Minnesota, the land of lakes, is also the land of many quality theaters. Here are a few productions from 2013 that stand out for their own unique merits.

Best Box Office Breakout

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“Fiddler on the Roof”
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
501 W. 78th St.
Chanhassen, MN 55317
(952) 934-1525

“Fiddler is breaking all sales records for the past six or seven years, which is very exciting,” says Kris Howland, Chanhassen’s Public Relations Director. This is not surprising, as the original 1964 musical also broke all Broadway records by running 10 years. Unfortunately, Chanhassen’s schedule allows it to run until February 22, 2014 and no longer. Michael Brindisi directs and Tamara Kangas Erickson choreographs a production that “sings and dances well,” in the opinion of Graydon Royce of the StarTribune. He especially likes how Keith Rice as Tevye uses his “big voice to growl, to tease, to coax an extra laugh here and there.”

Best Innovation in Theater

“Owl Moon”
Stages Theatre Company
1111 Main St.
Hopkins, MN 55343
(952) 979-1111

“Breathtaking. Perhaps the strongest Stages Theatre Company show in the last five years. Love, love, loved this performance! So wonderful! Magical, creative and different. Great length, costumes, set, story – perfection. This production was really unique and I thought it was a great change from the more traditional plays that I’ve seen at Stages Theatre Company so far. Really a beautiful show.” Such were the comments by staff and Board of Director in anonymous surveys taken after viewing this world premiere production based on the 1988 Caldecott Medal book by Jane Yolen. “Owl Moon,” a 45-minute production, ran March 8 through March 24, 2013. Artistic Director Sandy Boren-Barrett and Escalate Dance and Theatre Studio collaborated in an innovative theater strictly of movement and dance capturing the magic and mystery of winter nights as a father and child walk through the woods hoping to spot an owl. “This was our first ever sensory-friendly performance which was a huge success and that is why we are doing it again during the current season,” says Danielle Ryan, Marketing and Public Relations Manager. Sensory-friendly means house lights on, sound levels lowered and audience members being allowed to move around the theater.

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Best Classic

(credit: CRAIG LASSIG/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: CRAIG LASSIG/AFP/Getty Images)

“Pride and Prejudice”
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415
(612) 377-2224

Jane Austen’s second novel “Pride and Prejudice,” published exactly two centuries ago, has lived through the ages and been a popular choice of readers worldwide. While it can be said that some things are lost in any adaptation—and Simon Reade’s new script premiered here this year may have lost some of Austin’s subtle genius—it was well played by the cast and audiences liked it. Inviting local prodigy Vincent Kartheiser, now in his seventh season TV hit “Mad Men,” may also have created a box office draw. But how can we not see “Mad Men” Peter Campbell on stage playing Mr. Darcy? Nevertheless, Kartheiser lives up to the challenge as he saw it, “To show interest in Elizabeth Bennet without being overt,” and to project those emotions from the stage without the benefit of a close-up television camera. We in Minnesota are favored with classic theater thanks to Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s inspiration. And while the formula also called for a resident acting company in an atmosphere removed from commercial pressure, the need for a viable enterprise may have drawn what we call “The Guthrie” away from a resident cast always playing classics bowing to an ever-present commercial pressure.

Best Definitive Theater

“Driving Miss Daisy”
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
(612) 822-7063
It is a tall order to produce definitive theater as a catalyst to cultural and economic life for the neighborhood. Yet, Artistic Director Bain Boehlke’s “Driving Miss Daisy” makes a sincere and substantive undertaking at fulfilling this Jungle Theater vision. Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play was a wise selection, and Twin Cities’ theater maven Wendy Lehr made it work. Lehr takes a difficult assignment playing Daisy Werthen, an edgy and independent woman in Georgia, who can no longer drive and who must relinquish driving to her black chauffeur. She makes it work with irascibility and charm. The story has special relevance because of its context, taking place from 1948 to 1973, in the midst of the greatest social upheaval of southern culture since the civil war. The set is designed on a dime but Director Boeklke makes it work. Pioneer Press reviewer Renee Valois nailed it by saying, “ This is a small show, but it has a big heart.”

First 45-Year Old Debutant

“Bye Bye Birdie”
Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
501 W. 78th St.
Chanhassen, MN 55317
(952) 934-1525

There is always a first time for everything. It may have taken 45 years for the Chanhassen to debut a musical written in 1963, but Director Michael Brindisi and the veteran cast created and conveyed a new first-time experience from old material. An underlying assumption of the original show was the ephemeral nature of popular rock-and-roll culture. Self-awareness is healthy. The formula is simple. You can always tell when a song is coming. Yet the romance of Albert and Rosie, the antics of the main character based on has-been celebrities Conway Twitty and Elvis Presley, and an ageless moral of the story engrossed a new audience every night for more than five months.

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Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from Richfield High School and then the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for Examiner.com, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at Examiner.com.