Dig Deeper – The Wit to Escape

January 21st, 2015 No comments »

Drinking-Tea-in-London-during-the-BlitzThe word “escapism”, defined as “the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc. ,” first appeared in common usage, somewhat unsurprisingly, during the Great Depression. Since then, entire industries have sprung up to enable people to remove themselves from the rigors of daily life. The word “escapism” often carries a negative connotation – suggestive of people who are unhappy and unable or unwilling to connect with others or take meaningful action to change their lives or the world around them.

However, some artists have challenged the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. C. S. Lewis was fond of humorously remarking that the usual enemies of escape were jailers and a mind imprisoned by reality could refresh its imaginative powers through escape. Similarly J. R. R. Tolkien argued for escapism in fantasy literature as the creative expression of reality within a secondary (imaginative) world.  Neil Gaiman responded to a similar question about the value of “escapist” literature:

“[It] can actually be a real escape from places where you feel bad, and from bad places.  It can be a safe place you go, like going on holiday, and it can be somewhere that, while you’ve escaped, actually teaches you things you need to know when you go back, that gives you knowledge and armour and tools to change the bad place you were in.”

For some time before 1941 Coward had been thinking of a comedy about ghosts.  After his London office and flat was destroyed in the Blitz, Coward wanted to distract the public from the horrors of World War II.  Despite air raid sirens screaming outside during performances, Blithe Spirit never once mentions the war and managed to keep audiences laughing (literally) as bombs were falling.

“Blithe Spirit” Audience Review–Roxy Orcutt

January 12th, 2015 1 comment »

by Roxy Orcutt

From the moment I laid eyes on the promotional artwork for Lyric Arts’ production of Blithe Spirit this past summer (a Ouija board with the planchette hovering over “Yes”), I was sold. A comedic ghost story? Was this play written just for me? I couldn’t believe I had to wait until January to experience this show, but last night I finally had my opportunity, and it was phenomenal.

Blithe Spirit centers on a writer named Charles Condomine in early-1940’s England. Charles invites a well-known medium, Madame Arcati, over to his home he shares with his second wife, Ruth, for a séance in order to conduct research for his upcoming novel. The Condomines, along with their friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, expect nothing more than a laugh from the eccentric Madame Arcati. Turns out, while Madam Arcati may not be the realest of the real deals, she still manages to successfully conjure up the spirit of Charles’s long-dead first wife Elvira, who only Charles can see, and is eager to win back her spot as the original Mrs. Condomine.

The cast couldn’t have been more perfect. Ryan Nielson had the tricky job of portraying Charles Condomine, on one hand, a somewhat callous, egotistical and occasionally preening character, and on the other, a frazzled, conflicted man who really only wants to do right by both his wives, living and dead. Ryan walked this line with perfection, delivering not only on the love-to-hate-him moments, but also hitting the more sympathetic notes flawlessly as well.

Jessica Scott, who portrays Charles’s current and very much alive wife Ruth, was outstanding. Jessica’s comedic timing and facial expressions received some of the biggest laughs of the night, along with her ability to act with and around someone she isn’t able to see in her scenes with Elvira was nothing short of masterful.

Like the titular blithe spirit, in breezes our ghost, Elvira partway through the first act. Allie Munson moved like an otherworldly, ethereal creature, even when she was arguing with Charles’s or attempting to make Ruth’s life difficult, she never once transformed physically back into the land of the living, always seeming to glide across the stage in the most spirited of ways.


Grif Sadow (center) stars as the sophisticated, but eccentric Madame Arcati.

The moments Grif Sadow’s Madame Arcati was on the stage the audience could hardly contain their laughter. Carrying on about her bicycle, Ovaltine and conducting séances in the most unusual of ways (which included some killer dance moves), Madame Arcati’s eccentricities were rivaled only by Hannah Weinberg’s portrayal of Edith, the Condomines’ intense servant, who has one of the funniest moments in the entire show, involving toast, a serving tray and a bell.

The cast not only stood out individually, they also moved beautifully together in the more physically demanding comedic scenes. Pratfalls, choreographed arguments and an honest-to-goodness spit all make an appearance in Blithe Spirit, but the way this cast handled these traditional physical comedy moments was an absolute blast.

I wanted to wrap up my review with a comment on the costuming. I could write another 500 words on how beautiful the pieces were, how gorgeous everyone looked, what talent and hard work must have gone into creating the costumes, but I will just say this to the Lyric Arts’ costume department; if any of Ruth Condomine’s or Violet Bradman’s dresses disappear, don’t look in my direction.

I am already planning on seeing Blithe Spirit again. I’m having a hard time deciding who I should take with me because I feel this show is something truly anyone can, and will enjoy, and best of all, Blithe Spirit leaves you feeling like you’re walking on air.

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt, The Halloween Honey, is a local author and theater enthusiast. Her book, “History and Hauntings of the Halloween Capital,” explores Anoka, MN, its spooky tales, colorful characters, and why it is named the “Halloween Capital of the World.” It is available for sale online at www.HalloweenHoney.com.

“A Christmas Carol” Review – Kylie Schultz

November 29th, 2014 1 comment »
Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz

‘Tis the season. It’s Christmas (almost), the time for eggnog, Christmas music, and much beloved traditions. We all know the story behind a Christmas Carol. We’ve heard it read or read it ourselves; we’ve seen the movies and parodies; somehow or another, even if you aren’t a fan, we all know the story.

I, personally, like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But, many stagings are the same retelling of the same story. It’s hard to take such a time-honored Christmas tradition and remake it into something fresh without changing all that makes it classic.

I feel like I don’t need to tell you that Lyric Arts has done just that, and done it with flying colors.

Director Daniel Ellis weaves a marvelous and fantastical retelling of such a wonderfully classic story. Without modernizing the Victorian setting and language, Ellis has transformed the setting with a Steampunk twist. The story is at times funny, alarming, and always heartwarming. The costumes are beyond outstanding, transfixing me to the Ghost of Christmas Past, and causing me to audibly gasp at the Ghost of Christmas Future. Ellis has created a wonderfully believable setting without causing the audience to feel out of place or time with the story.

And please, can we talk about Ebenezer Scrooge? What a performance by lead actor Richard Brandt. Again, it must be said that it is hard to stage a show that is not only being staged simultaneously by other theaters, but that has been staged thousands of times by theaters across the world. Brandt successfully and freshly portrays the character of Scrooge and maintains your ire and affection from Act 1 to Finale.

There are many ways to get your A Christmas Carol fix this holiday season. I highly recommend that you add to your repertoire of more conventional retellings and delve into the world that Ellis and the spectacular cast and crew of Lyric Arts Anoka’s A Christmas Carol so eloquently enact.

Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.

Dig Deeper – Steampunk Style and the Industrial Revolution

November 19th, 2014 No comments »
watchworks vendor 2

Costume Design: inspirational image for the Christmas Ghosts

“Steampunk” is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future or in a fantasy world that employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Cider Vendor Cart.Step 2

Original design and construction of Cider Vendor Cart by Nate Otto

Time and the impact of industry on human lives are themes found in our production of A Christmas Carol:  A Ghost Story of Christmas and are reflected in the clockwork and steampunk elements of the costume and prop design.  Tickets are going fast so book now for this haunting and beautiful version of a classic holiday tale.

Dig Deeper – A View Into Victorian Life

November 5th, 2014 No comments »

what jane austen knewNext up on the stage for Lyric Arts is A Christmas Carol:  A Ghost Story of Christmas – adapted by Michael Wilson from the classic novel by Charles Dickens.  Raised as the second of eight children in a family struggling to survive the tremendous economic shifts taking place in Britain during the Victorian era (1837 – 1901), Dickens’ own life experiences were reflected in his writing.  While his father was in debtor’s prison, 12-yr old Dickens was forced to leave school to work at a boot-blacking factory earning six shillings a week.  At age 15 he had to drop out again and work as an office boy to contribute to his family’s income.  After he became a successful novelist, Dickens toured the world to promote his books, but also took advantage of his celebrity status to advocate for social and economic reforms and for an end to slavery.

How To Be A VictorianAs part of the partnership between Lyric Arts Main Street Stage and the Anoka County Library, the resource librarians have provided a wonderful list of books available in their catalog about the everyday Victorian life experienced by the characters in A Christmas Carol.  Check out the titles below, find more in our Audience Guide, and we’ll see you at the theater!

How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life:  Ruth Goodman believes in getting her hands dirty. Drawing on her own adventures living in re-created Victorian conditions, Goodman serves as our bustling and fanciful guide to nineteenth-century life.

Inventing the Victorians:  Matthew Sweet provides a compact and mind-bending whirlwind tour through the soul of the nineteenth century, and a round debunking of our assumptions about it.

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London:  From Judith Flanders, the critically acclaimed author of The Invention of Murder, comes an extraordinary, revelatory portrait of everyday life on the streets of Dickens’ London.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist–The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England:  Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details on the Church of England, sex, Parliament, dinner parties, country house visiting, and a host of other aspects of nineteenth-century English life—both “upstairs” and “downstairs.”

Dig Deeper – The Art of Parody

October 22nd, 2014 No comments »

blazing saddle movie posterThe Merriam-Webster’s definition of “parody” (also known sometimes as a send-up, a spoof or a lampoon) is “a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule.”  It comes from the Greek word “parōidía” which means “a song sung along side another.”  Examples of parody exist in literature, art, and music from all over the world and throughout human history.

Sometimes the reputation of a parody outlasts the reputation of what is being parodied.  Don Quixote is much more well-known than the traditional knight-errant tales it mocks and Lewis Carroll’s parodies of Victorian verse are more famous than the original poems.  Mel Brooks, considered by many as a master of the genre, produced films parodying several different styles including Blazing Saddles (the Western), Spaceballs (science fiction adventure),  and High Anxiety (Hitchcock suspense).

spaceballs poster   The Concise Encyclopedia describes how parody differs
from other comedic styles such “travesty”, which, for
example, specifically treats dignified subjects in a trivial
manner in order to achieve a comic effect.  “Parody mercilessly exposes tricks of manner of its victim and therefore cannot be written without a thorough appreciation of the work it ridicules.”  In other words, the best kind of parodies come from a place of love.

“Young Frankenstein” Review- Emily Picardi

October 22nd, 2014 No comments »

Emily Picardi

First things first (I’m the realest- sorry, couldn’t resist): My review of Young Frankenstein cannot possibly be unbiased. I’m a fan of the show and made some memories watching it on Broadway, plus I’m a huge fan of Lyric Arts, and I know almost everyone involved in the production. That said, I’ll try to be as objective a critic as I can be.

Disclaimer over. Let’s get on with the review!

I saw Young Frankenstein at Lyric Arts this past Thursday, October 16th. The house was almost full, and the audience was responsive and supportive of what was happening onstage. They clearly enjoyed the show, and gave a standing ovation at curtain call.

What was there for the audience to like? Plenty. Young Frankenstein itself (based on the Mel Brooks film of the same name, and adapted for the stage by him) is a brilliantly funny piece of theatre. Brooks parodies the horror monster movie genre joyously, pulling out all the stops and taking huge risks.

Much has been said about the “big” and “risky” aspects of this show. Young Frankenstein was written specifically for a Broadway stage. The original production cost over 16 million dollars. It was designed from the beginning as a spectacle show, calling for all kinds of special effects, a big, talented cast and pit orchestra, and technical perfection. Lyric Arts has taken risks with dramatic content before, and has taken on some moderately flashy shows in the past, but never have they attempted this big a production. Under the direction of Matt McNabb, a Resident Director at Lyric Arts who closed out the last season with his production of RENT, the risk is well managed, and the production- while not as fancy as a $16 million production- is quite impressive, especially when you remember that Lyric Arts is a community theatre.

The shows I’ve seen at other community theatres in the area (Colorado as well, but that’s a totally different story) get blown out of the water by Young Frankenstein. Thank Matt McNabb and the rest of the production staff for working so hard to make this show a reality. McNabb’s blocking skillfully navigates the relatively tiny performance space (the set is super big, and takes up a great deal of playing room), taking full advantage of the set to stage complicated location transitions and big dance numbers. Music director Louis Berg-Arnold leads a pit that suffered from intonation issues on the night I attended the production, but was otherwise well practiced. Choreographer Anne Marie Omeish stages the songs with choreography that is a bit too simplistic at times, but is executed happily and well by the cast. Stage Manager Pat Campbell keeps the whole thing running smoothly with very few minute mistakes.

The designers of this production definitely leave their mark. Brian Proball’s set design is gigantic, but not overwhelming in the slightest. He makes great use of special effect apparatuses, which include an empty painting and a table with a rig that brings it up into the catwalks. The rig is ultimately very slow, but McNabb handles it well, simply adding a joke into the script about how slow it is. Lighting designer Jim Eischen seems to have programmed a million specials into the production, but if they ever pulled focus it was because they were doing really cool things. Particularly impressive is his integration of lights into the set. Windows are backlit and glowing, candles are well placed, and the big set pieces in the laboratory scenes have all kinds of winking, flickering bulbs that bring the set pieces to the next level. Sound designer Jeff Giesler might have mixed the production so that the orchestra was too loud, but he never shies away from more specific sound effects, including claps of thunder, the rickety metallic sound of Inspector Kemp moving his fake arm, and, of course, the famous horse whinnying that accompanies the name of one of the characters. Costume designer Samantha Fromm Haddow never disappoints. She created costumes that are well fitted, well suited to the production, and add to the characters’ personalities. Samantha From Haddow came up with a great makeup design for the Creature’s face and it was executed during most performances by Megan Weisenberger.  Heather McLaughlin, Nate Otto, and Lea Chapaton built some killer special props, including the infamous Abby Normal brain.

Then there’s the cast. Kyler Chase plays a charming Dr. Frankenstein. His portrayal makes full use of his voice, presenting a clear tenor singing voice one minute and maniacal shouting the next. His crazed expressions and clear physical presence made him one of the funniest people onstage. Katharine Strom as Elizabeth is loud and proud, with a belt and mix voice to make anyone jealous. She was the actor who most made the character her own, with very few vestiges of the original production or movie Elizabeth’s in her performance. Nick Menzhuber is delightful as both Inspector Kemp, with the perfect accent, and movements that are appropriately jerky and artificial, and as the deceased Dr. Frankenstein, where he makes use of a big voice and a big physical presence. Brendan Veerman presents an Igor that is almost too adorable, and wonderfully sassy, with strong comedic physicality. Kate Beahen is far too young to play Frau Blücher, but is funny enough to make you forget all about that. Her voice is strong, and her eyebrow game is even stronger. Tom Goerger is physically the perfect Monster, and his darling facial expressions make you love the character a lot earlier than you’re supposed to. Brad Bone has a cameo as an old, infirm man (which he certainly is not), and returns later in the show to play a lonely hermit with a Brooklyn accent. His accent and manner of speaking as the hermit are perfect, and both roles are played so gleefully that you can’t help but love him. An ensemble standout is Ben Schrade, who managed to take a tiny cameo as a shoeshine who hates suede and turn it into the funniest and most delightfully unexpected moment of the night.

And then, to top it all off, there is Nykeigh Larson as Inga. The show I attended started out on a dour, low energy note, but as soon as she came onstage with her big voice and big smile the energy picked up and everything got brighter. Having seen Nykeigh in many prior shows, I can say that she has grown a great deal in this role. She carries herself with more sexy confidence than I’ve seen from her in the past, and one wonders how she can be so big onstage when in reality she’s such a tiny person. McNabb couldn’t have cast a better Inga, as Nykeigh nails the comedy, vocals, and energy.

All these people give their hearts and talents fully to the production, and it shows. Lyric Arts’ Young Frankenstein is charming, joyful, and impressive. The theatre has proved, once again, that a little stage fog and a lot of enthusiasm can lead to great things. You won’t want to miss this ambitious production.

“Young Frankenstein” Review – Kylie Schultz

October 14th, 2014 No comments »
Kylie Schultz

Kylie Schultz

As a Mel Brooks devotee and avid musical theater fan, I can say that I whole heartedly relished the day I saw Young Frankenstein when it opened on Broadway. I grew up annually quoting Young Frankenstein with my parents and can recall any moment from the movie at any time in any place. When I saw the musical, you can bet that I had the soundtrack that same night and listened to it on repeat for weeks. All that being said, Lyric Arts Anoka had a very fanatic fan of Young Frankenstein to impress this opening weekend.

And they did it.

Without a doubt, the show is excellent. Mel Brooks proved with The Producers that he writes a fantastic musical from an already brilliant movie, which can be tricky. For all who love to quote along with the movie, know every innuendo and schwanzstucker joke, Young Frankenstein the musical absolutely doesn’t lose its hilarity. In addition, you add catchy musical motifs and dance numbers which enhance the charm and keep a goofy smile plastered on your face the whole show.

I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing any show at Lyric Arts in the past, and that made seeing Young Frankenstein so much more impressive. When you’ve seen the show you’ll understand how much of a feat it is to put on. The music is difficult (cheers to Kyler Chase for perfecting “There Is Nothing Like the Brain), the set is intricate, and the choreography involves a lot of people tap dancing simultaneously. All of this is challenging, but expected, on Broadway, and is made all the more impressive when you consider that not one of the actors or crew of this show is paid. The cast of Young Frankenstein put on a show to rival that of a Broadway production, with a set design and technical crew as good as any theater production in the cities. Young Frankenstein has everything:  fantastic actors in leading roles, a dedicated and talented ensemble, an amazing crew, and all the innuendo you can handle with great music to sing it to.

I can’t say enough glowing things about this show and the hard work, dedication, and professionalism that were so clearly and eloquently put into it. I laughed, I cried from laughing, and I left wanting more. I will not only be attending this show twice, but look forward to seeing future shows as Lyric Arts Anoka has earned a special place in my heart.

Kylie Schultz is a Minneapolis local and an Arts Ambassador with Theoroi, a young professionals group of the Schubert Club in St. Paul, MN.

Fun Facts About the Cast of “Young Frankenstein”

October 14th, 2014 No comments »

By: Katie Varecka

We sat down with the cast of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Here are some fun things we learned about this talented cast.

TomGoergerInterview NykeighLarsonInterview NickMenzhuberInterview KylerChaseInterview KatharineStromInterview KateBeahenInterview BrendanVeermanInterview

“Young Frankenstein” Audience Review – Roxy Orcutt

October 13th, 2014 No comments »

I was thrilled to be in audience of Lyric Art’s production of Young Frankenstein this opening weekend for a number of reasons. One: Lyric Arts is awesome, Two: Young Frankenstein is awesome, and Three: I was sharing the evening with my 13-year-old stepson Quinn, who has yet to experience the mad genius of Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder OR Lyric Arts, for that matter (outside of a workshop or two) and I was looking forward to watching his reaction to the show.

Young Frankenstein may be the perfect show to bring young person with a great sense of humor to. While the jokes were crammed full of innuendo, of course, it was so fun to not only get a kick out them myself, but watch Quinn laugh along too. It’s a testament to the writing of Gene Wilder holding up all these years (Young Frankenstein was originally produced in 1974!) that a glued-to-his-Smartphone teenager could laugh at Roll is Ze Hay, among others, but it’s also a testament to Lyric Arts creative and technical team as well. There wasn’t a dull moment. From the opening scene of the villagers merrily dancing in front of Victor Frankenstein’s castle in Transylvania to the absolutely show-stopping Puttin’ on the Ritz number, Lyric Arts truly knocked it out of the spooky graveyard with this production.

Having just seen the majority of the cast in Rent this summer at Lyric Arts, it was truly impressive to see these actors totally disappear into their roles in Young Frankenstein. I didn’t see an ounce of Mark from Rent from Kyler Chase as he portrayed Fredrick Frankenstein, and his eyebrows may have well leapt off his face and become characters of their own. In fact, as I was watching the show, I heard an audience member behind me whisper “he even sounds like Gene Wilder.” High praise, indeed. Nykeigh Larson as Inga and Brendan Veerman as Igor (who I adored in Barefoot in the Park) were also highlights for me. But, the show was completely stolen when our Monster came to life in the form of Tom Goerger-who was not only amazing and hilarious, but also a dead ringer for Peter Boyle.

In nearly every review I write for Lyric Arts, I can’t help but praise the set design. And, again, the Young Frankenstein set was spectacular. The castle and hidden passageways, the cottage the set must be for a brief, hysterical scene, among other transitions-the grace and technical skill it takes to make these set changes so flawlessly and clever are beyond reproach.

Recalling Young Frankenstein as I am writing this, I am seeing the show in black and white. Trust me, it was full color when I saw it, and my vision is just fine, but I find it interesting that black and white, like the original film, is how I am seeing Lyric Arts production in my mind’s eye. It may be a trick of my subconscious, but I think it is further proof that the stage production is on par with the classic movie it is based on. Not that the Lyric Arts production of Young Frankenstein is a scene-for-scene re-enactment of the film, it truly is its own wonderful entity unto itself, but if you are going to be compared to a movie, let it be a Mel Brooks movie.

The audience couldn’t have asked for a better Halloween-season show from Lyric Arts, and I was so pleased to share the experience with Quinn, and help foster a new generation Young Frankenstein (and theater, and satire) fans.

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt

Roxy Orcutt, The Halloween Honey, is a local author and theater enthusiast. Her book, “History and Hauntings of the Halloween Capital,” explores Anoka, MN, its spooky tales, colorful characters, and why it is named the “Halloween Capital of the World.” It is available for sale online at www.HalloweenHoney.com.

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