Sound of Music Coming to The Ordway in St. Paul, MN

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts presents

The Sound of Music

This holiday season, the Ordway is alive with the sounds of Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s beloved musical classic

SAINT PAUL, Minn. (Nov. 12, 2015) — This holiday season, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is excited to present Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, Dec. 10Jan. 2. Tickets for the Ordway produced family classic start at $37 and can be purchased online at, by phone at 651-224-4222 or in-person at the Ordway ticket office.

Inspired by the lives of the real von Trapp family, The Sound of Music tells the uplifting story of Maria, a fun-loving governess who changes the lives of the widowed Captain von Trapp and his seven children by re-introducing them to music, culminating in the family’s escape from the Nazis across the mountains from Austria. The unforgettable score includes some of the most famous songs ever performed on stage, including “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss,” “Do-Re-Mi” and the title song, “The Sound of Music.”

The Sound of Music at The Ordway, promo photo

The Sound of Music at The Ordway, promo photo

The cast features Billie Wildrick as Maria Rainer, Dieter Bierbrauer as Captain Georg von Trapp, James Detmar as Max Detwiler, Kersten Rodau as Elsa Schraeder, Janet Hayes Trow as Sister Berthe, Susan Hofflander as Sister Sophia, Wendy Lehr as Frau Schmidt, Dee Noah as Sister Margaretta, Tod Petersen as Franz, Matthew Rubbelke as Rolf Gruber and Tammy Hensrud as Mother Abbess.

The production features all local actors in the roles of the von Trapp children, including Caroline Innerbichler as Liesl, Quinn Morrissey as Friedrich, Bella Blackshaw as Louisa, Nate Turcotte as Kurt, Natalie Tran as Brigitta, Josephine Turk as Marta, and Chloe Lou Erickson and Mabel Weismann as Gretl.

 Rounding out the cast are Lisa Bartholomew-Given, Kate Beahen, Debra Berger, JP Fitzgibbons, William Gilness, Elena Glass, Reid Harmsen, Elizabeth Hawkinson, Suzie Juul, Jill Sandager, Randy Schmeling and Carl Schoenborn.

 “The Sound of Music is timeless—its music, characters and messages have resonated with audiences young and old since it originally premiered on Broadway in 1959,” said James A. Rocco, Ordway’s vice president of programming and producing artistic director. “Our production will remain true to the original stage production, bringing the warm, nostalgic story of Maria and the von Trapp family to the Ordway. It’s the perfect family event for the holiday season.”

Directed by local stage veteran Gary Briggle, The Sound of Music features music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The production’s creative team includes Raymond Berg (musical direction), Kenneth Foy (scenic design), Lynda L. Salsbury (costume design), ZachWilliamson (sound design), Don Darnutzer (lighting design), Robert A. Dunn (hair and make-up design) and Rick Polenek (props design).

The Sound of Music is sponsored by Bremer Bank. For tickets and more information, visit


The Ordway is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading nonprofit performing arts centers and Saint Paul’s most elegant and inviting performance space. The Ordway’s Music Theater and recently completed Concert Hall attract diverse audiences with an array of productions showcasing the finest in American musical theater, world music, dance and vocal performance. Education and community engagement are integral to the Ordway’s mission, with major initiatives including the annual Flint Hills International Children’s Festival and Ordway Education programs that serve more than 50,000 students annually. The Ordway also sponsors the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, a charter high school with a professionally guided academic and artistic environment that trains aspiring pre-professional performing artists. Together with the Minnesota Opera, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and The Schubert Club, the Ordway is a member of the Arts Partnership and serves as the principal venue for their performances. For more information, visit

Ordway Center for the Performing Arts — 30 years of presenting, producing and investing in the performing arts.



The Cocoanuts, a Marx Brothers Romp, playing at The Guthrie Theater

Quote of the Day: from a play based on the movie starring the Marx brothers, adapted by Mark Bedard, who also plays Groucho in this production, originally performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, February 2014.

Groucho: Do you want a suite upstairs?
Chico: No, I want a Norwegian and a Finnish basement.

Ba dum ching!

Justin Keyes (Robert Jamison), Mark Bedard (Mr. Hammer (Groucho)), John Tufts (Chico), and Brent Hinkley (Harpo) in the Guthrie Theater's production of The Cocoanuts, directed by David Ivers. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by George S. Kaufman, adapted by Mark Bedard, with musical adaptation by Gregg Coffin. Set design by Richard L. Hay, costume design by Meg Neville and lighting design by Marcus Doshi. November 14, 2015 - January 3, 2016 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Justin Keyes (Robert Jamison), Mark Bedard (Mr. Hammer (Groucho)), John Tufts (Chico), and Brent Hinkley (Harpo) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Cocoanuts, directed by David Ivers. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by George S. Kaufman, adapted by Mark Bedard, with musical adaptation by Gregg Coffin. Set design by Richard L. Hay, costume design by Meg Neville and lighting design by Marcus Doshi. November 14, 2015 – January 3, 2016 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

And, these are the kinds of jokes that are constantly slung at you during the performance of The Cocoanuts, playing now at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, through January 3, 2016. The following are a list of ingredients for a successful musical comedy: Writing by George S. Kaufman, Music by Irving Berlin, Comedy of the marvelous Marx brothers, a “bum hotel” on the Cocoanut Beach of Florida, A rich dowager, her love struck daughter, the bellhop she’s pining for, a pair of con-artists, a red-beret wearing band, and plenty of slapstick. Oh, and don’t forget the audience participation! While this is clearly scripted (the movie came out in 1929) Mark Bedard (Grouch0) and his band of brothers, and sisters, play off the page, reading and reacting to the audience. The lucky folks who got to sit at the tables down front had their share of antics played on them. (If you find yourself up front, make sure your purse is fairly well cleaned out! And, you may as well leave your cell phone on, ringer turned off.) Our Midwest audience particularly loved the references to lutefisk and Joe Dowling!

Cast of The Cocoanuts, playing at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham

I brought my best piano mom Rachel to this performance, her first time in the new Guthrie Theater. We had a blast! We started out with dinner at Kindee Thai restaurant, a favorite of mine, across the street from the Guthrie. I can’t resist their yellow curry. We laughed our heads off at the show. At intermission, we both said that it would be fun to come back later in the run to see what they do differently. In an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Graydon Royce, quote from actor Jim Cunningham who played Groucho in a 2003 production of the same play at the Illusion theatre, The challenge, Cunningham said recently, is to obey what he called “both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law” in portraying the manic brothers.

“But the bigger thing for me was to give the audience that sense of something that was happening right now. What drove people to [the Marx Brothers] was the idea that on any given day you could see something that no one else would see. That’s the spirit of the law.”

Bedard and the show’s director, David Ivers, totally get that.

Harpo (Brent Hinkley), Mr. Hammer/Groucho (Mark Bedard) and Chico (John Tufts). Photo by Jenny Graham (How did they all balance on that chair!?!)

Harpo (Brent Hinkley), Mr. Hammer/Groucho (Mark Bedard) and Chico (John Tufts). Photo by Jenny Graham (How did they all balance on that chair!?!)

I agree. There was enough script to keep it all together, and enough improv to make us feel like this was a performance unique to our experience that night. The people behind me laughed often and said out loud, “This is so funny.” I felt this surge of delight from the audience when Mark Bedard came out in the “Groucho” mustache, make-up, glasses and cigar, doing the “Groucho walk.” And, Harpo (Brent Hinkley) is happy, crafty, and a little bit naughty. How challenging is it to play the “silent partner” and communicate with body, facial expressions, actions and reactions, and a horn?! Chico (John Tufts) plays the mixed-up foreigner with the groaner puns, and Justin Keyes plays Robert Jamison the dingy bellhop, aka Zeppo. All in all it’s a raucous romp of high hilarity! Everything is choreographed, from their entrances, walks, near misses, and physical humor to the dance numbers, sound effects and horn honks!

The band was on the stage, towards the back. Most of them were hidden from my view, except for Gregg Coffin on piano (also the Music Director). We sometimes found ourselves watching him so much that we missed some of the antics from the actors. Although, there is a lot going on in a performance like this one! Ann Michels (recently seen as Mary Poppins at the Chanhassen) has a fun, new role as the slightly naughty, greedy con-artist Penelope Martin. Her partner in crime is Harvey Yates (Paul de Cordova). Cat Brindisi plays the beautiful and talented Polly Potter. Trent Armand Kendall is a hilarious detective who loses his shirt, and Peggy O’Connell plays an easily confused dowager Mrs. Potter. The trio of Wesley Mouri, Katie Hahn, and Jessica Fredrickson sing us away on this tropical real estate romp. It is as opposite from A Christmas Carol as you can get, which is playing on the Guthrie’s Wurtele thrust stage, now through December 27, 2015.

The cast of the Guthrie Theater's production of The Cocoanuts, directed by David Ivers. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by George S. Kaufman, adapted by Mark Bedard, with musical adaptation by Gregg Coffin. Set design by Richard L. Hay, costume design by Meg Neville and lighting design by Marcus Doshi. November 14, 2015 - January 3, 2016 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

The cast of the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Cocoanuts, directed by David Ivers. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by George S. Kaufman, adapted by Mark Bedard, with musical adaptation by Gregg Coffin. Set design by Richard L. Hay, costume design by Meg Neville and lighting design by Marcus Doshi. November 14, 2015 – January 3, 2016 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Jenny Graham.

For tickets and show times for The Cocoanuts or A Christmas Carol, visit the Guthrie Theater. For a fun night out with friends or family, see either, or both! Happy Holidays!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Are you a Marx brothers fan? Have you ever tried lutefisk?

A Re-imagined Magic Flute at MN Opera

Quote of the Day: May the music protect through the flood as it did through the inferno.  from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, playing now at the Ordway Performing Arts Center in St. Paul, MN, a MN Opera production, and what a grand production it is. It is like Tim Burton meets Mozart on a 1920’s silver screen. The staging and theatrics of this production is the most fascinating that I have ever seen. Here you have the gorgeous classical opera The Magic Flute, written by Mozart in 1791 brought to life by the extremely talented musicians and singers of the MN Opera, all on the backdrop of a large screen where the actors pop out on tiny platforms, at various heights, and sing and interact with the images going across the screen. At times, it is like the silent movies, where words appear along with the images. The singers react to what is happening on the screen as well as to what they’re singing and the other performers. Sometimes, the images are in black and white except for a few that are highlighted with color, like when the young boys sing to Pamina, they are butterflies, then she turns into a butterfly. The Queen is a large spider, complete with long, spiky legs that look like they will pierce poor Tamino. It was a visual feast!

The Queen of the Night (Jeni Houser) sending her terror down on Tamino (Julien Behr) MN Opera, The Magic Flute, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

The Queen of the Night (Jeni Houser) sending her terror down on Tamino (Julien Behr) MN Opera, The Magic Flute, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

If you’ve ever wanted to check out opera, or introduce young people to this art form, bring them to this production of The Magic Flute. I brought two young adults, and they said it was fascinating, fun, and cool. The English translation ran above the stage, and some words appeared on the screen, some in German, and a few in English. During the fight scenes, they projected “Bam!” and “Pow” like in the old Batman shows. They also had bubbles rising up from champagne glasses and dancing elephants. That particular scene reminded me of Disney’s Fantasia, which exposed children of all ages to classical music to the backdrop of animation.

Papageno (Andrew Wilkowske) who said, "I'll take wine over wisdom." Magic Flute, MN Opera, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

Papageno (Andrew Wilkowske) who said, “I’ll take wine over wisdom.” Magic Flute, MN Opera, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

There are also dark images in this production of a large, devilish man with spinning eyes and a disk in his chest that reminded us of Ironman. They are brought to the dark underworld, and skeletal images cross their paths. The Queen tells her daughter, who has been captured by Sarastro that if she doesn’t kill him, she is no longer her daughter.

The Magic Flute, MN Opera, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

The Magic Flute, MN Opera, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

For the people who don’t know the story of The Magic Flute, here’s my interpretation. In the opening scene, Tamino is wresting a serpent. Three sisters (witches? fates? women in service of the Queen) intervene and save him. They all want to be his lover, and have a humorous song about winning his heart (complete with hearts floating out of them and down to him, and popping just before reaching him). Tamino comes to and observes the goofy Papageno catching birds and thinks that he saved him. The three women show Tamino a picture of the Queen’s daugther Pamina. Tamino falls in love with her and says yes when the Queen asks him to go save her from Sarastro who has captured her and set Monostatos to guard her. He is an evil creature.

Monostatos (John Robert Lindsey) setting the hounds of Hell on Pamina(Christie Conover) in The Magic Flute, MN Opera, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

Monostatos (John Robert Lindsey) setting the hounds of Hell on Pamina(Christie Conover) in The Magic Flute, MN Opera, November 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

Tamino (Julien Behr) is the hero (Prince) who must undergo challenges and pitfalls, search his soul for what is the truth, and find strength in himself and through the Magic Flute which he is given to help him in his quest.

Pamina (Christie Conover) is the lovely damsel in distress, and yet, commanded by her mother to kill Sarastro and save herself, even though her mother, The Queen of the Night, has sent someone to rescue her.

The Queen of the Night (my favorite character) is manipulative, strong, beautiful, and sets the story in motion. Jeni Houser, who sings her part, is so perfectly talented that I practically wept when she sang. In the song that hops around on the high notes (that most of you would recognize if you heard it, the aria “The Pangs of Hell”), she sounds like the flutes that accompany her. (I stood at the curtain call when she came out, one of the few to stand up early for what was a grand standing ovation.)

Papageno, a Birdcatcher, (John Robert Lindsey) is the jester, or comic relief. He was delightful to watch. We were close enough to see his facial expressions, and his body language also caused a chuckle. He is told that he must go on with the quest with “no speaking, no women, and no food.” He fails at all three. We all loved the song that he sings with his much sought after girlfriend Papagena (Tracey Engleman), where they sing “Pa, pa, pa, pa” to each other and imagine a house full of children – to a ridiculous degree!

Sarastro, the High Priest of the Sun, was the character we were all a little unsure about. Was he good or evil? He was a little of both, as most of us are. He has his own needs and agenda. He puts Tamino to the test, yet offers words of encouragement. When Pamina is contemplating killing him, she is surrounded by men in dark clothes who sing of offering mercy and preserving life. Benjamin Sieverding sings this part with his rich, bass voice, that trembles deep inside you. He was dressed all in black and had a long beard.

Monostatos (John Robert Lindsey) was pure evil. He seemed more like the Devil to me. He visits Pamina in a bedroom scene that gives you a chill as black hands creep across the screen, and he sings of having needs although his is ugly both inside and out.

The chorus sometimes took me by surprise. At one point near the end of Act I, I heard them, but didn’t see them right away, as they were at the sides on different levels of the theatre behind a smoky scrim. The entire production, from each gorgeous note played by the orchestra to the ones sung by the enormously talented opera singers to the fascinating images on the screen was a evening I’ll never forget. Thank you, MN Opera for bringing this production to us! Maybe someday we’ll be like the gentleman at the end of our row who said, “I’ve had these same seats for more years than I can count.” While these veteran theatre-goers weren’t sure if they’d like this new take on a favorite classical piece, they could see how it appeals to the younger audience members who are very visual. The screen animation was designed by the company 1927, who spent over three years hand drawing the images for The Magic Flute. I will definitely try to see more work by them!

I hope you get a chance to see a production like this some day. It might be out of your usual entertainment experiences, or you might be a life-long fan of the opera. Either way, this production will give you something new to experience and enjoy! I would bring kids as young as elementary school to this Opera. It is just over two hours long, has many fascinating visual effects, English translation above, and a whimsical cat. Why not give opera a try?!

MN Opera’s The Magic Flute is playing at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN November 14-22, 2015.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you go to the opera? What is your favorite fairy tale?

Beauty and the Beast Delights on Pequot Lakes Stage

Quote of the Day: She warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. – the Narrator from Beauty and the Beast.

*Blogger’s note: This is a completely biased and “rose” colored review of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, playing now at the Pequot Lakes Community Theater (in their high school) produced by the Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts (GLAPA). See their site for tickets and showtimes.

I have enjoyed watching my little sister, Joy Ciaffoni, perform ever since we were youngsters growing up on the farm and doing Sunday School programs, made-up dance routines for talent shows, and putting on performances for our family. It is in her blood. She played the best Marian the Librarian in a community theatre production ofThe Music Man in Alexandria, MN, has done numerous other roles throughout her career, and now she is Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She has a way of putting her whole heart into her part. We are so fortunate to have such great talent (not just my sister) who are willing to give up their time to make magical theatre for their community. My friend Laura Oldham is the cutest and most talented Mrs. Potts. (Love hearing her sing, and she has the best comedic timing) Eric Boyles as Gaston looked like he was plucked right out of the cartoon version and puffed himself up to be the annoying self-centered stud. His side-kick Lefou (Ben Gordon) kept us in stitches and his energy was amazing. My favorite household characters were Lumiere (Travis Chaput) and Cogsworth (Michael Sander), one lighting up at just the right time, the other worrying and waddling and ticking off the great one-liners. Nicole Rothleutner was a sexy little Babette with a very fun and flouncy costume. Amanda Longie plays the character with the name that is the most fun to say, Madame de la Grande Bouche, and she is grand, indeed. Her facial expressions, voice, and accent are delightful, and she gives us a few operatic lines that are also grand. I can’t skip Chip, the darling little 8-year-old teacup, played by Josiah Sechser who makes us giggle, sigh, and cry. And, of course, The Beast, played by Eddie Binda. He, like his character, are hidden behind masks, lurking in the darkness, falling back on ugly ways. Until…a girl shows up! And, yes, she does change his heart. Through her strength, he realizes that you can’t always get your way by bullying people around. And, it didn’t escape this writer-reader’s attention that the turning point in their relationship happens in the library, surrounded by all those lovely words, while they’re reading a book together. Oh, the power of stories!

This is a delightful show filled with all the magic, songs, dancing (wow, the dancers, Abby Oldham a former piano student of mine, showed her fine ballet skills on stage along with the other dancers), and story that you know and love. It is brought to life by community members who love theatre and are willing to share their talents. This is a big undertaking for a little theatre like GLAPA. But, they pull it off, complete with set changes, amazing costumes, and careful timing, lighting, sound. Director Lauren Nickisch, stand up and take a bow. That standing ovation that started even before the curtain call is all because of the tremendous amount of time and energy you put into making this happen. Thank you, All of you, for the delightful evening of magic and story! (And, Joy really is the best Belle you’ll ever see!)


Madame de la Grade Bouche and Babette

Chip and Mrs. Potts

Chip and Mrs. Potts

Cogsworth and Lumiere

Cogsworth and Lumiere

Lumiere: Ma chère mademoiselle. It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight. And now, we invite to relax, let us pull up a chair, as the dining room proudly presents… your dinner.

Gaston and Lefou

Gaston and Lefou

The Beast and Belle

The Beast and Belle

Go. Create. Inspire!

Beauty and the Beast, playing at Pequot Lakes, November 13-22, 2015. Tickets and showtimes at GLAPA. (PS: get your tickets early, last night they were sold out!)

Journaling Prompt: Do you have a favorite fairy tale, or story, that wins your heart?

Ten November, Musical about the Edmund Fitzgerald, on Stage North

Quote of the Day: Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

Widows of the Edmond Fitzgerald, Singers and musicians in the background. Stage North production of Ten November

Tuesday, November 9, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the legendary ship, The Edmund Fitzgerald, memorialized in Gordon Lightfoot’s famous song. Stage North theatre company here in the Brainerd lakes area is presenting Ten November, a moving musical telling of the fateful voyage, written by Steven Dietz, music and lyrics by Eric Bain Peltoniemi. The story is told through song as three female singers perform on stage, accompanied by guitar and bass instruments. Their songs are both haunting and beautiful, perhaps representing the fates or the Sirens who lure the ships to dangerous waters. They also remind me of the widows, mothers, sisters, and daughters who were left to mourn the crew. Throughout the 90 minute performance, various men tell their stories, and present information on the ship and the possible reasons it sunk. They project images on a screen behind the actors. Some are maps of the route, the ship, members of the crew, etc. Of course, the performance has a somber feel, much like a funeral, and yet, not depressing nor without light moments. The singers set the mood, reflective, haunting, and even light at times. The songs have the same 1970’s American folk feel that Lightfoot uses in his famous song.


For those of us living in Minnesota, it is part of our history. For many, who were alive at the time, it is one of those events that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. And, for the families who lost a loved one, it is a day of memories and memorials. Every year on this day the light in Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior is lit to commemorate the terrible event. Twenty-nine men lost their lives. The people who knew and loved them know it as that moment that changed everything. Before they set sail, they had one way of life. After it sunk, their lives were changed forever.


The Stage North cast, crew, singers and musicians do a beautiful job of telling this fateful tale. They create a mood of respect and reflection. If you’re in the area, you can attend performances on November 9 and 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Franklin Arts Center. Call 218-232-6810 for tickets, or visit the website for Stage North. For more pictures, check out their Facebook page. Directed by Gary Hirsch, Vocal Music Director Sarah Gorham, Instrumental Music Director Don Gorham. For a complete list of cast and crew, please visit their website or Facebook page.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you have any connection to this tragic event, or one like it? 

Wizard of Oz at The Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis

Quote of the Day: You’ve had the power within you all along, Dorothy. Glinda, the Good Witch, to Dorothy at the end of her journey when she truly wishes to go back home.

Children's Theatre Company cast of Wizard of Oz, 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

Credited as “America’s best loved and homegrown fairly-tale” by the Library of Congress, all those who are young at heart have been reading and rereading, watching and re-watching this beloved story for over 100 years. First published by L. Frank Baum in 1900, it quickly received critical and popular success. In 1902, it was adapted as a musical stage play, and in 1939 the MGM film adaptation appeared on the silver screen with all the technicolor splendor of its time, changing Dorothy’s silver shoes into sparkling Ruby Slippers, and a horse of many colors transformed before our very eyes. It was aired annually on television from 1959-1991, can be seen on the big screen in Grand Rapids, MN every summer during the Judy Garland festival, and now we can all own it on the latest media and watch it whenever we want to revisit the story. Can you remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz? I can’t remember the first time, but I do remember getting excited every year as we all gathered around the television to watch the annual showing. We grew up watching Dorothy leave her ordinary farm with its work and drudgery and mean, old neighbor who wanted to do away with her darling pet Toto. A frightening natural event, the cyclone, whirls her off to an alternate reality where everything is bright and colorful, but filled with hidden dangers. People aren’t necessarily happier in Oz. They have wicked people harming them, confusing them, and controlling them. The other creatures have their own hang-ups to deal with. An unlikely band of friends, (Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the cowardly Lion) set off on a quest to find their heart’s desire.

Reed Sigmund as the Cowardly Lion, Bradley Greenwald as Tin Man, Traci Allen Shannon as Dorothy, Dean Holt as the Scarecrow, and Janet Hanson as Glinda, at CTC in Minneapolis. Photo by Dan Norman

We eat this stuff up! It’s us, all of us who are unsatisfied with our lives and go off seeking other places and faces. And, just like Dorothy we run into pitfalls, evil-doers who try to stop us, poppy fields that lull us to sleep, flying monkeys that rip us apart, and rulers who seem great and powerful that turn out to be frauds. Have you ever wondered where your yellow brick road is?

We brought three 8-year-olds to The Children’s Theatre Company production of The Wizard of Oz. They were watching this story unfold for the first time. They admitted to watching just parts of it on TV, but never seeing the entire show. And, here they were, watching it live with all the beloved characters right in front of them, living, breathing, dancing, falling, fearing, and succeeding. We grown-ups were there because we grew up with this story. We love it. We enjoy experiencing it over and over. And, as adults, we’re looking and listening for our favorite parts, which are all there in this production, and yet, wanting something a little different to make it interesting, and we get that, too. The songs are all there, sung by different people with their own unique voices and style, done to live music, and set to the gorgeous backdrop of the Children’s Theatre stage, and enhanced by the stunning costumes. What a marvelous production. I think that CTC out-did themselves this time! We all agreed that the poppy scene (you can see the umbrellas and costumes in the background of the above photo) was one of our favorites. The dancing girls are partially hidden by the bright red (poppy) umbrellas, their masks, and make-up. Their dance is beautiful and hypnotizing, and Dorothy and the Lion quickly succumb. With the help of their friends, they are brought out of the spell.

Dorothy (Traci Allen Shannon) facing the Flying Monkeys. Photo by Dan Norman

The four friends on their journey through Oz, at The Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Photo by Dan Norman

The Wizard of Oz has all the spell-binding images and story that captivates kids and anyone who is young at heart. It’s a story that has all the heart and lasting power of beloved characters and their journey that keeps adults coming back. You can see it now on stage at The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, November 3, 2015 – January 16, 2016. It is for “all ages,” but you know your kids best. It runs about two hours with one 15-minute intermission, and the cyclone scene is loud and a little frightening, as are the flying monkeys. (Did anyone else have flying monkey nightmares as a child?) The colors, humor, and fascination of the characters and story keep the story light and hopeful.

We’re off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Click your heels three times and…

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you remember the first time you saw The Wizard of Oz, or was it an annual tradition? Where is your yellow brick road?

Also playing at The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis is The Jungle Book. According to my friend who attended, this story is so well acted by just a few actors playing numerous parts that she was surprised when only five actors came out to take a bow at the end of the show! They have extended performances to Dec. 6, 2015.

Cast of The Jungle Book at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, playing through Dec. 6, 2015. Photo by Dan Norman

My Children! My Africa! coming to Park Square Theatre



Athol Fugard’s masterpiece about changing the world comes to

Park Square November 11-29


Saint Paul, Minn., Oct. 13, 2015 – Park Square continues its 41st season next month with Athol Fugard’s masterworkMY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! A native of South Africa, Fugard has long been recognized as the voice of his generation with his probing and searing dramas about the trials and tribulations in his homeland. When MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! premiered in 1989, it was considered the most provocative work about the radically changing times in South Africa. Nearly three decades later, it remains as haunting and timely as ever. Variety noted of the drama “the real power of a history play is to make us realize that then is now and them is us.”

“Which is more powerful, the pen or the sword?” poses director James A. Williams; “For me as an artist, the play is about how to balance your art with your beliefs as you realize and utilize the power of your passion.” Variety noted of the drama “the real power of a history play is to make us realize that then is now and them is us.”


In 1984, in a segregated town in South Africa, an idealistic teacher believes education – and poetry – can create a better future for his students. Amid anti-apartheid rioting, Mr. M (Warren Bowles*) hopes to offer reconciliation by forming a debate club between his black school and the local white school. But as neighborhood tensions escalate, students (Cage Pierre and Devon Cox) and teacher find themselves along the blurry line between revolution and terrorism. The shocking conclusion is a timely reminder that one person’s tragedy and a community’s deep sense of loss are inextricably linked.

Fugard wrote MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! just before the collapse of apartheid in South Africa. By then he had already penned two dozen plays, many of which explore the disastrous effects of South Africa’s racist policies, including his seminal “Master Harold” . . . and the Boys. Fugard has long insisted through his plays and advocacy that black lives matter, and MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! explores the ways and means of making them matter. As director James A. Williams says, “Just look at Ferguson or Baltimore, where people are picking up bottles and bricks and people are peacefully protesting. The real conflict in the play is between generations. The younger generation — who are doing the majority of the dying and the majority of the protesting — are growing impatient with the older people always saying ‘it takes time.’”

The MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! production team includes Trevor D. Bowen (Costume Designer), Lance Brockman (Set Designer), Lucinda Holshue (Dialect Coach), Katharine Horowitz (Sound Designer), Jamil Jude (Assistant Director),Michael P. Kittel (Lighting Designer), and Connor McEvoy (Properties Designer).


MY CHILDREN! MY AFRICA! Performance Schedule: Previews take place Wednesday, November 11 and Thursday, November 12. November 13 is Opening Night, and the run continues through November 29. Show times are 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. All performances are in the company’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Saint Paul’s historic Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter Street.

Ticket prices: Previews: $27 and $37. Regular Run: $40 and $60. Discounts are available for seniors, those under age 30, and groups. Tickets are on sale at the Park Square ticket office, 20 W. Seventh Place, or by phone: 651.291.7005, (12 noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday), or online at Photos here(credit: Petronella J Ytsma)

*Member, Actors Equity Association

Bill W. and Dr. Bob, a powerful play, at CLC

Quote of the Day:  Listen, I’m an alcoholic and I’ve been sober for five months. I’m about to fall off the wagon, and I need to talk to another drunk. line (but not a direct quote) from Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey’s play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, playing now at Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center in Brainerd, MN, about the men who started Alcoholics Anonymous, and their wives who founded Al-Anon. The above quote is from the scene that struck me the most. Bill W. is about to take another drink, slip down that dark hole, and possibly never return. He needs to talk to another alcoholic, not to “cure” him, but to share his own story, to talk about what he’s going through, and continue on the path to recovery. One of the men in the post play discussion who is active in AA said, “I can’t tell anyone how to get sober. I can only share how I got sober.” This coming together, sharing of stories, and supporting each other, and working the program has led millions of people on the road to recovery. It has saved lives and relationships and given hope in what feels like a hopeless situation.

Post play discussion of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, playing at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN.

Post play discussion of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, playing at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN.

This is a very moving play. The actors must dig into their deepest emotional well to portray the brokenness of the alcoholics and the people who love them. During the post play discussion, an older gentleman stood up and announced that he forgot his hearing aid at home, and even though he might have missed some of the dialogue, he felt the emotion of this story and the actors’ portrayal of the characters. At one point he looked at Bri Keran, who played Lois Wilson, and said, “You could have written the book.” The man went on to say that he’d been sober for five decades, and wasn’t sure he wanted to relive those events while watching this play, but his wife brought him to it, and he was glad that he came. Knowing that someone found hope and healing is encouraging for anyone who is in the midst of that struggle.

Alcoholism is an incurable disease that gets a grip on its victims that is hard to uncurl. It affects nearly everyone, the alcoholics, their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors. But, there is hope. When these two men found each other and became the support for one another, they developed a 12-step program to help other people. It can be done, one day at a time. And, for the friends and family, Lois Wilson and Anne Smith started Al-Anon, to give people a place to talk, to get strong, to share their stories, and to know that they’re not alone in their struggles.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob is a play worth seeing, no matter where you are on your journey. Erik Steen both directs and acts in this production as Bill W. He, and the entire cast and crew, give a tremendous performance that is filled with humor, heartache, and hope. Other cast members are Beth Selinger, Bri Keran, Patrick Spradlin, Linda Nichols, and Nicholas Kory. You can see it now at the Dryden Theatre at the Central Lakes College in Brainerd, MN. through Oct 10, 2015. For more details, read the article from The Brainerd Dispatch, or contact the box office, 218-855-8199, or the CLC theatre website. They will be offering a post play discussion after each performance.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you know anyone who is struggling with addiction?

Lakeland Public TV Highlights Children’s Theatre Classes

Logan Gay from Lakeland Public Television featured my theatre classes for kids, held at Central Lakes College, on their Golden Apples segment on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015.

Quote of the Day: Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple. ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I’m teaching theatre classes for kids again this fall at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Brainerd. I have students from various schools and small towns in our area, including kids who are home-schooled. From the first day of class, they were united. I’ve never seen it happen so fast before. In my workshops, I give them a setting and a very loose outline of what our play will be. It is up to them, as a group, to develop a story line. The first thing they do is think about what character they could be in this setting. This time, I had them get in small groups to work on plot. The title of our play is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home from School. In the elementary class, they’re just letting out of regular school. Millie Cottonpoly (my character that started out as a puppet) has been a guest teacher, talking to the kids about dogs, of course (she’s a dog whisperer and trainer), training, safety, and the benefits of having a dog as a pet. The kids get on a bus, driven by Willie Cottonpoly (retired railroad worker) who sets the scene by calling out, “All Aboard the Reading Railroad!” The kids talk about books they like to read, and bump along, until the bus/train breaks down. That’s when all the “funny” things start happening. They have terrific imaginations!

Play off the Page Elementary Theatre Class, Fall 2015

Last Wednesday afternoon, I got a call from Patrick Spradlin, theatre director at CLC, who said, “Lakeland Public Television wants to do a story on your program. Tomorrow.” Oh, well, ok. It will be our second class, certainly not reading for any filming. But, I said, “Yes, have them come to the elementary class.” If nothing else, we’ll impress them with our charm and cute factor. I had the reporter, Logan, interview the kids for the “Golden Apples” segment of Lakeland News. She filmed some of the class, my interactions with them, and gave each child a chance to talk to her into the microphone and see themselves in the little viewfinder on her TV camera. She interviewed me between classes and stuck around to meet the middle school class as well. She filmed them standing behind her for the “teaser.” You won’t see that on the news clip that I post below, but she does have some footage of them as they’re arriving at class.

Mystic Middle School group, waving to the camera of Lakeland Public Television. Play off the Page theatre class, Fall 2015

Mystic Middle School group, waving to the camera of Lakeland Public Television. Play off the Page theatre class, Fall 2015

Mystic Middle School group, waving to the camera of Lakeland Public Television. Play off the Page theatre class, Fall 2015

What a cool experience for these kids. Note their confidence. Note their enthusiasm. They are developing a fun story – TOGETHER. It is an amazing exercise in cooperation and relationship building. And, here’s the biggest news of all. In the middle school class, I have 13 girls and one boy. They were a united team from the start. They’re working together, developing their characters, helping each other develop characters, talking about classroom cliques and middle school mayhem. Their fictional school is Mystical Middle School. (Can you guess what their characters might be like?) My hope is that we are able to pull off their theatrics in our limited amount of time and with limited amount of resources. Watch the clip if you have time. It’s about three minutes long. Logan must have gone right back to the studio and started editing. She did a fantastic job. Love her lead-in line! I’m so proud of all the kids who stepped right up to the microphone and shared their thoughts.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever been on TV?

To Kill a Mockingbird on stage at The Guthrie Theater, a review

Quote of the Day:  Most people see what they’re looking for and hear what they’re listening for. Judge Taylor in Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, on stage now at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN. The play adaptation is by Christopher Sergel, the only adaptation that is approved by the author. I heard that in some productions Scout is played by an adult actor who does much of the narration. In this production, and the one I saw at Central Lakes College in Brainerd a few years ago, Scout is played by a child actress. The narration is done by the character Miss Maudie. The story of To Kill a Mockingbird is told through the eyes and voice of Scout Finch, who is about nine-years-old in the play adaptation. The book spans about three years of her life, from ages six to nine. In the 1962 film adaptation, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch to perfection, and Mary Badham plays the part of Scout so well that she looked and acted just how I imagined her while reading the book. Little Mary Blair, who starred in the production I saw at The Guthrie Theater, creates the same energy and innocence as the film actor and the person described on the pages of Harper Lee’s famous novel. We are offered the chance to see the world through the eyes of a nine-year-old who adores her father and fights for his honor. We see her trying to make sense of a world that is filled with conflicting and confusing messages, of adults who seem at one time compassionate and gracious, and other times wicked and cruel. She believes in justice and good triumphing over evil, and that the evidence will be obvious to even the hardest heart. In watching the courtroom drama unfold, her ideal views of the world are smashed as the gavel of injustice sounds.

The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Cast of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo by Joan Marcus.

To Kill a Mockingbird is not an easy story to digest. It can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth for man’s inhumanity towards man. You cringe at the language and actions of some of the characters, yet feel hope when others rise to the occasion and exhibit courage under fire, especially when that fire of hate is burning strong in your next door neighbor. Atticus Finch says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” Sometimes, the bravest thing you must do is to go against the majority opinion, to break the code, and to be willing to weather the blows of fear and hatred from your own community. The mob mentality is the easy road. But, “a mob is made up of people,” says Atticus, and people can learn to think for themselves.

Atticus Finch (Baylen Thomas), Jeremy Atticus "Jem" Finch (Noah Deets), Jean Louise "Scout" Finch (Mary Bair) and Charles Baker "Dill" Harris (Isaac Leer). Photo by Joan Marcus.

Atticus Finch (Baylen Thomas), Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch (Noah Deets), Jean Louise “Scout” Finch (Mary Bair) and Charles Baker “Dill” Harris (Isaac Leer). Photo by Joan Marcus.


If I give my children only one gift in this life, it is to teach them to think for themselves. Krista and I brought five teenage boys to this play. My two boys had not read the book, nor seen the movie or play. One of the boys had read the book for school, but didn’t necessarily like it, and her two boys had read  part of the book and seen the movie. The courtroom scene kept them riveted. I asked if they were surprised at anything. They said, “No.”  In some ways that makes me feel horribly sad. It means that they have already learned that men can be accused, tried, convicted, and killed in the court of social code, and that all men are not really created equal.  And, that while we have a system of justice in place, it doesn’t always come through for us. In some ways our culture has changed and evolved, and in other ways, it has not. In the discussion following this performance, several actors came back out, and it was young Mary Blair (Scout) who said that we cannot run away from our problems. We can’t hide from our history. The question was posed, “At what age do you expose children to this story?” The kids in the cast seemed to be saying that at a certain age, the kids are ready for those heavy discussions, and that you can’t shield them from the darkness of this world forever. “It’s part of our history,” said Mar. Bruce Bohne, who plays dark-hearted Bob Ewell, said he had to go to that dark place to play such an evil character. He said that he had to face the fact that there really are people like that in this world.

The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The cast of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Photo by Joan Marcus.

My favorite scene in reading this book, and watching the adaptations, is when Atticus sits in front of the jailhouse, waiting for the mob to arrive. When they do, they are surprised by Scout, Jem, and Dill who question their actions. Scout saves the day by calling Mr. Cunningham out and talking about his son, his “entailment,” and wondering what he’s doing there. It illustrates the biblical quote,”…and a child will lead them.” You can see it in your daily life. People who are harsh with their words and actions often shape up when they notice a child watching and listening to them. No baby is born hating anyone, and no child comes out of the womb fearing for their lives because of what they look like or where their ancestors came from. We learn by observing those around us.

As I sat in the audience, watching the courtroom drama, I realized that none of the actors on stage are the jury. They are the main players, the town folks, the prosecutors, and the defense. Who, then, is the jury? Is it those of us in the audience? I looked around at the audience, and wondered, Who is the intended audience for this story? What is it about this story that caused some people to decide that it should be part of every high school student’s curriculum, while it made others protest saying it should be banned? And, why do we keep going back to it?

I liked how James Youmans designed the set to be representational of the street where Scout grew up. We see the front porch of the Radley house, the swing where Scout does her thinking, and we hear the creak of the screen door. We don’t need bells and whistles and high tech effects to pay attention to this story. To Kill a Mockingbird is a beloved story. Scout Finch is a character we admire for her charm, wit, and her way of questioning the code. We feel for her and with her as she discovers the ugly side of life. Perhaps some of us reread passages (or the whole novel), watch favorite scenes, or attend the current productions because we want to experience again what it’s like to see the world through a child’s perspective. You can do that again at The Guthrie Theater. Because the themes are quite heavy and the attack scene a little scary, I wouldn’t bring young children to this play. The child actors are 10-years-old or older. The director double cast the kids’ roles, and the adult actors said that has been an excellent experience for them. Each actor gives the characters something unique.

We brought five teenage boys to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Guthrie Theater. Thumbs up and a head nod from all of them. They enjoyed watching the show, and we had a great day out with our boys (plus one guest).

We brought five teenage boys to see To Kill a Mockingbird at The Guthrie Theater. Thumbs up and a head nod from all of them. They enjoyed watching the show, and we had a great day out with our boys (plus one guest). Photo by kind Guthrie patrons who took our photo, chatted a bit about the excellent Guthrie Theater, ended up sitting behind us during the show, and tapped me on the shoulder on the way out to say, “I loved it.” Thanks, it was nice meeting you!

Apologies: I failed to mention that the children are double cast in this production at The Guthrie Theater. I certainly meant to. In fact, during the talk back discussion, Baylen Thomas who plays Atticus said that having two sets of kids rehearse separately was an excellent experience for him as an actor. I’m sure both sets of kids added their own unique nuances to their characters. This review is from my viewing on Sunday, September 20, 2015, at the matinee performance. To see more photos from Stacia Rice’s (Miss Maudie) opening night, visit the Guthrie Theater Facebook page.

Isadora Swan and Mary Blair, double cast as Scout in The Guthrie Theater's production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo from Guthrie Theatre facebook page, Stacia Rice's (Miss Maudie) photos.

Isadora Swan and Mary Blair, double cast as Scout in The Guthrie Theater’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Photo from Guthrie Theatre facebook page, Stacia Rice’s (Miss Maudie) photos.

To Kill a Mockingbird is playing at The Guthrie Theater now through October 25, 2015. To see a complete list of cast and crew, please visit the Guthrie Theater website.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Who do you think is the intended audience for this story? Why do people keep coming back to it?