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McPherson's 'The Night Alive' opens in Chicago

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 2, 2014 - 3:42 PM

Helen Sadler and Francis Guinan in "The Night Alive" at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Set design is by Todd Rosenthal. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf Theatre, the Chicago playhouse that has a knack for birthing hit plays, some of which have gone on to Broadway runs and Tony wins, just opened "The Night Alive," by Irish playwright Conor McPherson.

I saw the production in previews in September, and can't wait for the play to arrive in the Twin Cities. The Jungle Theater, which has produced such other McPherson plays as "The Seafarer" (2009) and "Shining City (2007), would be great home for this darkly amusing meditation on violence, mortality, charity, friendship, illusion and dreams deferred.

As directed at Steppenwolf by Henry Fishcamper (who is a resident artistic associate at Chicago's Goodman Theatre), "The Night Alive" takes place in the extremely messy, bare bones rented room of Tommy (Francis Guinan, marvelous), whose landlord Uncle Marice is played by veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh.

One night, Tommy, one of the most lovable losers ever to have graced a stage, brings home Aimee (Helen Sadler), a young woman who has taken a beating. Their growing relationship plays out alongside Tommy's dim sidekick Doc (Tim Hopper), Maurice, and a malevolent Kenneth (Dan Waller).

While the action and plot are wonderfully grounded in quotidian detail -- dented cups of tea, piles of dirty laundry, a travel poster of Finland -- the script leaves open the possibility of multiple metaphoric interpretations. This became abundantly clear in the post-play discussion with Steppenwolf's Martha Lavey and Fishcamper, which raised more questions about the play than were conveniently answered.

Chicago critics praised the play as "raw and beautiful" (Tribune) and said Guinan is "just about perfect as Tommy." (Reader).

"The Night Alive" continues at Steppenwolf through Nov. 16.

Francis Guinan, M. Emmet Walsh and Tim Hopper in Steppenwolf's "The Night Alive," by Conor McPherson. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steve Perry of Journey unexpectedly sings with Eels in St. Paul

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: May 27, 2014 - 1:07 AM

Just when you thought some obsessive documentarian might make a film called “Searching for Steve Perry,” the reclusive former Journey frontman showed up unexpectedly Sunday night at the Fitzgerald Theater during the second encore of the Eels concert.

Perry, who apparently hadn’t performed in public since 1996, sang three numbers, including the Journey smashes “Open Arms” and “Lovin Touchin Squeezin.”

Perry, 65, didn’t have his heyday mullet but he did showcase his high, piercing voice, which, judging by the YouTube video, is not as high as it used to be – nor as high as that of current Journey singer Arnel Pineda.

No idea what the connection between Perry and the Eels is.

In other Journey-related news, Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie – original members of Journey—will get together with Carlos Santana and others for a reunion of the original Santana band, the bandleader told Rollingstone.com. He credited Schon, the current Journey guitarist, with pushing for the reunion. They are recording new material for “Santana IV” (since they made three albums together) and talking of a possible tour.

Prince explains himself, sorta, to London press about suing fans

Posted by: Jon Bream Updated: February 5, 2014 - 1:36 AM

Photo provided by Fox TV

On the eve of his multi-venue tour in London, Prince held a news conference Tuesday – in the living room of British singer Lianne La Havas, whom he met when she performed in the States.

With about a dozen people in the room, he talked about his love of tea, something he shares with La Havas.

OK, to the important stuff, courtesy of the Associated Press.

On why he recently sued fans whose Facebook pages were selling bootlegs

"Nobody sues fans. It's just a poor way to phrase it. A bootlegger is a bootlegger, a scalper is a scalper. They know what time it is. Just sharing music with each other — that's cool. It's the selling that becomes the problem."

On whether he’ll play England’s famous Glastonbury Festival in June

"I can't think of the festival now."

On how he feels about this summer’s 30th anniversary of his hit movie and soundtrack, “Purple Rain”

"I don't look back”

Nice notice for White Bear Lake mezzo

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: January 13, 2014 - 12:51 PM

Heather Johnson, being fitted last summer for Mill City Opera's "The Barber of Seville."/photo by Courtney Perry.

Heather Johnson, who grew up in White Bear Lake, just got some nice props for her performance as Lizzie Borden in Boston Lyric Opera's production. Johnson was back in the Twin Cities last summer for Mill City Opera's "The Barber of Seville" and mentioned that she would be taking on the title role in the world premiere chamber version of the 1965 opera.

Writing in the February Opera News, critic Kalen Ratzlaff didn't have much good to say about the concept and staging from director Christopher Alden. "Cheap laughs" and "depictions of sophmorically 'edgy' sexual behavior," Ratzlaff wrote. However, the critic waxed on about the singers. "If only one could have lifted them up lock, stock and barrel and dropped them into a production worthy of their gifts."

"In the title role, mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson was fearless, channeling a seething fury worthy of Electra and singing with dramatic focus, power and control."

Johnson sang at Roseville High School and then studied with Dan Dressen at St. Olaf. She has lived in New York for 14 years. Next up, according to her web site is a short engagement of "La Cenerentola" at Intermountain Opera, in May.

New York City Ballet promotes Minnetonka dancer

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: December 4, 2013 - 11:48 AM
Alexa Maxwell

POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE

Childhood dreams can come true. Just ask Alexa Maxwell. While growing up in Minnetonka she wore out a VHS tape of New York City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” determined that someday she would dance with the world-class troupe. Last week the 19-year-old signed a contract to join the NYCB corps de ballet.

But dreams do differ from reality. Maxwell wasn’t just handed this big gig. It’s the result of years filled with body-busting effort and personal sacrifice. After studying locally at small dance schools as well as Minnesota Dance Theatre she left home at age 14 to join the prestigious Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet where she worked on her skills intensively and graduated from high school through online courses.

In June 2012 Maxwell traveled to Manhattan for the summer program at The School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official training program founded by the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. She was asked to stay on and by December earned a coveted apprenticeship plus an opportunity to prove herself worthy of a spot with the company. “They see how you perform, your work ethic,” Maxwell said by phone. “You have one year to try out and then [Ballet Master in Chief] Peter Martins either decides to take you on or you find another job.”

So now the newest member of NYCB will be performing in the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” sections of Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” with other exceptionally talented young dancers throughout this month at Lincoln Center. “It’s really exciting, almost all of the shows are sold out,” she said, adding some awe at the large audience she sees when sneaking a peek from backstage.

After “The Nutcracker” Maxwell will prepare for NYCB’s 2014 winter season by learning the “Diamonds” section of Balanchine’s “Jewels” among other signature repertory works. And while Maxwell is thrilled with her new role in the corps she still has goals, including one day ascending to the level of soloist or even principal dancer. But in the meantime, she said, “I’m just going to keep working hard. I’m so happy to be here and I’m feeling very grateful.”

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