My Favorite Theater in the Twin Cities of 2022

My Favorite Theater in the Twin Cities of 2022

I didn’t come close to making it to every show I wanted to see in 2022. Missing Hands on a Hardbody staged by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at a car dealership and Something Rotten! at Lyric Arts in Anoka stick out as my clearest regrets. And most recently, my first bout of Covid here at the end of the year quashed my plans to attend the touring production of Les Misérables at the Orpheum. 

But when I did get to the theater in the Twin Cities and beyond this past year, I had the chance to revisit one of my favorite musicals of all time, finally see a show that’s been on my bucket list for years, and bear witness to a world premiere that will no doubt have a long life beyond Minneapolis. It’s all thanks to the dedication of the diverse theater scene we have in this state. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2023, and bring you reviews in hopes that you too will spend more nights at the theater in the coming year.

Before we let 2022 go entirely, I want to highlight my five favorite productions of the year, partly because it’s fun to take stock of the shows that graced Minnesota stages, and because I only wrote a full review of one of the shows on this list. To give them the shine they deserve, here are the musicals and plays that are still kicking around in my head on December 31st. 

[title of show], Lyric Arts

When I was scrolling through my top 100 songs of the year on Spotify, no inclusion really surprised me, except for one: “Two Nobodies in New York,” a tune from [title of show]. I had almost forgotten that I started 2022 by driving up to Anoka to take in the Lyric Arts production of this scrappy little musical, which ran in January and February. But after seeing this song on my year-end list, I was reminded of how I played the cast album (released in 2006 from an off-Broadway version of the show) on repeat afterwards. I was also reminded how lucky we are to have theaters like Lyric Arts who put on shows like this, which larger theaters will likely never tackle. Yes, [title of show] did eventually make it to Broadway, but it only ran for about 100 performances. And its conceit is aimed even more acutely at theater geeks than your normal show within a show — this is a musical about two people writing a musical about two people writing a musical (yes, the rare show within a show within a show). It’s not a perfect musical by any means, even for a theater diehard like myself, but the delightful cast of Bradley Beahen, Bradley Johnson, Alice McGlave, Lux Mortenson and Brendan Nelson Finn made this one of my favorite outings of the year.

Merrily We Roll Along, Theater Latté Da

Right now, a sold-out run of Merrily of We Roll Along starring Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez at New York Theatre Workshop (famous for putting on the world premiere of Rent) is taking NYC by storm, and it will transfer to Broadway in late 2023. But we here in Minnesota didn’t need to shell out for an East Coast trip to see a novel take on Stephen Sondheim’s famous flop-turned-cult-favorite, as Theater Latté Da staged a production that was worth revisiting multiple times. (After seeing it with my entire family I vowed to go again, but unfortunately didn’t find time for a second spin.) It seems like every theater maker wants a shot at retooling this story about three friends told in reverse in order to bring out the full potential of the musical that crashed and burned in its debut — I saw Fiasco Theater’s production at Roundabout in 2019 in New York which was a major departure from anything done before — and director Peter Rothstein didn’t disappoint when it came to bringing fresh ideas to one of my favorite musicals of all time. 

Read my full review of Merrily We Roll Along here.

Sally & Tom, Guthrie Theater

If you didn’t see Sally & Tom, you missed out on the most important theatrical event of 2022 in Minnesota, at least when looking at the bonafides. This was a 1) world premiere production of a play from 2) Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) put on in partnership with 3) New York’s Public Theater (known for shepherding works like A Chorus Line, Hair and Hamilton, as well as Topdog/Underdog). That’s a lot of hype to live up to, and Sally & Tom surpassed the high expectations. It’s another show within a show, but with much more fraught subject matter than [title of show], as it centers around a play being staged about Sally Hemmings, an enslaved woman who becomes pregnant with the child of her owner, and said owner, who happens to be Thomas Jefferson. Sally & Tom switches between scenes from the quasi-historical drama and the offstage (and sometimes onstage) drama in the lead-up to opening night. The behemoth that is Hamilton inspired tons of new work, from shows that tried to copy its reimagination of history (with more diverse casts and music) to those that directly criticized its blind spots and sanded edges. But Sally & Tom feels like the most successful modern piece that draws a direct line to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, as it cracks open America’s troubled history in an eye-opening way without offering easy answers or easy condemnation, but rather much to think about. I wouldn’t be surprised if this makes it all the way to Broadway in the near future.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Broadway Tour, Hennepin Theatre Trust

My wife bought me the ultimate gift for Christmas 2021: front row tickets to Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Orpheum. Front row! We have a history with this stage version of the hit Baz Luhrmann movie, as we were living in New York City when it did an out-of-town tryout at Boston’s Colonial Theatre. I bought us tickets to see that early preview, but shortly before we were set to take the train to Boston we got the bad news that the show wasn’t quite ready, our tickets would be canceled, and we wouldn’t be rescheduled. So four years later, we finally got to see the Bohemian blowout from the lip of the pit orchestra in Minneapolis. Some touring Broadway productions live up to their original extravagance, others fall on their face. This one pulled out all the stops, bringing a gigantic elephant, towering windmill, and confetti cannons to the Orpheum, not to mention the gigantic cast and top-tier 10-piece orchestra. After the curtain fell, a couple dressed as Christian and Satine asked my wife to take a picture of them in the same pose as Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman on the movie’s poster. So yeah, you could say the audience was into it.

Iphigenia at Aulis, Ten Thousand Things

Ten Thousand Things presented their take on Iphigenia at Aulis, an ancient Greek play by Euripides, at a variety of outdoor venues, including Everwood Farmstead in Wisconsin and Powderhorn Park and Water Works Park in Minneapolis. But I caught it when they brought it indoors to Luminary Arts Center, one of my absolute favorite venues in the Twin Cities which was only recently opened back up under its current name by the Minnesota Opera. In a previous life, the space was called the Lab Theater, and I saw Rent there in 2010 and The Rocky Horror Show in 2011. Both of those musicals took full advantage of this nontraditional, cavernous space, and I’m excited for companies to do the same in the future. Ten Thousand Things took a pared down approach to Iphigenia, which is par for the course for their traveling shows, but what they lacked in trappings they made up for in content (with new musical compositions) and casting (an all-star lineup of Twin Cities talent).

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