Critical Review is a rigorous writing program that aims to develop critical thinking skills through arts journalism. Students attend and review productions through Hennepin Theater Trust’s Broadway Season and participate in workshops led by experts in the fields of musical theater, writing and journalism. Student reviews are edited for content and style, discussed with program leaders, and posted through an online portal. Internet access is a requirement to participate. This program is offered free of cost to participants thanks to the generous underwriting of Fred and Ann Moore.
Funny Girl on Hennepin: Fanny’s Flauntin’ Into Town
by Molly Pitzen
When I think of classic musicals, there’s one name that comes to mind immediately: Funny Girl. Whether hearing Barbra Streisand in the ‘60s movie or Lea Michele on Glee, Fanny Brice is a staple to my personal theatre experience. Which is why I was excited to see the National tour of the 2022 Broadway revival, which originally didn’t have the most favorable reviews. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this show. Funny Girl at the Orpheum is a fun and interesting take on the famous musical, and, while not perfect, delivers a fantastic dose of classic musical comedy.
It’d be amiss of me not to address the leading woman, Katarina McCrimmon, for her portrayal as fast-talking, joke-cracking Fanny Brice. McCrimmon’s Fanny was whimsical, dynamic, and hilarious, balancing comedic timing with vulnerability. She also doesn’t disappoint with iconic numbers such as “People,” “I’m The Greatest Star,” and “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” However, her vocal and acting choices felt almost like she was trying to replicate other actresses. Some of her mannerisms and singing felt less “Fanny” and more “Barbra,” and I would have loved to see her individualize her performance more. Other performances to note include the fantastic footwork of Izaiah Montaque Harris who plays Eddie, and Fanny’s loving and witty mother played by Barbara Tirrell.
The most eye-catching technical element of this show was the set of exposure lights that line the proscenium arch. These lights flash on and off in various patterns and colors during the most flashy numbers of the show, which help give a jazzy, classic feeling to the entire design. However, I would have loved it if they had limited the usage of these lights to give them more drama when used. The show also utilizes crisp spotlights, especially during 11 o’clock numbers. These lights add tension to the show and add excitement and buildup to the iconic numbers.
It’s also worth mentioning the authenticity of some of the musical’s characters. In real life, Fanny Brice was openly Jewish, a fact that made her success so much more impressive, especially in the time period that she gained her success. This makes me believe that this show should have casted a Jewish woman as Fanny. McCrimmon, while talented, is not Jewish, which made some of the ties to Fanny’s Jewish heritage in the musical (Including a very obvious “Mazel Tov, Fanny” sign in the background of a scene) feel less authentic. While this wasn’t necessarily a factor in the performance itself, it would have been really wonderful to see a Jewish actress play the titular role.
All-in-all, Funny Girl is a jazzy classic, while still offering something fresh in this new take on the original piece. While some elements may not be perfect, the show is still incredibly enjoyable, dynamic, and- well- funny, and it will be sure to make for an exciting evening full of laughter and joy.
Funny Girl – Nearly ‘Gorgeous’
by Leah Rimstad
After years of hearing my friends belt out the music score on karaoke nights, I was thrilled to finally see Funny Girl unfold at the Orpheum Theatre! Undoubtedly, my friends were disappointed that I had never experienced this Broadway gem, but on January 16th that changed. As part of my new year’s resolutions, I want to widen my knowledge on classical shows, which is why Funny Girl couldn’t have come to town at a better time! Funny Girl is a Broadway comedy featuring iconic hits including “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People”. The story follows Fanny Brice, a young woman from the Lower East Side, as she chases her dreams of becoming a star. She was told she could never succeed and achieve her dreams, but did she let them stop her?
While I anticipated a night of jazzy music, the real surprise was the abundance of dance sequences! The choreography done by Ellenore Scott, with tap by Ayodele Casel, was nothing short of ‘Gorgeous’! Making his Broadway National Tour debut, Izaiah Montaque Harris (Eddie Ryan) welcomed the audience in “Eddie’s Tap” yelling, “how are y’all doing” or “I see you there in the back”. “Rat Tat-Tat-Tat” was another notable number, showcasing a strong collective tap sound. The cast also established a strong connection using eye contact, visibly keeping the crowd engaged all night long!
Katerina McCrimmon, a Cuban-American identifying actor, portrayed the role of Fanny Brice. While witnessing her breathtaking vocals of “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, I couldn’t shake off a sense of guilt due to the backlash of casting a non-Jewish actor in the role. Stars, including Jennifer Apple, stated, “The content of this show is specifically about how she was not considered a pretty Jewish woman, that she had to change her name and change her looks to ‘fit in’ that she had to assimilate because of her Jewish identity. To have somebody not be Jewish and do that could perpetuate stereotypes.” Alongside Jennifer, I am very disappointed in the casting team (Jim Carnahan and Jason Thinger, CSA) who misrepresented the Jewish community, especially during a time of rising antisemitism. There is no denying the fact that Katerina McCrimmon was phenomenal on stage, but I would have felt a stronger connection to the character if it was correctly represented by a Jewish actor.
Funny Girl transformed my view on tap – I never considered myself a fan until now! The vocals were breathtaking throughout the night, and the precise choreography served as the cherry on top. If the show had the correct representation of Fanny Brice, it had the potential to exceed being nearly ‘Gorgeous’! Catch Funny Girl running in Minneapolis now – January 21st.
by Claire Huss
Certain musicals rely on an ensemble to hide the imperfections in the writing. Funny Girl puts this responsibility on its lead, Fanny Brice. Funny Girl follows the life and trials of up-and-coming comedienne Fanny Brice and explores her rocky relationship with Nick Arnstein. The show has been criticized as a superficial star vehicle without much of a sustainable plot, and despite how much I enjoyed the ensemble, I must agree. When Barbara Streisand originated the role of Fanny in 1964, the show cemented her status as a performer and boosted her fame instantly.
The spellbinding Katerina McCrimmon steals the show as Fanny. Her commanding stage presence, acting, and dancing make her a delight to watch. But what really sold her to me was her voice. McCrimmon’s voice is clear, exceptionally on-pitch, and piercingly emotional. It is hard to pick a singular song she shines on, but her “The Music That Makes Me Dance ” had me weeping in my seat.
That being said, I recognize that McCrimmon is not of Jewish descent. Without a Jewish actress, the endearing stereotypes Fanny portrays become less playful and more of a mockery. The true story of Fanny Brice, a trailblazing Jewish woman, is minimalized without the vital aspect of her identity. While McCrimmon is an outstanding performer and played Fanny wonderfully, she is ultimately not the right person for this part.
Though I may sound like Fanny carries the entire show on her back, the ensemble provides necessary storytelling aspects. The beautiful full-cast vocals in every Ziegfeld Follies scene, specifically “His Love Makes Me Beautiful”, allow the ensemble to show off musical talent while donning metallic costumes. From butterfly wings, to Cornet Men, to Fanny’s various outfits, Susan Hilferty’s costumes masterfully characterize every actor in a given moment.
Not only did the ensemble shine in their costumes, but the choreography by Ellenore Scott and tap dancing by Ayodele Casel allowed them to show off their dance skills. Izaiah Montaque Harris as Eddie is a standout dancer. His gorgeous tap routines were rhythmic, engaging, and dazzling. His acting was also spectacular, but dancing is how I will remember his performance.
So, should you see Funny Girl? It depends. The plot is fun and silly in the first act with many different songs and stunning solos from McCrimmon, but the second act completely shifts tonally and drags. Despite the writing of the show working against them, somehow the cast makes this show work. You must be wary of McCrimmon’s depiction of Brice knowing her ethnic background, but if you can set all of these factors aside, Funny Girl will at least be pleasant for one act.
Just Too Funny
The show Funny Girl is a vibrant one full of odes to classic broadway, but also an interesting modern sort of undertone that sets it apart from other broadway shows. From the beginning, Fanny Brice believes herself unpleasant to look at but incredibly talented. She climbs the ladder of material success and finds the man of her dreams. Through the second act, her marriage falls apart as her wealth overtakes all marital strife which ultimately results in her marriage ending. By the end, Fanny realizes her true beauty, shown by her bright attitude and shining red flapper. This show is truly one to behold with its incredible visual effects, awe inspiring cast, and nuanced plot.
From the backdrops, to the scene transitions, to the lighting effects, Funny Girl exhibited captivating visuals. The scene changes were incredibly clever, incorporating dance and dialogue. Each backdrop was intricately beautiful with little hidden details that brought it to life, such as a pretty landscape out a window or the signage of the train depot. Not to mention, the lights. The lighting effects are a major highlight that reflect every mood and inflection portrayed by the actors. There are certain times that lights show shadowing effects or color coordination with certain themes. For instance, any time money is brought up, the lights shine green. One small downside of the overall effects was the volume during songs. There are certain times when the orchestra or singer, sometimes both, are a little too loud, making the show feel noisy rather than artistic. Other than that, Funny Girl is so sensorily stimulating in the best way.
As with any Broadway show, the cast is expected to be exceptional, and this show exceeds that. There are various times when the cast reveals their prowess like the captivating and exciting tap dancing numbers, enthralling vocals of Fanny, and the spot-on character portrayal. Every song Fanny sang, the more impressed I was, which really is saying something. To consistently be shocked and inspired from hearing the same person is a feat not many have proven to be successful at, but Katerina McCrimmon playing Fanny pulled it off.
Funny Girl also provides a very interesting plot with notable themes. There are some moments where the show appears misogynistic and generally not accepting of Fanny, but somehow she manages to overcome these ideas. At one point, love interest Nick Arnstein exclaims that if his and Fanny’s marriage “doesn’t happen my way, it doesn’t happen at all.” This line initially strikes an overpowering male chord, but just as soon as he says it, Fanny makes the marriage happen her way. Additionally, Fanny always defies the odds of other people’s ideas of who is beautiful and worthy. As she proves her worth time and time again, she still feels less superior than her other counterparts, but even she changes her own mind by the end of the show. She demonstrates feminism in a quiet way that can only be seen as admirable.
The show Funny Girl is a show of incredible effects, talent, and plot. From its beginning to the end, it remains enthralling to all who watch. Despite its moments of unnecessary loudness and old fashioned dialogue, it truly is a show that will resonate with the audience long after it is over, and I feel all the more lucky having seen it myself. Funny Girl, it’s just too funny.
Peculiar, Amusing, or Laughable
by Axel Duke
Funny Girl is the quintessential Post Golden Age musical. Funny Girl is defined in equal part by its innovations upon the Golden Age formula, and its inability to free itself from the expectations of the Golden Age formula. But unlike how Funny Girl struggled to free itself from the shackles of the golden age, the 2023 US Tour of Funny Girl triumphs over the expectations of its predecessors.
The Post Golden Age can be most easily defined as the bridging era between the Golden Age, and the Pre-Contemporary Era of Broadway. Funny Girl stands as that bridge. It perfectly encapsulates the stylings of the Golden Age, while also displaying the first inklings of the high concepts and power ballads that would grow to define the Pre Contemporary Era. The 2023 US Tour of Funny Girl has managed to build out and reinforce the bridge between the eras its predecessor acted as by fully embracing both what the original Funny Girl was succeeding and what succeeded it.
Funny Girl loosely follows the life of Fanny Brice and her subsequent rise to stardom as a singer/comedian during the Roaring Twenties. Yet the story of Funny Girl acts less as a driving factor of the show, and more as a vehicle for character vignettes displaying the numerous talents of the cast. And believe you me, the cast is talented.
Every rendition of Funny Girl has, by necessity, been jam-packed with skilled performers, but the incredible theatrical genius of this most recent revival can only be described as transcendental.
Izaiah Montaque Harris’s Eddie Ryan displays an impeccable mastery of tap dance that is rivaled only by the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; and whenever his taps collided with the floor the audience couldn’t help but remain petrified in amazement.
Stephen Mark Lukas’s Nick Arnstein was the perfect charmer. An obviously volatile character, but also subtly manipulative, and devilishly alluring. Mr. Lukas had a truly hypnotic personality, which drew in the audience in like a magnet.
Katerina McCrimmon’s Fanny Brice was the perfect mixture of impressionable and headstrong with a voice as powerful as a maestro. Her performance was truly enrapturing, and a strong contender for best portrayal of Fanny Brice.
But performances this good are impossible without the people behind the scenes. Susan Hilferty has created costumes that are both stunningly timeless, and perfectly era-appropriate; every single character is dressed to the nines, and the incredible amount of effort shows front and center. Similarly, the choreography by Ellenore Scott and tap choreography by Ayodele Casel perfectly showcase the talents of the cast, while never overstaying their welcome.
The 2023 US Touring Production of Funny Girl is a proud successor of the 68’ classic and stands head and shoulders above the numerous adaptations and other revivals. With opulent designs and jaw dropping performances, Funny Girl is a worthy addition to the Orpheumheater’s lineup, and a worthwhile way to spend an evening.
What Do Happy People Do? See Funny Girl at the Orpheum, of course!
by Amy Watters
I’m not alone when I say I found the drama behind the Broadway revival of Funny Girl, the story of young performer Fanny Brice and her rise to stardom, far more compelling than the show itself. Naturally, when it was announced the production would go on tour, it was met with some skepticism. Having now seen the touring production, I find it a shame as all that time there has lain a beautifully directed, stunningly designed, and (of course) phenomenally performed rendition of the Streisand classic.
Immediately, Michael Mayer’s direction shines, opening with ghosts from Fanny’s past performances visiting her as she reminisces on the highlights of her career. This scene returns in Act II, giving the show a dreamlike quality like the events are occurring as memories. Mayer demonstrates his strength as a director through the musical numbers. To prevent monotony across Fanny’s many solos, Mayer changes the tone to reflect her mental state. For instance, “I’m the Greatest Star ” is full of movement with Fanny running all over the stage, representing Fanny’s optimism for her future. In contrast, in the Act II showstopper “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” Fanny stands still, letting McCrimmon’s jaw-dropping vocals take focus.
Susan Hilferty’s costumes are a highlight, with the costumes mirroring Fanny’s character arc. At the start, her clothes, such as her muted pink suit-dress, are made from dull fabric, appearing more like hand-me-downs and making Fanny seem out of place among the wealthy producers she works for. After meeting Nick, her costumes become wealthier, using more expensive fabrics like lace and satin and bright, pastel colors. This is most clear when she takes Nick to Henry Street and she stands out among around the crowd with her pink lacy gown (a dress so stunning, my jaw-dropped when it was revealed). Finally, she ends the show in a bold, bright red, beaded dress, having shed the girly persona Nick had forced her into and the pastel and feminine outfits that came with it.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the absolute marvel of Katarina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice. Her performance more than lived up to the legacy of Streisand, delivering what may be the best live vocals I have ever seen. Multiple moments, for instance, the end of the iconic “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” left me floored, fighting the urge to stand up and give a standing ovation. McCrimmon’s acting left nothing to be desired either, serving physical and verbal comedy, and some devastating moments of vulnerability. Everything from her excellent accent to her hilarious physicality created a character filled with nuance and life.
Another standout performer was Barbara Tirrell as Rose Brice, Fanny’s mother. Tirrell made the most of a minimal amount of stage time through her strong sense of warmth and history, elevating a character who may otherwise be forgettable into one with so much depth I found myself wanting to see a musical about her life too. Although she didn’t get as much to sing as I would have hoped, when she did, I was completely entranced, especially at the end of songs like the reprise of “I’m the Greatest Star.”
Overall, the touring production of Funny Girl left a truly fabulous impression. The costumes, performances, and direction were so lively and interesting, that they managed to lift my spirits after a long, dreary, and freezing January day. Just thinking of the show puts a smile on my face and I implore everyone to go out and see this one-of-a-kind production at the Orpheum from now until January 21.
Carried The Impact Home – Company Review
by Sofie Olhoft
From pushing stereotypes to completely reversing typical ideas around marriage and gender roles, Marianne Elliot’s adaptation of Company brings to light the oftentimes crippling pressure to get married as a woman, and how one navigates romantic relationships with that in mind. I saw Company at the Orpheum on November 14th, and it’s safe to say I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Company follows Bobbie, played by Britney Coleman, who’s haunted by her 35th birthday as she’s still single, surrounded by her friends, all of whom are not. Told through a series of non-linear vignettes, Bobbie gets a glimpse into the imperfect lives of these couples and grapples with questions of her own. Is she ready to get married? Who should she marry? When? Should she marry at all? It’s a painfully honest portrayal of the crushing expectation on women to get married and more specifically get married young.
The real kicker, Bobbie was originally written as Bobby, a man. This switch from Sondheim’s original material redirects the entire impact of Company. Bobbie’s interactions with other characters changes significantly as a woman, with wives being jealous at the sight of “single Bobbie.” It’s clear that they, too, fell under pressure of getting married whether it was the right decision or not. While Bobbie would give anything to be married and even begs to in a heart-wrenching performance of “Marry Me A Little,” these wives watch her with envy, recounting that freedom they had before making such a permanent decision. A decision Bobbie is starting to understand the depth of.
And not only being jealous of Bobbie’s freedom, but also of her attitude and appearance. Sarah, played by the hilarious Kathryn Allision, comparing her appearance and weight to Bobbie’s, it feels so real, not being able to stop comparing yourself all the time. Even the passive aggressive comments that slip out because it’s all you’re thinking. Honestly, you can’t imagine having lost such a genuine moment in the show.
Another scene in Company that demonstrates how crucial the gender swap is: “Ladies Who Lunch.” Joanne, who is wonderfully played by Judy McLane with a powerful voice and demanding presence, pours out these looming insecurities and burdens and regrets. It’s a sobering moment for a scene drunk with martinis as Bobbie realizes what she could end up as: addicted to change, drowning in drinks, never satisfied. This is a crucial part of the gender swap we wouldn’t get in the original, this shocking look into a future she could be stuck with.
Even the outfit Bobbie’s wearing puts an emphasis on her independence. Bobbie iconically adorns a red pantsuit throughout the show. It demands the audience’s attention against the gray sets and gives her power over her suitors dressed in blue. There’s an appealing pop art twist on this modernized show. The timing throughout the show is clean, with doors snapping shut in unison, rooms clicking together just as a character bursts through the door. Visually, Company is a must see.
It’s hard to even imagine Company without Bobbie. Not only in Bobbie being female herself, but in her interactions with other women throughout the show. All the messages we would’ve lost, the insecurities, not needing to get married even though everyone has told you your whole life you must, it gives the show such a deep meaning. An impact I carried with me home, let sit on my dresser where I’d see it to be reminded that other women feel the same. Elliot’s adaptation of Company is revolutionary not only to me but to the women in the audience who felt seen, and to theater as we know it.
Here Comes Company! It’s Back, and Better Than Ever
by Peyton Webb
Grab a margarita and plug in the neon lights because Company has arrived in Minneapolis! The award-winning musical comedy, written by Steven Sondheim and George Furth and directed by Marianne Elliot, had a stunning opening at the Orpheum Tuesday. This modern version of the 1970 classic exceeded expectations and blew the audience away. Bobbie, who is still single on her 35th birthday, talks to and observes her coupled-up friends. She is told and shown in the most hilarious ways possible about how infuriating yet worthwhile marriage is, and how “you’re always sorry, you’re always grateful.” At the end, Bobbie realizes marriage may be the most difficult, incredible, pointless, and meaningful thing on the planet all at once.
This gender-bent revival of Company changes Bobby to Bobbie, a woman, played by the phenomenal Britney Coleman. While her vocals were a bit underwhelming in the opening number, “Company,” she quickly made up for it with stellar acting and singing throughout the show, including a heart-wrenching performance of the iconic final song, “Being Alive.” In addition to her musical talent, Coleman’s comedic timing and acting throughout the production was top-notch. Jacob Dickey, Tyler Hardwick, and David Socolar were all incredible in their rendition of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” an upbeat musical number with fun choreography and barbershop quartet-esque harmonies. However, Hardwick’s later song, “Another Hundred People,” felt a bit lackluster and shaky.
Other notable performers included James Earl Jones II (yes, the son of that James Earl Jones) in “Sorry-Grateful” with his beautiful, serenading voice, and Matt Rodin in “Getting Married Today,” which had the audience, including myself, crying from laughter. Of course there are a few weak moments, but as a whole, the cast’s talent was simply astonishing; their singing and dancing were vibrant and awe-inspiring.
The technical elements were also masterfully done. Bobbie’s bright red jumpsuit contrasted with the others’ cool-toned, muted costumes, making it visually obvious how out of place she feels. The set was rather untraditional and inventive, it consisted of a series of rooms that moved across the stage. Every scene was framed by neon lighting, giving it all a flashy yet cohesive look that fit the setting of NYC. The rooms themselves were simplistic, which allowed focus on characters and plot. Lighting and blocking were successful in portraying emotions onstage, particularly with the staging in the opening number and the lighting in “Side By Side By Side.” In each scene, these elements highlighted Bobbie’s feelings, whether it be panic, claustrophobia, or absolute chaos.
Although no show is perfect, weaknesses in Company are few. Between its side-splitting humor, snazzy neon sets, and jaw-dropping talent, there’s certainly something for everyone. Company is in Minneapolis through November 19th; you’ll be missing out if you don’t come to celebrate Bobbie’s birthday!
Harmony in Chaos: Company
by Amélie Tonoyan
2011 saw a radical revival of the ground-breaking musical Company, which followed the deep existential journey of its lead character Bobbie. Neil Patrick Harris and Patti LuPone led the revival. With unmatched vitality and modern resonance, this revival gave the 1970 original production a lively new lease on life, challenging social norms and narrative structures.
A key component of the 2011 rebirth is its inventive directing style, which offers a novel interpretation of the traditional story. A unified and modern reworking of the musical is achieved through the captivating set design, finely tailored costumes, and creative lighting choices. Every one of these components is a brushstroke in a visual masterpiece that propels Company with renewed vigor into the present while still honoring the past.
Characters are the foundation of any Company performance. It explores the complexities of performance and reveals how the director’s influence changes the interactions between characters through a close analysis of their portrayals in relation to the original production. By giving well-known parts a fresh start, this transformational approach keeps the spirit of the original production while making the characters relatable to a contemporary audience.
Reimagined orchestrations and musical arrangements also added a modern musical language to Sondheim’s classic piece. Both devoted followers of the original (me included) and brand new audiences were moved by the vibrant soundscape produced by this blending of traditional and contemporary musical elements. The musical selections for the revival captured the essence of Company’s timeless vitality while also honoring Sondheim’s talent and demonstrating a willingness to try new things.
The 2011 revival of Company is evidence of this musical masterpiece’s versatility and ongoing significance. By means of inventive direction, updated themes, dynamic staging, varied casting, and a revitalized musical score, the revival not only paid tribute to the heritage of the original production but also achieved unprecedented success for Company. By acting as a link between the past and the present, it made sure that Sondheim’s examination of the human condition would always enthrall and strike a chord with audiences, despite the passage of time and cultural conventions.
Aladdin: Notes of Nostalgia and Grandeur
by Amélie Tonoyan
Imagine a stage adorned with culture, vibrant colors, and an atmosphere of grandeur. Such was the enchanting experience of attending the performance of Aladdin on the fifth of December at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Beyond the enchanting magic of the spectacle, a vibrant narrative unfolded as we leapt from building to building alongside the riff-raff and street rat who is Aladdin. The narrative took us on a journey, witnessing the blossoming love between Aladdin and Jasmine, and soaring through the skies on a magical carpet.
Entering Aladdin, my expectations were fueled by the anticipation of fun and nostalgia, and the Orpheum did not disappoint in delivering those sentiments. However, the opening number initially felt a bit off, lacking the expected energy. Yet, as the cast gradually warmed up, so did my own enthusiasm. The ensemble choreography, a touch often absent in contemporary musicals, was a delightful surprise, echoing the characteristic flair that Disney constantly diffuses into their productions (even in their films). The ensemble’s performance created a visual spectacle, with images and colors that shimmered. While some musicals require a sense of seriousness in their presentations, Aladdin masterfully infused a feeling of sheer fun, and the choreography played a pivotal role in achieving this atmosphere.
Crafting the atmospheric and nostalgic essence of Aladdin hinges on key casting decisions, pivotal in immersing the audience in the enchanting world of Disney’s iconic movie. Every casting choice made felt as perfect as it could possibly be, contributing to the overall success of the production. Adi Roy’s depiction of Aladdin felt akin to sinking into my childhood couch, wrapped in warmth while curled up with my family to relish the cozy nostalgia of watching the original 1992 film. His seamless fusion of charisma and mischief evoked a genuine sense of joy. Senzel Ahmady’s portrayal of Jasmine embodied what most know and love of a Disney princess: mannerisms of enchantment and grace. Surprisingly, apart from the inclusion of modern jokes and references, the most significant change in Aladdin from the original was the absence of the monkey Abu, Aladdin’s faithful partner in crime. In place of Abu, the characters Omar, Babkak, and Kassim took on distinctive roles, infusing the narrative with humor and providing a deeper exploration of the complexities within Aladdin’s character; their presence emphasized the significance and loyalty inherent in genuine friendship.
Similar to the significance of casting individuals who can authentically embody both themselves and beloved characters, the importance of casting with culture and race in mind cannot be overstated. Growing up Armenian, I often found myself yearning for stories that resonated with my experiences or, given the diverse cultural nuances within Europe and Asia, stories that made me feel represented and loved in a manner comparable to narratives predominantly centered around white characters. Witnessing the main characters on stage accurately represented by those of the Middle East and Asia was a crucial and affirming dimension of the theatrical experience—an element often overlooked in many stage productions and films. As the final curtain fell, I was left with a sense of gratitude for a show that had captivating performances, vibrant storytelling, and a celebration of diverse cultures.
Shining, Shimmering, Splendid – Aladdin
by Claire Huss
Disney’s Aladdin is a spectacular adaptation of Disney’s 1992 animated film. The story depicts the titular character, Aladdin, stumbling through life as a pickpocket in the marketplace of Agrabah. His life is forever changed when he meets the independent Princess Jasmine and seeks her company via wishes from a Genie. Opening on Broadway in 2011, the musical was vastly successful – a relief considering the nearly $15 million budget.
The hero of this production of Aladdin is scenic designer Bob Crowley. Aladdin is a feast for the eyes, from the vibrant marketplace to the splendor of the palace to the grandiose Cave of Wonders. There were several gasps from the audience at each glimmer of gold, sunset behind the castle, or floating carpet. This grandeur is only amplified by the litany of costumes designed by Gregg Barnes, shimmering exquisitely on every single cast member.
“Friend Like Me” is the most impressive number I have ever seen. Marcus M. Martin (Genie) is a star. However, this song depends not only on him but also on the cast behind him executing each effect he needs to show Aladdin. I never wanted this song to end. With each new bit, whether it was a “Dancing With the Stars” spoof, a Disney ballad cabaret, or a game show host, I was having the time of my life. So, imagine the pure joy coursing throughout my body when I heard tap shoes offstage. What?! They can do that?! The final minute of the song was pure bliss.
Admittedly, “A Whole New World” fell a bit flat for me. Although the floating carpet is undeniably impressive, the darkness in this scene left me desiring more. Instead of seeing Jasmine and Aladdin fall in love on this carpet ride, I squinted and wished I could see their faces. The actors sounded terrific together, but hearing them without physically seeing their expressions was not enough. It was a letdown not to see Jasmine’s amazement as the two floated across the stage.
Between ensemble vocals and director Casey Nicholaw’s gorgeous choreography, this cast was outstanding. In “Arabian Nights,” the show kicks off with beautiful Bollywood-style dancing in the marketplace of Agrabah. Every jump from the men was perfectly in sync, and the scarves waved by the women were entrancing. “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” allowed the talents in the marketplace to shine through once again, and it was delightful to see the fight choreography between the dopey guards and clever robbers.
Aladdin was just like watching the original Disney film – but even more fun to experience live. The flawless voices for each character, such as Jafar and Iago, added to the atmosphere of whimsy and an intentionally over-the-top feel. From the opulence of Jasmine’s palace to the slums of Agrabah, this show was pure fun. The immense talent of each member of this cast allowed magic to happen onstage (with the help of special effects designer Jeremy Chernick). If you are looking for a fun night full of nostalgia and wonder, see Aladdin while you can!
Disney’s Aladdin – Soars to a Whole New World in Minneapolis!
by Leah Rimstd
I grew up dreaming to soar the sky on a flying carpet! At the age of 5 I rode the “Magic Carpets of Aladdin” in Disney World, but now at 16, the Aladdin Tour is my new way of fulfilling this childhood fantasy! Minneapolis is the next destination on the carpet’s journey, running at the Orpheum theater from Dec. 5th – Dec. 10. I was fortunate enough to score a seat on the 7th at 7:30pm, and it truly felt like we were in “A Whole New World”! Aladdin covers the story of a young man finding love with the help of a magical Genie. He is granted 3 wishes, but he must use them carefully in order to get what he desires. With breathtaking music by Alan Menken and countless adventurous scenes, Aladdin is guaranteed fun for the whole family! As Aladdin would ask, “Do you trust me?”
The Agrabah story begins with an energized performance of “One Jump Ahead” with lead vocals by Adi Roy (Aladdin). Previously playing Phoenix in the Broadway revival cast of Jagged Little Pill, Roy is no stranger to the stage! He is supported by a 26 person company contributing to breathtaking energy in “Friend Like Me” in which Casey Nicholaw (Director/Choreographer) has visibly done his part. The applause after this number was some of the loudest I’ve ever heard! And although I was thrilled to see these phenomenal roles and scenes, I had also anxiously awaited the portrayal of Jasmine since the beginning! The 20 year old actress, Senzel Ahmady, made herself the youngest Filipina to ever play Jasmine. Her breathtaking performance of “These Palace Walls” filled my soul with ambition, and a young audience member in front of me appeared to feel the same. Just when I thought the casting couldn’t get any better, Marcus M. Martin granted my wish of a perfect Genie, portraying the iconic role with style! I met him at the stage door after the show, and he assured us that he would get to everyone for a picture. He is a great guy, and exactly what I had envisioned for the role. Tara Rubin Casting has worked with many broadway productions including Dear Evan Hansen, Les Misérables, ect. This casting company has excelled in understanding and portraying an artist’s vision, and they visibly continue to do so!
Designed by Gregg Barnes, a grand total of 236 costumes elegantly encapsulated the beauty of Middle Eastern culture! He spent eight hours drawing/painting each costume sketch, and the details from the sketch to the final costumes honorably present his work. These costumes include 2,039 fabrics from all around the world, and were hand made by 205 people. I was
amazed to read that after all the precise beading, Jasmine’s wedding gown weighs a total of 18 pounds! Aladdin was filled with scenic elements, a notable one being the flying carpet used in “A Whole New World”. The kid beside me told her mom, “They are really flying!” The scenic design (Bob Crowly) even made me sometimes question, “how?” I began to feel like a little kid again, who would dream and believe in these Disney stories. The hauling of 236 costumes, 15 tons of flying scenery, a 75 person company, all traveling together to 36 cities in the 2022-2023 season is truly a work of magic!
I stepped out of the theater feeling more youthful, and ended the night at the stage door to meet the cast. I even scored a playbill full of signatures and pictures! Why not get “One Jump Ahead” this holiday season and enjoy your own tickets to Aladdin? The touring company will be running now – Dec. 10 at the Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis. Don’t let this production soar away from your weekend plans!
Aladdin: One Jump Behind
by Jed Stahlback
Having previously seen Aladdin two times on Broadway, once with James Monroe Iglehart, the original Genie who won a Tony award for the role, and growing up watching the animated Disney movie, this production of Aladdin felt bland, uninspired, and overall disappointing. Aladdin: The Musical tells the tale of a young beggar named Aladdin who discovers a magical lamp containing a Genie. Set in the city of Agrabah, the musical follows Aladdin’s adventures as he uses the Genie’s powers to win the heart of Princess Jasmine, while facing the heartless and conniving Jafar who seeks the lamp for his sinister purposes.
Despite the promise of transporting audiences to a vibrant, mystical world, the set design fell remarkably short, lacking the vivacity and grandeur expected. The stage, regrettably, appeared dull and monotonous, failing to capture the essence of Agrabah’s enchanting allure. The minimalistic approach felt more like a barren canvas than the bustling marketplace one anticipates in the tale.
Moreover, the casting choices unfortunately missed the mark in embodying the iconic characters. The actors seemed disconnected from their roles, lacking the depth and charisma needed to bring these beloved personas to life. Aladdin, played by Adi Roy, lacked the charm and relatability that made the character endearing, leaving a void in the heart of the performance. Roy also messed up the words in “A Whole New World” but was luckily saved by Jasmine, played by Senzel Ahmady, who sang his part and played it off well. Senzel Ahmady’s portrayal of Jasmine, while earnest, fell short of encapsulating the assertive yet compassionate nature that defines her character.
This specific production missed crucial opportunities to infuse the narrative with the magic and wonder integral to the story. The absence of visual spectacle and the reliance on underwhelming effects diminished the show’s potential. The lack of innovation and imagination in executing pivotal scenes, such as the iconic magic carpet ride or the Cave of Wonders, left much to be desired, failing to evoke the awe-inspiring moments audiences eagerly anticipate.
Additionally, many of the talented actors were unable to be understood due to their poor diction during the show. Characters such as the Genie, played by Marcus M. Martin, or Babkak, played by Jake Letts, fast-paced dialogue and deficient enunciation left many jokes unintelligible leading to the comedy of the show falling flat.
While the musical numbers retained their infectious melodies, the execution failed to captivate. The choreography, while technically very proficient, lacked the energy and enthusiasm needed to elevate the performance. The songs, instead of being showstoppers, felt like mere renditions, missing the opportunity to enthrall and transport the audience. One example of this is the song “Friend Like Me” much of the song felt mundane and sloppy, with many actors bumping into each other. However, “Friend Like Me” was saved by the tap dancing at the end of the number and the big finish, which felt like the cast members were having fun being on stage and working together, giving the audience the same experience in their seats.
In essence, this rendition of Aladdin fell short of capturing the soul and magic of the beloved tale. The lackluster set design, misaligned casting choices, and disjointed execution hindered the production from achieving the brilliance expected from such a cherished story. Despite retaining the heart of the narrative, the show failed to deliver the enchantment and spectacle that make Aladdin a timeless classic.
Aladdin Tour Brings Magic to Minneapolis
by Mackenzie Bounds
Many people are familiar with Disney’s famous 1992 animated movie, Aladdin. Translated onto the stage in 2011, the musical follows the same entertaining plot while incorporating new songs by Alan Menken and Chad Beguelin. The story tells the tale of a love-stricken commoner, Aladdin (Adi Roy), and how he befriends a comedic Genie (Marcus M. Martin) to woo Princess Jasmine (Senzel Ahmady). Through captivating choreography, gorgeous designs, and a heartwarming narrative, the show takes the audience right into the fictional city of Agrabah.
Aladdin, along with most Disney princess films, was a staple of my childhood. Needless to say, nostalgia and excitement made my expectations high, and I was not left disappointed. I found myself overjoyed as I watched the classic animation come to life before my eyes. Aladdin is a technical masterpiece, and although certain new plot lines and additional music fail to live up to the original movie, the actors bring a contagious energy to the stage which makes the show a fun experience for everyone in attendance.
Aladdin kicked off to a lively start with the opening number, “Arabian Nights.” I felt chills across my body as the ensemble mesmerized the audience with Bollywood style choreography while they moved in perfect sync, their sparkling costumes dazzling under the bright strobes. Martin’s incredible performance as Genie in “Arabian Nights” was exceeded only by the undoubtedly best and most iconic part of Aladdin, “Friend Like Me.” Martin held the audience in the palm of his hand during the number and preceding scene, making sassy quips and modern references that resulted in eruptive laughter and applause. The number highlighted not only Genie (one of my favorite parts was his hilarious Disney medley) but also the splendidly costumed ensemble during a grand tap number and chorus line. I found myself smiling along as I watched pure joy emulate from performers, leaving me craving more.
However, not every moment onstage felt as purposeful and stimulating. “A Whole New World” was unfortunately underwhelming which distracted me from the wondrous magic of the flying carpet. During the song, as well as the rest of Aladdin, Roy had a very breathy and nervous-sounding voice which was overpowered by the louder Ahmady. Although louder, the song sounded out of her range, so despite the actors’ great chemistry together, their voices unpleasantly contrasted which weakened the otherwise perfect scene. Ahmady’s individual performance also fell flat, especially during “These Palace Walls”, a song created for the stage adaptation. The track had potential to be a powerful and empowering female ballad, but ultimately became one-dimensional because Ahmady strained to hit notes and make strong character choices. However, she was not the only one who struggled to stand out; Aladdin’s trio of friends, although somewhat funny at points, made no significant impact due to poor and seemingly rushed writing. It was as though their characters existed to make a shorter film into a two act stage musical.
Aside from a few weak vocals and unnecessary new moments in the plot, the low points of the show in no way overpower the beautiful world and story that the company successfully creates. I recommend Aladdin to anyone hoping to relive Disney’s magic for a night or experience the joy of live theatre!
Aladdin: A Show of Wonders
by Annika Malchow
Everyone knows the story of Aladdin: a poor man off the streets meets the Genie of the Lamp and is able to wish himself out of poverty to be with the woman he loves, who so happens to be the princess, Jasmine. He realizes that his worth isn’t dependent on his social standing, sets Genie free, and lives happily ever after with his princess in the land of Agrava. This show is vibrant, loud, and fun. Full of exciting dances and stirring accompaniments that create a lively atmosphere that will make anyone smile and cheer. Although there was some lacking effort with some of the sets, this show is great for anyone who just wants to have a fun night and see some great theatre.
It is truly astounding how much difference the technical elements of a show can make. Aladdin did not disappoint. Consistently throughout the performance, the orchestra provided a strong and boisterous sound that melded perfectly with the incredible lights and dances. The use of projections and animation was mesmerizing to behold, and one could truly just sit in awe at all there was to see. Of course, nothing less could be expected of a Disney show. It isn’t hard to see how they create an atmosphere of magic. Aladdin’s magic carpet moved very smoothly through the star studded backdrop, and the mechanics behind it couldn’t be seen. It would have been nice to see some more set pieces, though. Most of the scenes were transitioned on with simple backdrops while there was room for set pieces to be utilized and incorporated in the scenes. Other than the slightly disappointing lack of set, the show was breathtaking technically.
I would describe Aladdin himself as the chip that carried the flavorful dip of other people’s personalities to the hungry audience. Most of the supporting characters were all different and expressive, but Aladdin was a little less out-there. It wasn’t really an issue, it was just an interesting choice to make the main character a little less vibrant than the rest. All that aside, the performances were immaculate. The costumes are so fun, the harmonies hit just right, the dancers are expressive. The actor who plays Genie is enthralling in his performance. There were several allusions to today’s pop culture and events that just made the audience go wild. Specifically, the scene for “Friend Like Me” is just yummy to watch. All the actors quickly change into several different costumes to portray different personalities that keeps the number fresh, and there’s a grand finale that has a sort of Rockette feel to it. Not to mention, the Cave of Wonders was so sparkly and wonderful to look at. The audience erupted and I couldn’t help but just smile through it all.
One known aspect of Disney is the magic that it makes everyone feel. It’s the whole brand. There are certainly several glimmers and shines in the show Aladdin that can make anyone smile. Considering the fact that this show is from such a lucrative franchise, it was a little shocking that the sets weren’t that elaborate, but the lights, song, and dance all made up for it. It’s certainly a sight to behold.
Hennepin Nights! – Disney’s Aladdin
by Amy Watters
Growing up with two Disney adults as parents, I watched more than my fair share of the classics and Aladdin was always a favorite of mine. I adored the vibrant setting, dynamic characters, and Alan Menckan’s spellbinding score. Fortunately, the stage adaptation now showing at the Orpheum Theater from December 5-10 captures this magic in most regards, if at the expense of the story.
The show opens brilliantly with “Arabian Nights,” setting the tone and placing the audience in the middle of Agrabah. While Marcus M. Martin’s energetic performance as Genie excites the audience, the entrance of the ensemble’s vocals and dance elevates the number into a spectacle due to the powerful harmonies and crisp choreography.
Immediately the production wowed me with Gregg Barnes’ gorgeous costumes. I especially loved Jasmine and Genie’s costumes, some of which glittered for us in the back of the house. The production design and stage direction also deserve shoutouts for turning such a small space into a bustling city. However, the real star of the show is the Cave of Wonders, the design of which was so stunning it hurt my eyes just looking at it. The attention to detail was phenomenal with hanging gold pieces that made the space truly feel like a sand cave made of riches. Occasionally the backdrops appeared bland in comparison, but the highs of the Cave of Wonders and Jasmine’s quarters more than made up for it.
Though the production was outstanding, the performances varied. Although each performer brings new life to their characters, the show’s structure holds them back. As I mentioned earlier, Martin is incredible as Genie. Taking on one of the most iconic roles in film history is no small feat and Martin triumphs. He carries multiple musical numbers due to the sheer energy and light he gives the character, especially during the 8-minute showstopper “Friend Like Me.” Senzel Ahmady shines as Princess Jasmine, who gracefully portrays her character’s conflict and personality. Of the new music, her song “These Palace Walls” stands out for bringing new context to the character.
Unfortunately, other characters failed to translate as strongly. Anand Nagraj as Jafar was particularly disappointing, failing to convey the menace of the original character. This issue was exacerbated by a shocking lack of stage time for the character as the show favors spending time with Aladdin’s friends. Although their songs “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “High Adventure” are entertaining, they don’t add depth to the story, taking away time to develop the principal cast. Aladdin suffers the most, leaving the audience confused about what his character learned over the course of the story. His main conflict regarding his shame for his background is not truly introduced until Act 2 and is quickly resolved when Jasmine forgives him for lying almost immediately. Considering the excellent structure of the original, I found myself disappointed by the musical’s lack of resolution for Aladdin which left the story feeling incomplete.
While watching the show, I found myself thinking that within this 2 hour-long spectacle there was a tighter and more compelling 90-minute story hidden within it, which just so happens to be the animated film with its more fleshed-out characters, stronger plot, and fantastically-despicable protagonist. Nonetheless, the gorgeous production design, stellar ensemble, and lead performances made for an enjoyable end to my Tuesday.
Minnesotan Magic in a Musical – Girl from the North Country
by Gabby Haake
Name something more Minnesotan than a musical set in Duluth, packed with Minnesota-specific humor, featuring music by none other than the Bob Dylan. That’s right, you can’t! Set during the Great Depression, Conor McPherson’s Girl From The North Country contains all of these elements, while following different families’ stories and exhibiting themes of intense conflict, and intense love.
While watching Girl From The North Country, which I recommend you do, you’re guaranteed to have a laugh. The musical’s humor mostly consists of sarcasm/stating the obvious, which Jennifer Blood delivers hilariously. In addition, you’ll hear several relatable Minnesota remarks, for example, mention of our infamous 7 month long Winter. Be aware that this musical also contains plenty of explicit language, though usually used to contribute to humor, or firm moments.
A strong question I had while watching (specifically the first half hour of) the show was, why a musical? Girl From The North Country seemed like it could’ve and should’ve been a play. It’s possible I felt this way due to its simple set and technical elements that were particularly dull in color, but I think the real reason was because it did such a good job at creating such heavy, emotional moments, all without music. Even at times when I struggled to grasp at the plot, it was effortless to become emotional.
Although the musical aspects sometimes felt unnecessary, as I continued to watch, I wasn’t at all mad about them. Several numbers that were included were HEAVENLY, and stuck with me. Music director Wiley Deweese helped the cast do Dylan justice. The songs featured harmonies in which I could clearly hear each voice part, while they were also blending impeccably, creating an addictive sound. “Slow Train” was my all-time favorite, but “Like a Rolling Stone (reprise)” comes in at a close second, as it was the perfect way to end Act I. Even songs that were more lowkey were also enjoyable – they felt cozy.
As far as technical elements, the lighting in Girl From The North Country wasn’t astonishing to me. The duration of the musical featured a pretty dim stage, which felt fitting for the show, but was nothing that caught my eye. At two points throughout the production, disco balls filled the auditorium with dazzling sparkle which was super enchanting, but didn’t really fit the vibe of the show!
As opposed to the lighting aspects of tech, the sound aspects were engaging and BRILLIANT! Thanks to sound design Simon Baker, they were beautifully done and stood out to me. At one point, a sound effect came from backstage, almost causing me to jump out of my seat, which further immersed me in the story. Another example was during an extremely emotional scene involving the talented Matt Manuel, slight sounds of a thunderstorm as well as old, classical music accompanied a heavy argument, which added so much more to the scene.
Although I was sometimes turned off by STUNNING and fitting elements not existing in harmony, Girl From The North Country is definitely worth experiencing. Blessing your ears with soulful harmonies, and connecting with fellow Minnesotans through the art of musical theater is a must.
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Not Alright
By Huxley Westemeier
There are certain shows that just don’t make sense. I’m not talking about the set design, the music, or even the cast. In the newly launched Broadway tour Girl From the North Country, all of those things are fine. Not stellar, and there are definitely major technical issues, but the overall live performance is acceptable and I don’t feel the need to go in depth about the design elements. They’re fine. Where the show falls apart is the basic concept. Blending popular Bob Dylan songs with a highly dramatized play that attempts to shoehorn in as much saturated commentary about racism, abuse, and mental health in the mid twentieth century as possible just didn’t work for me. Especially when the stellar music is only used as a disjointed and often shortened interlude between scenes and the dramaturgical choices, including the Minnesotan accents which are nearly impossible to comprehend, distract from what could have otherwise been a wonderful production.
There’s no doubt that Bob Dylan is a fantastic songwriter, but the selections in Girl are downright bizarre. For starters, there’s a five piece band (playing beautifully live on stage and a part of the show, a wonderful thing to see) consisting of a piano, guitar, violin, bass, and percussion. But the limited instrument selection doesn’t have enough tonal variety, and halfway through Act 1 the “Tony-Award Winning” orchestrations start to blend together and become repetitive, despite the musicians working effortlessly with their limited material. While popular crowd favorites, “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young”, are well performed, they don’t make any sense thematically and only occasionally inch the story along. The choice to use condenser microphones combined with audio effects, perhaps as a way to feel more accurate to the historical context and create an older feel, meant that for the most intimate and memorable songs the audio wasn’t adjusted properly and the mix was so awful that entire phrases blended together, at least from my seat in the higher back balcony.
The plot line is convoluted and bland. The official tour website describes the show as “It’s 1934 in Duluth, Minnesota. We meet a group of wayward travelers whose lives intersect in a guesthouse filled with music, life, and hope”. That’s a very optimistic description. In reality, the characters aren’t particularly memorable.The script creates a soap-opera-esque atmosphere with too many characters introduced at one time, and feels like a first draft that went straight to the stage. Even the overarching commentary on mental health and sexual abuse feels distant. After every potentially emotional or heartbreaking moment we’re treated to a musical interlude that just doesn’t set the right tone. The fact that the author/director Conor McPherson isn’t from Minnesota (he’s an Irish West End director) only makes the accents and strange references (including an obvious mention of the Vikings) feel even more disconnected.
Girl From the North Country isn’t a terrible show. It just doesn’t represent Minnesotan stories accurately and doesn’t meet the expectations of a professional Broadway touring production in contrast to the thematically similar and incredible production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The tour is launching in Minnesota and the technical crew have had weeks to make sure everything in the theater is perfect. There shouldn’t be sound issues in any seat in the house, and especially not for a production dedicated to one of Minnesota’s most popular musicians. This show caters mainly to non-theater fans of Bob Dylan’s music, and I strongly believe this shouldn’t be their first experience with theater as an art form. I’ve been going to professional theater productions for years and this production was a disappointment with the unprofessional elements and inaccessible storyline. I’d recommend skipping Girl from the North Country, and wait for any of the other productions coming later this season. It’s just too tiring and confusing of an evening to recommend. So stay home, turn up your speakers, and put on a Bob Dylan album. You’ll enjoy it more.
Girl From the North Country
by Madie Barnes
When watching a show for the first time, many things can make it great. From believable performances, cast chemistry, stellar singing, and of course a good plot. I was excited to see the tour of Girl From the North Country‘s first-ever performance which was on October 10, 2023, at the Orpheum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and even more excited when my very own governor made an appearance to introduce the show. I expected the show to have most of the attributes of a good show, but unfortunately, when I saw Girl from the North Country, the show fell short of almost all of these things.
One very important part of a show of course is its plot, however it’s hard to judge a show’s plot when there doesn’t seem to be a clear one. This is unfortunate for the actors because they had no control over the chaos that the author of the show, Conor McPherson, chose to write. From the unnecessary characters, such as all of the businessmen and Elias Burke, who wasn’t involved in the story at all until his death where he sang a song and left. The swearing in the show also felt unnecessary and almost took away from the power of the words; if only said a few times, it would add emphasis and enhance the realism; however, it occurred so often that it almost took you away from the show. Overall, the script was nothing good, but I feel if the actors had made different choices, the show could have had a chance.
The show had a hard time choosing one person to focus on and instead chose them all. The stage also felt very crowded at times, and like there were unnecessary people only adding distraction, not dimensions. One actor in particular I felt really took away from the story was Reverend Marlowe, who was played by Jeremy Webb. He spoke with so little diction and never changed his tone, so that he seemed like an animated character, even in serious scenes. Another character who was difficult to understand and took away from the story was Nick Laine, played by John Schiappa, who is the owner of the guesthouse that he lives in with his wife, his children, and his mistress. As he tried to make his character more realistic, he ended up talking at a speed not right for the stage, which made him hard to understand and overall also lacked diction like many of the characters in the show.
Even though there was some acting that lacked believability or even diction there was still some amazing acting and singing from Marianne and Gene Laine (Sharae Moultrie and Ben Biggers). This sibling duo was definitely the strongest actors and singers in the show. The emotion and chemistry that Sharae Moultrie was able to portray in her scenes with Joe Scott (Matt Manuel), even when they weren’t the stars of the scene you could always see them talking to each other in the background which added so much to a show that has so many characters they don’t have time to focus on just one. In the song “I Want You” the voices of Ben Biggers and Chiara Trentalange (who played Kate Draper) blended so well together that was also combined with their on-stage chemistry making it the most emotional song of the show. The best part of this song was the fact that it made logical sense in the show, unlike most other songs which lacked purpose and meaning in relation to the story.
Overall, the show was chaotic because of the script. Rushed because of the actors and paused because of the songs. It had a very subpar plot, and the characters were played by very average actors. The singing was the best part of the show but when watching the show it felt like watching a play that got repeatedly interrupted by singing, songs of which made no logical sense.
From Dylan to Drama: Girl from the North Country
by Amélie Tonoyan
Seated in the elegant Orpheum Theatre on October 10th, I was captivated by the narrative of Girl from the North Country, which seemed perfectly complemented by its Minnesota setting. It was a delightful discovery, albeit belated, as I had regrettably not been familiar with this musical before.The music (all by Bob Dylan) in this performance exists independently of the plot, in a manner reminiscent of “Mamma Mia,” while the story (by Conor McPherson) takes place during the Great Depression. In order to guarantee his daughter’s future, Nick Lane, a man who is about to lose his home, resorts to renting out rooms and arranging her marriage.
I had a rush of exhilaration as the music started to permeate the room. Elegant instrumentation expertly brought Bob Dylan’s moving songs and lyrics to life. I was enthralled by the captivating charm with which the onstage pit orchestra and actors performed their instruments. Without a question, the production’s transforming heart—what took it from good to extraordinary—was the music.
The ambiance of the performance exuded a play-like quality, but the music’s entrance reshaped the entire experience. The cast and ensemble not only did justice to the music but also elevated it to an inspiring and life-enriching level. Every step taken by the ensemble drew the audience deeper into the narrative, and every harmonious note resonated profoundly with me. This show demonstrated the profound beauty of music and then seamlessly integrated the cast to make it even more remarkable. The ensemble was a director’s and producer’s dream, with each member staying true to their character, creating an ensemble without a single weak link.
Unfortunately, attending Girl from the North Country had an apparent flaw: the persistent issue of muffled character dialogues paired with the already confusing plot. Given their extensive resources, one would expect they could find a solution, yet the large size of the theater offers a considerable obstacle in terms of sound.
On a brighter note, the Minnesota setting of Girl from the North Country gave the audience an additional dimension of enjoyment and connection. The humor and Minnesota-related references struck a chord with me and a large portion of the audience, (as Minnesota isn’t often a common setting in theater) creating a sense of shared experience and an enhanced sense of pleasure. Regional references and local jokes created a special relationship that made the performance more interesting and approachable.
Girl from the North Country is a musical that expertly fuses a gripping – even if oftentimes challenging to understand – story with the beautiful melodies of Bob Dylan. It succeeds in connecting with the audience despite a few hitches thanks to its regional flair and, ultimately, the charm of live performance.
Girl From the North Country: The Times They Have A-Changed
by Jed Stahlback
Having grown up in Minnesota my entire life, and spent every summer in Duluth, Girl From the North Country‘s setting was familiar but with otherworldly elements. The show is a step back in time, it’s simple yet complex, comforting yet disturbing, and nostalgic but so relevant. However, elements of it could be improved. Conor McPherson’s musical is set in Duluth, Minnesota during the Great Depression. Most of the story takes place in a guest house occupied by a multitude of people whom the difficulties of the depression have hit. The central plot line follows the Laine family who run the struggling guest house filled with friends and others who are struggling with issues of their own such as mental illness, financial problems, grief, and other troubles.
Dylan’s music throughout the show is utilized to make the musical feel more like a play with musical interludes, rather than a typical musical that uses music to move the show along. This made many of the performances and musical numbers feel dull and forgettable. An example of this is “I Want You” performed by Gene Laine (Ben Biggers) and Kate Draper (Chiara Trentalange), which felt cliché and overly sentimental for a plotline that was only mentioned once. However, some performances were phenomenal, such as Jennifer Blood’s portrayal of Elizabeth Laine, specifically her performance of “Like a Rolling Stone,” which was a spectacle to watch. Her movements during the song reflected her feelings and emotions, and her vocals were incredible. Many acting performances of the talented ensemble were eclipsed by how many plot holes were needed to fill in throughout the show, because of this, performances were hard to appreciate because you constantly had to keep playing catchup to understand the show.
The set and overall look of the show had a faded and dark appearance to it, making you feel as though you were in the 1930’s. The boarding house that the show revolved around reminded me a lot of my grandmother’s house in rural Minnesota. The costumes and set reminded me of photos that I have seen of the Great Depression, and what the Depression may have looked like in Duluth, a deep contrast compared to the clothing and houses of today.
One major issue I had with the show was their portrayal of mental illness in characters and the stereotypes that McPherson used to create these characters. An example of this is Elias Burke, played by Aidan Wharton, who is portrayed as a disabled young man who is violent and threatening. Elias is implied to have murdered a woman, and later on, he almost murders his own father. Elias’s character and its stereotypes could be compared similarly to Lennie’s in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. However, this novel was written almost a hundred ago. Awareness of mental illness and neurodivergence has since changed, and so should the way neurodivergent characters are written.
Girl From the North Country is a show with complex characters and storylines that accurately tell the story of those living in Minnesota during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, the message of the show gets lost in the complex storylines and befuddled musical interludes.
Girl from The North Country: A Compelling Play, But A Dull Musical
by James Wilson
The phrase “musical legend” doesn’t begin to cover Bob Dylan. Over the course of a seven decade career, the singer has achieved recognition in a myriad of forms, including ten Grammys, 145 million albums sold, and a Pulitzer Prize. But a recent first for him is the translation of his work to a musical, realized in the recent Broadway show Girl From The North Country. Using exclusively songs from Dylan’s discography, the play tells the story of Nick, Elizabeth, Marianne, and Gene, a working-class Midwestern family who struggles to make ends meet during the Great Depression, with some great successes and as many questionable decisions.
Unlike other adapted artists like Abba or Frankie Valli, Dylan’s oeuvre is sad, reflective, and folksy, which doesn’t translate well to the high energy, attention-grabbing medium of a musical. The vast majority of the numbers (my count was 16 of 22) are slow and pensive, a feature which, while not an inherent flaw, contributes to a noticeable lack of variety between songs.
The distinct lack of choreography stifles the show even further, with shockingly frequent and lengthy moments of characters standing still at the microphone and singing with nothing else happening onstage. The actors themselves have beautiful, soulful voices (without a weak link in the cast), and it was a shame that the musical numbers were so stale, because it gave such evidently talented people so little to work with. I often caught myself checking the time during these songs, waiting until the next scene to begin. In a genre whose attraction is its dazzling musical performances, having the least compelling part be the musical numbers seems a criminal waste. The few standout numbers, including “Slow Train” and “Duquesne Whistle,” have wonderful, foot stomping energy and compelling choreography to boot, which makes it even more unfortunate that the production chose to showcase only Dylan’s slow ballads and largely ignored his quicker, more energetic tunes.
This deficiency is ever so frustrating because the story beyond the music is meaningful and absorbing. Through the setting of Depression-Era Minnesota, playwright Conor McPherson has created a subtly simmering tale of prejudice, poverty, and listless decay. It makes compelling viewing to watch the characters stumble through a series of tentative romantic relationships, attempt to reckon with severe mental illness, and slowly lose any grip they had on hope for the future. Everything the Laine family attempts seems to end in tragedy; Nick, Jean, and Marianne all have relationships that end before the curtain call, trusted tenants turn out to be criminals who try to steal from them, Marianne ends the story heavily pregnant with an absent father and only a slim support system keeping her from the streets. By the time Elizabeth delivers her stunningly sad monologue on her own personal abandonment in the final scene, the main characters have already settled into nothingness, and the show’s point has already been hammered in. It’s a sobering appraisal of a tragedy that crippled millions across the country, an embodiment of the voiceless poor who lived and struggled to survive during the Great Depression.
Great in story but sonically lacking, Girl From The North Country is a perplexing mixed bag, but certainly worth seeing for a Dylan fan or someone looking for a sleepier, more subtle, musical. In these regards it succeeds, and I have no doubt it will find a dedicated audience for the entirety of its run.
“You Ain’t Going Nowhere” a review on Girl from the North Country
by Lilly Grommes
Girl from the North Country opened in Minneapolis amidst the fresh loss from the Minnesota Twins. The October air and freshly crushed spirits would set the scene for the night. The show played for a packed house but lacked the firepower to carry itself past its home of Minnesota.
The jukebox musical centers around Duluth, MN amid the Great Depression. Stories interweave through the guest house of Nick Laine, who is struggling to maintain a living with his two children and wife, who is battling early-onset dementia. Conor McPherson’s musical uses the discography of Bob Dylan, born in Duluth himself. The Irish playwright saw his show take root in a run in London at the Old Vic then West End. After a series of shutdowns and other productions, the show finally got its tour three years after its opening on Broadway.
Given the musical’s setting, it’s only fitting that the show launched in Minneapolis. The colloquialisms present gave the audience a laugh, but in my opinion the response could become lost on non-Minnesotans. The production elements individually were beautiful. For example, the set consisted of minimal furniture and utilized translucent drops, complementing the detached, cold lighting. The singing and production numbers were stunning, especially during the show-stopping number “Duquesne Whistle” featuring Aidan Wharton, who played Elias Burke. In addition, the show utilized an orchestra on stage and various actors that supplemented their playing.
Nonetheless, the biggest issue this production faced was that the show felt weaker as a whole. The musical can be challenging to follow since it does not take on the typical storytelling structure. The songs are not used as a continuation of the plot but rather as a conveyance of the emotion of the interaction, which makes the acting moments feel flat. The characters’ storylines could only develop partially, which further muddied the production. Since the scenes did not progress with the music, it felt more like a play with music. After consulting Wikipedia and other sources during intermission to grasp the story, I could appreciate McPherson’s intentions to an extent. However, failure to create a coherent piece that followed my sense of storytelling made the 2-hour and 30-minute run-time drag near the end.
The production has stand-out elements, but given the extended run-time and lack of clarity, it’s safe to skip this show in the lineup. For fans of Bob Dylan, the show omits popular songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin.” If that is not a game-changer, the show still has its merits and will run in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theater until October 14th.
- To develop and enhance critical thinking, self-expression and analytical writing skills
- To provide a unique and engaging forum for students learning outside of the classroom
- To provide high school students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for live theater
Elements of the program
- Participants see up to eight live theater performances, often touring Broadway productions, at the Orpheum, State or Pantages theatres and write reviews
- Opportunity to review press materials provided to the professional media
- Workshops with professionals in the theater and journalism fields
- Tour of one of the Trust’s historic theatres
- Student reviews posted on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website and Spotlight’s Critical Review reviewer site
What participants are saying:
“I LOVE Critical Review so much! Going to see all of those plays was so amazing. I really appreciate what the program has done for me.”
-Diamond Billinger, Critical Review student
“Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best performances I have seen this year, tied with Wicked and Spring Awakening. There is no one better than Chaim Topol to tell the classic story of family hardship and change.”
-Sara Sommers, Critical Review student
“I have loved Rent ever since I saw the movie. Being able to see the stage version with two of the original cast members was beyond amazing. It was so much fun and definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
-Alicia Battle, Critical Review student
The 2023-2024 program includes students from over 25 high schools around Minnesota including:
Chaska High School
Chisago Lakes High School
Edina High School
Great River School
Irondale High School
Legacy Christian Academy
Maple Grove Senior High School
Minnehaha Academy High School
Minnetonka High School
Mounds View High School
Orono High School
Osseo High School
Perpich Center for Arts Education
Prior Lake High School
Richfield High School
Rogers High School
Rosemount High School
Saint Louis Park High School
South St. Paul Secondary
Southwest High School
St. Michael-Albertville High School
Tartan High School
Totino-Grace High School
Winona Senior High School