Minneapolis/St. Paul

April 30, 2004.By Michael Sander, Backstage.

A sensitive mounting of the McNally-Flaherty-Ahrens musical A Man of No Importance, presented by Theater Latté Da at the Loring Playhouse, is a highlight of recent Twin Cities theatrical offerings. The show itself has its flaws, both musical and dramatic, but insightful direction by Peter Rothstein and a strong, vocally gifted cast, led by the unsentimentalized performance of Tod Petersen as bus conductor Alfie Byrne, combine to make it the moving experience the authors intended. Ann Michels, Dieter Bierbrauer, Zoe Pappas, and George Muellner provide strong support, and Denise Prosek’s musical direction is a particular asset.

Another impressive production is the Jungle Theater’s The Drawer Boy, Michael Healey’s widely produced drama about the farmhouse secrets and discoveries. Another notable local director, Casey Stangl, guides Wayne Evenso, Kurt Schwejckhardt, and Tony Clarno in an artful portrait that never veers into melodrama. Jungle artistic director Bain Boehlke’s set design maintains his usual high, dramatically responsive standard.

At the Guthrie, director Ethan McSweeny hauls Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into an ill-fitting 21st-century world of Vespas, steel scaffolding, and leather suits (set and costumes by Mark Wendland). Guthrie veterans Stephen Pelinski, Richard S. Iglewski, and Stephen Yoakam offer vibrant performances in supporting roles, but there is an unfortunate hollow where the title characters should live. There’s something seriously amiss with an R&J in which the most impressive turn is Pelinski’s Lord Capulet.

On the touring front, Hairspray, at the Orpheum, is a delightful rendering of the Broadway hit. Not having seen the show previously, I can only note that Bruce Vilanch is deftly amusing and overwhelmingly womanly as Edna Tumblad, and the vibrant Carly Jibson (reportedly soon to step into the Broadway original) is a vocal and choreographic delight as her daughter Tracy. The dancers do the lion’s share of the work in this high-spirited show, and Jerry Mitchell’s choreography gets its full due. And at the State, the somber The Exonerated makes a strong argument for a re-examination of the criminal-justice system. At the head of the cast, Lynn Redgrave is emotionally powerful, but Brian Dennehy is so low-key as to almost disappear.