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Minneapolis by Ed Huyck

Theatre de la Jeune Lune Mefistofele and
Chanhassen Dinner Theatre Musical of Musicals

Mefistofele
Bradley Greenwald, Christina Baldwin (on-screen), Doug Scholz-Carlson
For 90 minutes, Mefistofele – the latest operatic interpretation from the 2005 Regional Tony Award winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune – teeters on the edge, threatening to collapse into a morass of incomprehensible and pretentious drivel. Thankfully, the production manages to keep its head above water, mainly due to the efforts of its stellar cast and its often clever staging.

Like past Jeune Lune operas, the source material – in this case, Arrigo Boito’s opera – serves only as the starting point of the production. Music from a dizzying array of additional artists, including Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler, Rossini and Schumann, augment the score, while creators Dominique Serrand (who also directs), Steven Epp and Bradley Greenwald dig deep into the Faust stories, including Goethe’s landmark work.

Essentially, Mefistofele explores the hubris of man, as Faust’s desire for knowledge and “true love” overwhelms all other thoughts and desires, and eventually leads to his ruin. Through Mefistofele (impressively portrayed by Greenwald, and less so by the dog Blixen), Faust (shared by Emmanuel Cadet and Doug Scholz-Carlson) meets Adam’s first wife, Lilith. She, in turn, leads Faust to Margherita, one of her numerous children.

The brief love between Faust and Margherita changes both of the characters for the worse. Faust is left confused by his experience, while the pregnant Margherita becomes an outcast in her desert village, finally driven to madness and suicide by her experience.

This plays out to not just exquisite singing from the company, but truly engaging acting from them as well. There is nothing static in the staging. Greenwald enters hugging the back of the stage, even singing to the wall at one point. Decked out in all black and sporting a spiky blond haircut, he turns this great tempter into a cocky rock singer. Both Cadet and Scholz-Carlson give Faust a human touch, though I missed the thirst for greater and greater knowledge that fuels the character. This Faust starts lost and remains that way, no matter what he learns.

Jennifer Baldwin Peden turns in the evening’s best performance, taking on the roles of Margherita and Helen of Troy (Faust’s idealized woman). Margherita keeps her emotion close to the surface, whether she is in love, in pain or over the abyss into madness. Baldwin Peden inhabits this aspect of the character fully, but never takes it over the top. Instead, the audience feels everything she feels, making her the perfect emotional center of the play.

The production itself, while sumptuously staged, doesn’t mesh as well as the performances. The staging is as inventive as ever (Mefistofele first meets Faust as the latter is about to commit suicide, noose around his head, balancing precariously on a chair), but some of it feels like its being odd merely to be odd – the aforementioned appearance of Blixen as Mefistofele (and to continue the animal theme, one of Lilith’s children appears late in the show as a chicken), or a rainstorm on-stage that does little except to explain why there was a drain in the stage.

While it not may come together as a complete show, there’s no question that parts of Mefistofele work well, and that the performances range from excellent to stunning. While it doesn’t exactly breeze by in its 90-minute running time, you will never be bored by what you see on stage, or what you hear.

Mefistofele runs through May 21 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, located at 105 N. First St., Minneapolis. For information and tickets, call 612-333-6200 or visit www.jeunelune.org.

Photo: Michal Daniel


The Musical of Musicals: The Musical

Musical of Musicals: The MusicalStop me if you’ve heard this one before. There’s this girl, and she’s in love with this guy, but he isn’t sure if he’s in love. And the girl has a bigger problem: Her landlord is down on her for the rent, and if she doesn’t pay – well, bad things may happen. Will the boy save the girl from her fate?

It’s a pretty simple scenario, one that plays out five times in the gloriously delirious The Musical of Musicals: The Musical, now playing at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. In this Off-Broadway hit, creators Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell take a rather banal story and give it a nifty twist: the story is played out each time via a mini-musical written in the style of a famous composer or composing team. They start with “Corn” – based off the stylings of Rodgers and Hammerstein – and move on to Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, ending with John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Bogart and Rockwell know their stuff, so fans of the different composers will catch plenty of sly, and not-so sly, allusions to the famous works. In the opening “Corn,” we’re treated to the broad dialects that Rodgers and Hammerstein used in many of their works, not to mention an Oklahoma-like “dream ballet.

This is followed by an understandably difficult send up of Sondheim, complete with difficult-to-love characters and difficult-to-hum songs. It’s the darkest of the pieces, but still is inhabited with much fun.

They dig deeper in some places than others. As the creators admitted in a Playbill interview, parodying an artist like Jerry Herman, who doesn’t take himself that seriously, is much tougher than tackling Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose work reeks of such self-importance that it is plum for the pickings.

The Lloyd Webber piece, “Asepcts of Juanita,” heads over the top from the first moments, when Bill (the loverboy who is never sure he’s a loverboy) shows up as a revolutionary, complete with a sparkly Che Guevara T-shirt. Junita (the girl) mixes bits of Evita, Sunset Boulevard and Phantom of the Opera, while the landlord is a pure ham Phantom, with a few surprise touches from other Lloyd Webber pieces.

The same sense of madness inhabits the show’s final offering, “Speakeasy,” which merges Kander and Ebb’s two most famous shows, Cabaret and Chicago (with a touch of Kiss of the Spider Woman thrown in for good effect). From a cross-dressing M.C. to a send-up of the famous “Cell Block Tango” piece from Chicago, it’s all here (and I certainly wanted to come home and pull out my copies of Cabaret and Chicago after the show).

The quartet of performers – Robert O. Berdahl, Lynn Dyrhaug-Rotto, Keith Rice and Kersten Rondau – along with accompanist Sean Nugent work hard throughout the evening, taking on the numerous characters and musical styles with aplomb. Director Tamara Kangas, making her debut after years as a choreographer, never lets the energy waver throughout (and needless to say, her choreography is excellent as well).

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical takes everything people love about the form – the crazy characters, the wild costumes, oh yeah, the music – and compresses it into an evening of nearly pure fun.

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical runs through May 29 at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Tickets are $35 to $54 (including dinner). For times, tickets and more information, call 952-934-1525 or www.chanhassentheatres.com.


Photo: Act One, Too (Ltd.)


- Ed Huyck



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