I was beyond excited when I found out that the Hennepin Theatre Trust had generously extended (free!) tickets to The Lion King for me so I could write-up my experience attending this musical for Artfully Engaging readers. After my recent excellent experience at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters' Beauty in the Beast, I was curious to see if another Disney musical would live up the the hype.
My theater guest and I arrived early at the very grand Orhpeum Theatre and took our seats. We noticed we were surrounded by many young children, parents, and grandparents. One young girl hopped from lap to lap, scoping out the best place to see the action. Exposing young people to theater at an early age has numerous benefits. I was encouraged to be in the midst of such an intergenerational audience.
I was moved to tears when the show started. Actors streamed down the aisles as magnificent savanna animals singing "Circle of Life." An actor stopped right next to us and I was mesmerized with how close to the action I felt. It was immense. There are 200 puppets in The Lion King, including rod puppets, shadow puppets, and full-sized puppets. 25 types of animals, birds, fish and insects represented in the show.
Hyenas. Zebras. Lions. Oh my! Disney's The Lion King North American tour is in full swing and Pride Rock has overtaken the Orhpeum Theatre in Minneapolis. Lovers of the animated film will enjoy their favorite characters and songs ("The Circle of Life", "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", and "Hakuna Matata) with the added bonus of stunning theater magic and award-winning puppetry.
I would highly recommend this musical to those who are looking for a family-friendly theatrical spectacle that will create lasting memories. But, before you go make sure you are armed with a "Hakuna Matata" attitude. The women's bathroom lines were excruciatingly long. The woman across the aisle from me kept checking her cell phone during the show and filled the auditorium with light multiple times. And my friend who saw the show after me said the kids in front of her kept standing because they (also) couldn't see well. No worries.
The Lion King plays in Minneapolis through August 7, 2016.
Le Switch is a new play by Philip Dawkins that was workshopped in the 2014 PlayLabs festival at thePlaywrights' Center. He is a Chicago playwright who is making a name for himself in the Twin Cities. Dawkins' Charm recently graced the stage of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis this spring. He also has adapted the Dr. Seuss book The Sneetches and Other Stories, which has its premiere at Children’s Theatre Company in 2017.
"I think of different theaters as portals between worlds, and the plays I write give me access to these worlds through these different portals. I love popping up in new portals, exploring new worlds and families, learning more about how different communities/worlds like to tell and receive their stories." ~Philip Dawkins
Read a short interview with Philip Dawkins from the Playwrights' Center 2014 PlayLabs.
The play follows David, a New Yorker who is a professor of library science and a categorizer of all things. He is challenged with the possibility of categorizing himself as married. He's a commitment-phobe, yes, but his barrier to evolution is his non-traditional, strange, and queer identity. He isn't into the idea of marriage, it's too traditional. He points to his parents' failed marriage as reason not to jump in with both feet. Will David take the leap and learn to compromise? Will there be hilarious and heart-breaking moments? You'll have to experience the show to find out for yourself.
This was my first Jungle Theater experience and I was so thrilled to take in a show during artistic director Sarah Rasmussen's first season at the Jungle. I look forward to seeing what her tenure here will bring to our arts community.
Review by: Kendra Plant
June 25, 2016
Mu Performing Arts has reached an important milestone this month: In the 24 years they have been telling stories by, for, and about Asian Americans, they have staged a total of 50 new works for Twin Cities audiences. They are currently staging their 50th world premiere, Tot: The Untold, Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan by Victor Maog at Park Square Theatre. It plays through June 26, 2016, so you'll want to move fast get your ticket. I recommend this show for fans of wrestling as well as for people who don't "get" wrestling. This play will resonate with those who have experienced immigration in their own families. Mu pulls off an imaginative telling of a tender human story that explores the concept of home and the "American dream."
"Our goal is to create a place for Asian American playwrights to share their voice and for our community to be more in touch with our history and to help create the canon.” ~ Randy Reyes
Starring in the show as Tot is Mu Artistic Director Randy Reyes, who also directs this production. The immigration story in Tot is told through the eyes of a child, and the audience experiences much of this through his fantasy wrestling world. Tot's parents left him in the Philippines with his grandmother while they moved to the United States to pursue the American dream, and sent for him when they felt they could. The setting of the play shifts in and out from the Phillipines to the San Francisco Bay Area and to the imagined world of the WWWA, where Tot imagines himself as pro wrestler The Orbiter (played by Torsten Johnson) to help him cope with his stressful new American life. Soon, the "entertainment violence" of the wrestling world that young Tot has surrounded himself with in his play time spills out into his real life. Watching the sweet, funny animal-loving Tot deal with abandonment and separation was heart-wrenching. In the post-show discussion I learned that the circumstances of this play have not been uncommon in the real world and there are many families that have been separated by immigration.
Reyes directed this play in the round, and the audience surrounds a wrestling ring where all the action takes place. The play is split up into different rounds, like a wrestling match, that focus on Tot's relationships. One challenge for audiences sitting near the front of the stage was that the floor of the wrestling ring was lower than the rest of the stage to allow for a multiple levels and much of the action happened out of sight, like Tot playing with his wrestling action figures or laying on the floor with his mother (pictured above).
This play pushed me out of my comfort zone in a couple ways. First, a bunch of words and references were in Tagalog, one of the official languages of the Philippines. This authentic language may have been included to expand audiences' horizons (translations of Tagalog words were posted in the theater lobby and on the Mu website) and also to welcome those who had firsthand knowledge of the language and culture. Then when the language combined with the sometimes fragmented storytelling there were times that I couldn't quite follow the things that were happening. I took that as part of the experience, since Tot was also learning about a new language and culture and he often had frustrations about not understanding everything. Second, I didn't have a lot of knowledge about the Philippines and the military rule of Ferdinand Marcos. It was helpful to read the program notes and the supplemental content on the website and in the lobby, but by far the most impactful moments happened at the post-show discussion when the guests Marlina Gonzalez and Marina Feleo Gonzalez talked about their personal experience of life under martial law. Post-show Q&As can be hit and miss, but I often find them to be well worth the risk.
Mu Performing Arts continues its legacy of culturally relevant work with Tot. See it before it is too late!
"I came to California when I was six-and-a-half. The experience was jarring—I didn’t have the language to communicate. Though I was born and raised in the Philippines during a period of Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law, the sepia version of my life in metro Manila had a steady stream of characters, lively parties, abundant love, and a deep and rigorous religiosity that blurred with superstition. It was a world built for me. All that changed when I landed in the Bay Area." ~ Victor Moag, The Question of Home
“Victor Maog wrote a play that I connect with in so many ways, it's scary. It's as if he wrote
tot: THE UNTOLD, YET SPECTACULAR STORY OF (a filipino) HULK HOGAN
Kendra Plant is a Minneapolis arts advocate and a technology professional. She especially enjoys yarn, theater, and animals. After working for more than a decade in the arts administration field, Kendra is now working as a freelance technologist and sits on the board of the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
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