Huxley, that the truth has not been replaced by lies but rather buried under a barrage of irrelevance. However, the striking production of 1984 directed by Robert Lee that opened at the Underground on Thursday night (October 5) makes a compelling case for reconsidering that verdict. Orwell’s book again became a best-seller in the wake of the inauguration, and contemporary parallels are easy to find.
Lately being a weatherman does not help you know which way the wind blows. Hurricane Harvey was a 3 that became a 4. Irma kept bouncing back between a 4 and a 5. Rumors, the side-splitting Neil Simon farce directed by Julie Ahasay that opened at the Duluth Playhouse on Thursday night (September 21), follows a similar pattern.
It starts off as a tropical depression, gathers strength, hits you with a powerful stream of comedy, and just when you think you are safely in the eye of the hurricane the audience is devastated by a category 5 comic monologue.
Berlin. The early 1930s. Adolf Hitler’s vision of making the Fatherland great again is gaining traction. But at the Kit Kat Klub, they come to hear the music play and blithely ignore the coming storm. Cabaret remains one of the most depressing musicals ever staged. The production directed by Robert Lee that opened Thursday night (August 3) at the Underground can make you feel guilty for applauding the musical numbers while the lives of the characters are destroyed.
Billy Elliot: The Musical will make you cheer, cry — and do both more than once. The heart and soul of this endearing Playhouse production directed by Kelly Grussendorf is Tanner Hagen in the title role. On opening night, the 12-year-old simply blew the audience away with his dancing and delivered on the singing, as well.
What super power would you pick if you were going to be a superhero? That is just one question young and old alike will be asking themselves while watching Imaginarium: Superheroes! The final Theatre for Young Audiences production of the season opened Saturday afternoon (July 8) at the Underground.
Selected from over 200 submissions, the seven one-act plays that comprise the first annual What She Said festival at the Underground offer stories that are — in order — cute, touching, intense, insane, unbelievably absurd, the opposite of boring, and an absolute comic gem.
In Time Stands Still, the timely drama that opened Thursday at the Playhouse, photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Cheryl Skafte) and writer James Dodd (John Pokrzywinski) have come home after Sarah is severely injured by a car bomb in Iraq Dealing with a near-death experience requires physical and psychological rehabilitation, but Sarah bears the burden of extra baggage because James feels immense guilt over having already gone home before she was injured.
For years I’ve wanted somebody to put on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. With the production that opens May 18 at the Underground, we finally get to see the wittiest play in the English language in Duluth. John Worthing (Jason Scorich) has come to town to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax (Louisa Scorich), cousin of his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff (Mike Pederson). Worthing leads a double life, as the steadfast Jack caring for his young ward, Cecily Cardew (Kitara Peterson) in the country — but as his wastrel younger brother “Ernest” when in the city.
The Theatre for Young Audiences’ production of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, which opened Saturday afternoon at the Underground, does indeed take familiar fairy tales and turn them into fairly stupid tales. The result is actually a children’s show where the adults will probably end up laughing more than the kiddies.
Musicals are often about falling in love but rarely about being in love. La Cage aux Folles, which opens April 20 at the Playhouse, is about the latter. There is something wonderful about seeing two people so deeply in love, and even with all the hysterical drag queens running around on stage, ultimately La Cage aux Folles is all about heart.
For the next two weekends, the Underground has been transformed into an actual Clown Bar, which makes perfect sense since the clown noir comedy Clown Bar opened there Thursday night (March 30). Patrons can purchase “insult beers” from the caustic bartender, Shotgun McGhee (Nathan Payne), and assorted drinks that you can apparently order “extra funny,” delivered by Petunia (Cheryl Skafte), a tart-tongued, bubble-blowing waitress.
Ruddigore combines that witch’s curse with a triple-reverse love triangle, with an abbreviated half-twist, that helps put the comic in comic operetta. Director Jeffrey Madison forgoes the overture, moving the explanation of the witches’ curse up to be the show’s prologue. This allows Christa Schulz’s Dame Hannah to delightfully go all expository all over the place.
Tolstoy once wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” However, he never said anything about what crazy families are like, an omission that playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart explore in the charming You Can’t Take It With You, which opened Thursday (February 9, 2017) night at the Duluth Playhouse. Today these characters are quirky but quaint, and their eccentric behavior is more endearing than embarrassing, at least until you get all of them in one room at the same time. Above all, they are just so kindhearted, which may well be what dates the play more than anything else.
When Green Day played “American Idiot” at the MTV Europe Music Awards last November, Billie Joe Armstrong changed the last line of the opening verse to “subliminal mind-Trump America.” If you get the point of that change and endorse the sentiment, then you are going to love the stage musical version of “American Idiot” that opened Thursday night at the Underground. If you are insulted by that line, then you should probably avoid this punk rock diatribe.
The play adapted from Roald Dahl’s book was on the Playhouse stage, but it was also underground because when you looked straight up from your seat all you could see was brown butcher paper. That is because we were in the burrow where this family of foxes lives, which meant wide-eyed kids were walking into about the biggest set design the Playhouse can possibly pull off.
This dream will do. As advertised, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, directed and choreographed by Michael Matthew Ferrell, is far and away the most original vision of a musical to grace the Duluth Playhouse stage in the 10 years I have been paid to pontificate on local theatrical productions.
Cabaret – Life is Beautiful (8-3-2017)
Here’s the thing with casting Billy Elliot: It lives and dies by its lead — a preteen boy who can dance, act, sing and carry an otherwise adult production. So when the Duluth Playhouse selected the musical for this season, the community theater’s keepers knew they would have to conduct at least a regional search for the right actor for the title role.
When play is work and work is play (4-14-2017)
Minnesota is a hotbed for live theater. Rumored to have more theater seats per capita than other metro areas in the U.S., the Twin Cities is at the center of the action. Three Minneapolis companies have won regional Tony Awards, Disney’s The Lion King premiered here, and August Wilson completed some of his most important works after receiving a fellowship from the Playwright’s Center in Minneapolis, premiering many of his plays with a local St. Paul company. These are some of the North Star State’s best stages.
Teen Intensive Productions Running at the Duluth Playhouse (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
Iconic Musical Cabaret Hits The Underground (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
Billy Elliot: The Musical Taps Onto the Duluth Playhouse (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
Superheroes to Invade Duluth Playhouse (Fox 21 News)
Duluth Playhouse Presents One Act Festival (Fox 21 News)
Classic Children’s Books Retold, Stinky Cheese Man comes to Duluth Playhouse (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
The Duluth Playhouse Presents Tony Award-Winning Musical (Fox 21 Local News)
High Stuttin’ Musical Comedy will Tickle Audiences (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
Young Actors Prepare for Disney Classic (Fox 21 Local News)
Disney’s The Lion King Jr comes to Life on Playhouse Children’s Theatre Stage (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
Playhouse Kicks Off 2017 with Road Dahl’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ (Good Morning Northland – WDIO)
Duluth prepares to expand skywalk (Duluth News Tribune)
A key new link now under consideration could unify and expand Duluth’s skywalk system. A resolution headed to the Duluth Economic Development Authority Wednesday would authorize the conceptual design of a new segment of skywalk stretching eastward from the Technology Village building, through the 100 block of East Superior Street — including Fond Du-Luth Casino — and then across Second Avenue East to the Temple Opera building and the adjoining NorShor Theatre.
The many tradespeople working on downtown Duluth’s NorShor Theatre have recognized numerous signs of the past since they began restoring the 107-year-old facility in June 2016. They haven’t, however, identified a dusty, 8 x 10-foot mural they recently found that had been hidden since at least 1941. When the 1910 Orpheum was renovated to become the NorShor Theatre, which opened in 1941, the mural remained hanging above a newly-constructed ceiling.
NorShor on track, on budget; mystery mural discovered (Duluth News Tribune)
After nearly a year of work, the renovation of downtown Duluth’s NorShor Theatre is about 60 percent complete, and the project remains on track to be finished by December.
That was the gist of an update Christine Gradl Seitz provided during a Wednesday morning news conference in the historic theater’s lobby. As the executive and artistic director of the Duluth Playhouse, she expressed confidence the NorShor will be completely ready for the troupe’s opening night performance of the musical Mamma Mia! come Feb. 1, 2018.
Progress MN: Sherman Associates (Finance & Commerce)
Duluth’s Brewers Row Establishes New Brand for Historic Downtown District (The Duluth Experience)
Views on Downtown Tourism: NorShor to spur housing, tourism in downtown Duluth (Duluth News Tribune)
Blacklist Brewery aims for mid-November opening (Perfect Duluth Day)
NorShor Fundraising Begins with a Splash (Business North)
Minneapolis Developer Begins Long-Delayed Revamp of Duluth Theater (Business Journal)