Four new theater shows open this weekend

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2013 - 11:50 AM

From Johnny Cash to Babe Lincoln, spliff mania and actors acting, a raft of new shows open this weekend.

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Heather Bunch, Adelin Phelps and Willie Gambucci in “Red Resurrected” by Illusion Theater.

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Richard Maltby, the writer and director, says he’s not much of a country-western fan.

“It’s not inherently theatrical — they aren’t show tunes,” he said by phone from his New York home.

Not theatrical!? What in the name of Red Sovine is he talking about?

Maltby, who created the hit musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” overcame his lack of interest and in 2006 built “Ring of Fire — The Music of Johnny Cash” for Broadway. “What interested me about Johnny Cash when I looked at the material was that there was a story in all of these songs,” Maltby said. “What he was writing about seemed incredibly moving and touching.”

On Broadway, Maltby’s “Ring of Fire” lasted only a little longer than a country-western ballad. It has been reimagined for a version that opens Friday at Plymouth Playhouse under Curt Wollan’s direction. Eight performer/musicians run through 31 of Cash’s songs, revue style. There is no story, per se, other than the narratives contained in the music.

“It’s a man’s search for redemption,” Maltby said. “He wrote about things he’d done wrong, things he wished he hadn’t done and he finds his way back to being a good person.”

The Plymouth Playhouse production scales down the Broadway show and could become the template for a national tour.

7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. & Thu., 3 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 1 p.m. Wed.-Thu., ends May 26. Plymouth Playhouse, Best Western Kelly Inn at I-494 & Hwy. 55, $26-$38, 763-553-1600, or plymouthplayhouse.com.

‘Babe Lincoln and the Vajazzled Badge of Courage’

Eight years ago, Katy Mc­Ewen and Shanan Custer wrote and performed their own show at the Brave New Workshop. Custer has gone on to other things, but Mc-wEwen has found a willing partner in Lauren Anderson, currently the funniest thing on the Workshop stage.

Honest Abe’s birthday is coming up (he would have been 204, had he lived), and the current movie “Lincoln” will make news at the upcoming Academy Awards (Daniel Day-Lewis is favored to win another Oscar).

As for the “Vajazzled Badge of Courage” portion of the title, we shall leave that untouched.

This is something of a rare chance to see McEwen on stage. She primarily works behind the scenes these days but when she was a Workshop regular, McEwen was as sharp and funny as they come. And in the past decade, no one on this stage has had as nice a singing voice. Anderson will go down in history as one of the brightest bulbs in the Workshop’s marquee. She’s fearless with her emotions and keen with voices and characterizations.

8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m. Sat., 7:30 p.m. Thu., ends March 9, Brave New Workshop Theatre, 824 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., $25-$30, 612-332-6620 or theatre.bravenewworkshop.com.

‘Reefer Madness’

The original 1936 film was made to “stamp out this frightful assassin of our youth,” then became sidesplitting entertainment for generations of stoners. Writer Kevin Murphy and composer Dan Studney decided “Reefer Madness” was ripe for stage parody. A 1999 hit in Los Angeles, the show found its way to off-Broadway two years later (they got lost on the way).

Minneapolis Musical Theatre has a sweet tooth for this kind of campy material. The production christens a new partnership MMT has forged with Hennepin Theatre Trust, and opens at the Trust’s New Century Theatre in City Center. Munchies are available at the concession counter.

As usual, artistic director Steven Meerdink is at the wheel, with a cast that includes Kurt Bender, Maggie Mae Dale and Emily Jabas.

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