Stephen Epp and Luverne Seifert star in Man of La Mancha
Ten Thousand Things Theatre is known for producing plays and musicals that are spare in their staging, but rich in their humanity.
The company's latest production tackles the musical "Man of La Mancha," starring Stephen Epp as Miguel de Cervantes and Luverne Seifert as his manservant. The reviewers agree; this is not the traditional musical, but it is a powerful, compelling piece of theater. "Man of La Mancha" runs through May 8 - check out the excerpts of reviews below, or click on the links to read them in their entirety.
Epp's Cervantes is less a portrayal than it is a personal compulsion. Each moment burns with honesty, even as he descends into childish madness and self consciously goofs off. Epp constantly grounds the enterprise with Cervantes' nobility, a decency dedicated to transporting the inmates' spirits beyond these bars.
Actor Matt Guidry, ever the gnarly skeptic as Dr. Carrosco, scolds Cervantes's desire to escape through imagination, only to draw the rebuke that too much sanity is madness. Epp is spot on with a character who may act a fool but embodies an eloquent advocacy for greater existence -- an impossible dream.
Hensley's production keys off Epp's performance. Physically taut and musically lean, it is perfectly modulated to reveal tenderness and brutality side by side. Actors confidently indulge the manic burlesque with improvised asides and a loose playfulness -- they are, after all, prisoners making this stuff up. Yet sublime moments of ethereal beauty invade the ridiculous. T. Mychael Rambo lends a gorgeous and aching voice to "Dulcinea;" Epp channels an a cappella vulnerability in "The Impossible Dream."
...First among this production's powerful presences is Steven Epp's marvelous and moving performance in the central role. Epp is no opera singer, but he still gives a lusty rendition of "I, Don Quixote." His eyes glint with genial madness, and while he maximizes the role's comic possibilities, Epp also imbues Cervantes/Quixote with the wisdom of those Shakespearean clowns unafraid to speak truth to power.
...Luverne Seifert comes close to stealing the show as Quixote's antic, bug-eyed sidekick, Sancho Panza. His chemistry with Epp evokes fond memories of their days working together at the erstwhile Theatre de la Jeune Lune. In fact, if one were of a mind to pick critical nits, it could accurately be pointed out that director Hensley gives her performers considerable latitude, and that Epp (with his malapropisms) and Seifert (with his stammering line readings and vocal jumping jacks) both pull oft-used devices from their deep and substantial aesthetic bags of tricks.
That's a small price to pay, however, for a fine and moving interpretation of "Man of La Mancha" that loses no power in its compact telling.
Ten Thousand Things' production of Man of La Mancha runs through May 8
...Fueled by Epp's terrific performance and director Michelle Hensley's ability to get to the heart of any material, Man of La Mancha strips the musical bare from beginning to end. Seven actors play all the roles. The music arrives via keyboards and percussion. Sets and costumes, as usual for Ten Thousand Things, are minimal and improvised.
At one moment, Epp asked an audience member for her program, which he then fashioned into a very rough knife/sword so Quixote could fight his rival. This playfulness only sharpens the tragedies at the center of the show--of Quixote's need to be mad to finally be truly free, and of his creator's trial of his ideals before a court of prisoners (which probably went better than the one before the Inquisition, which looms over the entire proceedings).
Man of La Mancha reaches into the mind, heart, and soul in a way that all the flashy sets, cast of thousands, and bold, auditorium-filling voices never manage.
Cervantes gives one of the inmates, the seemingly unreachable, lost-in-her-hallucinations Reyna, the role of Aldonza. She is then transformed - or transforms herself - into the exquisite Dulcinea. "My virgin." This progression from near-insanity into genuine grandeur amazes, and is a major reason this piece is so often performed. (That and the anthemic song "The Impossible Dream.") "Look at me as I really am," Aldonza/Dulcinea pleads. "I see Beauty," is Cervantes's reply. Wow.
Regina Williams plays this perfectly. Her approach to Aldonza is still, hushed, restrained - and gooseflesh-producing. She goes from bent over and muttering to convincingly regal. Every scene she plays with Cervantes mesmerizes. La Mancha is beautifully acted, but even so, Williams's performance stands out.
So did you see Man of La Mancha? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.
Posted at 10:15 AM on April 20, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: News and reviews
Minneapolis Institute of Arts cuts jobs to salvage budget
In its first layoffs since 2009, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is eliminating 10 positions, citing flat revenue and climbing costs.
Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
An excess of civic pride: Two books about Twin Cities music
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
Men with hammers and screwdrivers: On the destruction of Serrano's notorious photograph
On Sunday, in Avignon, France, a group of men, all wearing sunglasses, entered a gallery, menaced a guard there and set about with a hammer and screwdriver to destroy two pieces of art on display.
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival
Here are some of the highlights in weeks 2 and 3
- Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press
Mike Watt and the Missingmen at the Turf Club, 4/18/11
STNNNG were the perfect opening to a night of thinking man/aggressive man rock.
- Nikki Miller, City Pages
Pianist Elisso Virzaladze performed Sunday in St. Paul for the Chopin Society.
- LARRY FUCHSBERG, Star Tribune
Rock the Garden 2011 lineup: My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, Booker T. Jones, Tapes 'n Tapes
- Andrea Swensson, City Pages
My Morning Jacket to headline Rock the Garden
Lineup announced for June 18 popular indie-rock fest. Tickets on sale to the Current and Walker Art Center members now.
- Star Tribune
Concert news: My Morning Jacket headlines Rock the Garden
My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, Booker T. Jones and Tapes 'n Tapes will play Rock the Garden on June 18 at the Walker Art Center's Sculpture Garden.
- Ross Raihala, Pioneer Press
The Civil Wars make peace--but not too much peace--at the Bryant-Lake Bowl
Formed after a chance encounter at a music industry event two and a half years ago, the Nashville-based duo released their debut full-length record Barton Hollow in February and in its first week on the charts the album was the number one download on iTunes.
- Carl Atiya Swanson, TC Daily Planet
Real Numbers planning 7" release show
The Real Numbers just got their new 7", Tear It in Two, back from the press and they'll celebrate their fourth vinyl release with a Hexagon show on May 11.
- Loren Green, City Pages
Man of La Mancha by Ten Thousand Things
Fueled by Epp's terrific performance and director Michelle Hensley's ability to get to the heart of any material, Man of La Mancha strips the musical bare from beginning to end.
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
Guthrie: 14 plays for 2011-12
The range of plays, to be spread among three stages, varies from Shakespeare to Neil Simon to Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.
- GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
Chuck Klosterman holds steady with Craig Finn and John Moe on "Wits"
The best uncomfortable moment came when they were on a call with comedian Maria Bamford, talking about the title of her new album, Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome. Trying to understand what one of these unwanted thoughts was, Klosterman revealed that he had been imagining the two balconies of the Fitzgerald falling down and crushing the audience, to the point where he pictured himself lining the seats with C-4.
- Becky Lang, TC Daily Planet
Theater review: '[title of show]' is insider fun, but not out of bounds
For a show that unstintingly insists that it would "rather be nine people's favorite thing than a hundred people's ninth-favorite thing," "[title of show]" has made enough compromises and concessions to lowest-common-denominator-ism to now qualify as 27 people's fifth-favorite thing.
- Dominic P. Papatola, Pioneer Press
Playing with ideas on religion
Review: An unlikely friendship sheds light in two directions about faith, race and political correctness.
- Graydon Royce , Star Tribune
Sometimes, little things can mean a lot
In Anne Washburn's play at Red Eye, smallish occurrences take on much larger implications.
- LISA BROCK , Star Tribune
Jeff Hatcher revisits 'Three Viewings' at Illusion
We caught up with the always-busy Hatcher before the show opened last weekend.
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
The MIA has announced it's cutting ten staff members as part of its plan to keep the budget balanced in the coming years. Here's the museum's official statement:
Minneapolis, MN, April 20, 2011--The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) announced that it is reducing expenses for the coming year by more than $1 million, through a combination of strategic cuts to departments and the elimination of 7 full-time and 3 part-time positions. The museum's goal is to ensure a balanced budget as it anticipates both increased costs for museum operations and reduced revenue for FY2012 and 2013. Through these proactive reductions, the MIA will be able to sustain its strong schedule of exhibitions and public programs.
"The museum is fortunate to have a highly capable staff, which makes any decision regarding jobs a difficult one," said Kaywin Feldman, Director and President of the MIA. "However, in order to maintain our high level of public service, through exhibitions, collections, educational and community initiatives, and to continue to offer free admission, it is important that the museum plan for the future and maintain a balanced budget."
The dip in revenue for FY2012 is in large part due to the way in which the museum calculates the income from its endowment, based on a three year rolling average. While the actual value of its investments is rebounding along with the financial markets, the endowment income for FY2012 will reflect the lowest average value since the crisis hit in 2007--2008. In addition, the MIA expects contributed revenue, from both public and private sources, to remain stable but not to increase enough to offset other declines.
According to an article by the Star Tribune's Mary Abbe, "seven full-time and three part-time posts were eliminated from a staff of 252" including associate curator of paintings Sue Canterbury and membership director Ann Benrud.
This is the largest staff/budget cut at the MIA since 2009. You can read about those cuts here.
So every year City Pages puts out its annual "Best of the Twin Cities" guide, and every year I immediately flip to the Arts and Entertainment section to see who made the list. There are a few names that regularly show up, and there always a few surprises, too. Here are some of the highlights:
This year, Theater Latte Da, and its director Peter Rothstein both received accolades, earning "Best of" rankings for theater company, musical ("Violet") and director.
Ten Thousand Things won for its production of "Life's A Dream."
Minnesota Orchestra won in the category of "Best Non-Movie Theater Place to See a Movie" for performing scores to movies like "Psycho" live while the film is screened onstage.
Uri Sands came away with "Best Choreographer" for his company TU Dance, and the male vocal ensemble Cantus (MPR Classical's musical group in residence) was awarded with "Best Classical Musician."
And of course, hats off to 89.3 The Current for taking the "Best Radio Station" award, and to Steve Seel garnering the "Best FM Radio Personality" (his colleague Mark Wheat won the Readers' Choice award in the same category).
Congrats to all the winners!
The Minnesota Opera may be deep in the throes of "Wuthering Heights" on stage at the Ordway in St Paul, but back at the Opera's rehearsal rooms in Minneapolis they've been knee-deep in the trenches of World War I.
This week singers and orchestra have been running through "Silent Night," the latest Minnesota Opera New Works Initiativecommission. The multi-million dollar program aims to develop and perform new American operas.
"Silent Night," based on the 2006 film "Joyeux Noel," tells the story of the 1918 Christmas Truce, where soldiers laid down their weapons, to cross no-mans-land, and celebrate the holiday with the men they had been shooting at just hours before. The production will receive its world premiere at the Ordway on November 12th.
In addition to all the people involved in the Minnesota production watching the workshop representatives from other US opera companies were also in the audience listening in to see if "Silent Night" might be a good fit for them in the future.
Of course listening most intently of all were composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell. Two earlier workshops held over the last year were just for singers and piano, so this was the first time they'd heard the whole production with orchestra.
Puts, who has been working on the score for two years, describes it as an amazing opportunity to have this happen some seven months before the opera opens.
"To try everything with orchestra and just to get an idea of the colors I am using, and if they work," he said. "And other things too that aren't just orchestral: issues of pacing and timing, and issues that Mark finds related to the libretto."
And the libretto is far from simple. As befits a story of the Great War, no fewer than four languages are heard: English, German, French, and Latin.
Campbell says he decided early on that he had to do it in so many tongues.
"I thought it was a very important aspect of these three cultures trying to communicate with each other, and not necessarily knowing each other's languages," Campbell said. Starting out with his own French skills he also used translators to make sure everything was correct. He believes the work is worth it though for strengthening the depth and meaning of the opera.
"It made it incredibly challenging," he said, but he thinks Puts had the tougher task. "Kevin had to set these words and keep the sound of the language in his music."
Puts says his French is stronger than his German, but the French has been more of a problem as he has tried to match the rhythm of the language to the tempo of the music.
"Essentially everything is, sort of, an equal syllable," he says of French,"But music is in rhythm, and it's in meter, and there are divisions of the bar, so you have to choose some syllables that are on strong beats and that's actually difficult know where those should be sometimes."
Luckily Campbell says he and Puts collaborate well, almost on an instinctual level, and they have been able to work through the kinks efficiently.
They have discovered a few other hurdles they will have to leap, such as the problem of the bagpipes. The instruments were used by Scottish regiments on the battlefield, even in World War I. Puts said hearing the pipes played in the rehearsal was a learning experience.
"I guess I underestimated the volume of them," admitted Puts with a smile. "It's a wonderful color and something we think we need in the opera. Unfortunately you can't hear the singers when the pipes are playing."
Puts has some ideas about how they'll deal with this, but he and Campbell want to keep them quiet for the moment.
Campbell's work is essentially now done for "Silent Night" until the last minute tweaking at rehearsals later this year.
But Puts is going to be very busy, working through the things they discovered during the workshop.
"There are moments that just are sort of dead," he said. Those moments will need to be changed. He says he will have to remove the dead time and tie the musical ends together.
"It sounds kind of easy, but it takes some effort," he grins. "And then some orchestral colors that weren't just the way I wanted."
There are moments where he wants to add more time, to let the emotion of a scene expand a little more. In coming months he'll rewrite the entire orchestral score, and the piano-vocal score which the singers will use for rehearsal, beginning in October.
"A lot of trees get killed," Campbell laughs.
"But fewer than they used to," Puts counters. He says he's though about counting how many emails are in his Minnesota Opera folder after the production is done.
"I think there are about 1500 at this point," he says.
There's a lot of work ahead they say, but they like where they are now, and they are looking forward to November.