Theater Review: Jody Kujawa, this is the role of your life

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Jody Kujawa is Francis Henshall and Jason Scorich is Stanley Stubbers in the Duluth Playhouse production of “One Man, Two Guvnors.”(Photo: Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

In the middle of the first act of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” Jody Kujawa sternly warns a couple of audience members, “This is my show.”

Truer words have ne’er been spoken on the Playhouse stage.

The eye of a hurricane is the calm center of a massive swirling storm. But what if instead you discovered there was a tornado in the middle of a hurricane? Meteorologically that might be impossible, but it is an apt metaphor for the riotous comedy that opened the Playhouse’s season Thursday night with Kujawa in the role of a lifetime.

Kujawa plays Francis Henshall, an easily confused chap, who is employed by two men (aka “guvnors”), who also happen to be criminals: Rachel Crabbe (Cheryl Skafte), who is disguised as her dead twin brother, and Stanley Stubbers (Jason Skorich), her lover, who killed the brother and who is now in hiding, thereby setting the stage for comic confusion and complication galore. As gangsters go, these blokes are not exactly in the mold of the Sopranos, even if a recurring theme of the evening is trying to turn each of the males on stage into a lower-case one.

“One Man, Two Guvnors” is replete with a pair of twins, false names, mistaken identities, a really nice Heracles joke, a whole host of non sequiturs aimed directly at my funny bone and a passel of perpetual punch lines incessantly milked for all they are worth. At the center of all this chaos is Kujawa’s Francis, who keeps the audience apprised of his convoluted thought processes every step of the way, has a gem of a moment when he fights himself, and frequently enlists audience participation in both word and deed. It is these improvisational moments that play to Kujawa’s strong suit as a comedian and guarantee that no two performances of this show will ever be alike. If anything, I would suspect each performance will be funnier than the previous one.

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A Playhouse First!

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Exciting things are always happening at the Duluth Playhouse, and this year, we’re excited to announce the first-ever Playhouse Resident Company! (Cue massive amounts of fist pumping, celebratory shouts, and the popping of a champagne bottle!)

What does it mean to be a member of the Company? The Playhouse Resident Company Program combines free training in the performing arts with meaningful employment to theatre artists in the region. Along with taking classes in acting and dancing, company members will also be working an array of positions from Front of House to behind-the-scenes in the shop. Theatre-goers will see them at Playhouse, Underground and Children’s Theatre productions.

As always, we appreciate your support of this initiative to foster professional theatre in our community. Please consider making a donation today. Donate now!

Now, we know you’re wondering…who are 2014-15 Company Members?

Drew Autio
Erin Blazevic
Kendra Carlson
Jesse Davis
Ashlee Hartwig
Scott Hebert
Jody Kujawa
Lawrence Lee
Johnathan Manchester
Kyle McMillan
Kristin Paschen
Mike Pederson
Jason Scorich
Louisa Scorich
Angela Riihiluoma
Angela Shields
Sara Marie Sorenson
Matias Valero
Sara Wabrowetz

Meet the Director — Benjamin Kutschied!

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This fresh take on a classic farce A Servant of Two Masters is comic perfection! One Man, Two Guvnors follows Francis Henshall after he gets fired from his skiffle band and hired by Roscoe, a small-time hood from the East End of London and by Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding out and waiting to be reunited with his fiancée, who is really Roscoe in disguise! While Francis tries to keep his two employers apart, he is also trying to juggle a love of his own. This hilarious comedy of mistake identity is slapstick at its finest, a proper English giggle!

There’s no one better to take on the role of director then Benjamin Kutschied. One Man, Two Guvnors is an adaptation of the well-known Commedia dell’arte play, Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldini. Commedia dell’arte was a theatrical form from the 16th century Italy in which actors would improvise around pre-established scenarios, Musical numbers, audience interactions, and slapstick antics were all incorporated.

“We wanted to stay true to the show’s roots with our productions. Thus, painted drops and signs indicate changes of location, the costumes are based on traditional Commedia dress, the actors have drawn inspiration from their stock character equivalents, and — most importantly — we’ve done our best to make sure that you have a few laughs,” says One Man, Two Guvnors director, Benjamin Kutschied.

A sneak peek of the antics you might witness during the show. Photo taken from the Broadway production of 'One Man, Two Guvnors' at the Music Box Theatre in 2012. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

A sneak peek of the antics you might witness during the show. Photo taken from the Broadway production of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ at the Music Box Theatre in 2012. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

“If you’re looking to have a wicked good time and laugh until your sides hurt, then you’ve come to the right place, and I think that might even be more important. Of course, someone else has always said it best: ‘If Heaven exists, to know that there’s laughter, that would be a great thing.‘ – Robin Williams.”

Making his directorial debut at the Duluth Playhouse, Benjamin’s previous directing credits include Public Dreams Theatre where he produced and directed an original piece titled “And Still They Move,” as part of the 2014 Minneapolis Fringe Festival. He directed “The Woman in Black” by Stephen Mallatratt at Chameleon Theatre Circle. He presented an excerpt from the original work “And Still They Move,” as part of Red Eye Theater’s New Works 4 Weeks Festival. Benjamin founded Upright Egg Theatre Company along with two other Hamline University graduates where he worked as a production manager, director, actor, stage manager and set designer. He attended Hamline University and graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts in 2004. He’s also worked in various other capacities with Theatre in the Round, the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, Gremlin Theatre, and others.

Up next for Benjamin is directing A Christmas Carol at Lyric Arts in Anoka, Minnesota this holiday season.

Along with his expansive and involved career within the theatre, Benjamin also has an active interest in natural foods, animal advocacy and wilderness studies. Volunteering is also important to this director. For over a year, he served as Director of Volunteer Programs with Compassionate Action for Animals.

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One Man, Two Guvnors

 
Starring:Jody Kujawa, Kendall Linn, Jonathan Mancheter, Gabe Mayfield, Luke Moravec, Mike Pederson, Jennie Ross, Jason Scorich, Louisa Scorich, Keith Shelbourn, Cheryl Skafte.

Who: The Duluth Playhouse
What: One Man, Two Guvnors
When: September 18-28, 2014 | Thursday-Saturdays: 7:30 p.m., Sunday Matinees: 2:00 p.m.
Where: The Duluth Playhouse, 506 W. Michigan Street, Duluth, MN 55802
Tickets: Adults $25, Students $15 | Buy Yours Online TODAY!
Call: For information 218-733-7555

Welcome to Walletini the box office App!

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 Tech Savvy

Last year kicked off the Playhouse’s Box Office Software Makeover! Our Customer Relations Manager, Maria dove into the world of box office software so that we could offer a more customer friendly and up-to-date experience for our customers.

We wanted easier ordering online, we wanted ALL the seats to be available online; we needed a system that could support multiple stages and classes… Let’s just say it was a long list to make everything better!

We are happy to introduce Vendini! Which is a wonderful system and we’re continually learning how advanced it is. Not only does it support everything we need and dreamed of in a box office software program, but it’s even savvier than we knew! Did you know it has its own app called Walletini?!

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Click on image to download the app.

Walletini not only works for the Playhouse, but for any venue that uses Vendini ticketing software such as The Vista Fleet. You can store all your tickets for all of your Vendini events right in your phone.
• No more lost tickets!
• No more needing tickets reprinted!
• No more Will Call lines!
• All your tickets in one place!

Other fun features include transferring tickets between your friends and family! If you know that your friend is going to be five minutes late for the show, but you don’t want to miss the beginning, simply transfer their ticket to their Walletini app and they can meet you inside. They can also pay you back via the app if you bought all of the tickets for your group as well. Talk about convenient!

Please Note: When booking tickets for shows on our Main Stage through your phone, you can’t choose your seats. It will give you our “Best Available” seats. Luckily, there isn’t a bad seat in the house! However, if you want to see the seats, you’ll want to book them online and send them to your phone via the ‘Mobile Phone’ deliver option.

For more information and questions about Walletini please call our box office at 218-733-7555.

Thanks and enjoy our shows!

Hamlet & Millie

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The Teen Intensive is a program offered by the Playhouse for teens ages 13-18 that allows kids to produce and perform in classic productions over the summer. They are expected to learn music, lines, light and sound cues, stage managing, advertising, and other important elements that go into a professional production. Aside from the directors, choreographer, stage manager, and music director, the shows are entirely run by the teens themselves, creating a multitalent-oriented atmosphere.

This year’s intensive features two classic shows: Thoroughly Modern Millie and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Set in the 1920’s, Thoroughly Modern Millie is a bombasticly fun musical about a young woman, Millie Dillmount, who aspires to be a modern woman in a big city, marrying for money instead of love. Millie checks herself into the never-boring Hotel Priscilla in New York City only to find herself being housed by the leader of a white slavery ring in China and no male suitors ready to take her hand. In contrast to the fun-loving Broadway hit is Shakespeare’s classic Hamlet, about Denmark’s royal family and the controversy over the suspicious marriage between the King’s brother and his widowed wife, only a few months subsequent to his sudden demise. When Hamlet’s father comes to him in spirit with news of his murder most foul, Hamlet takes it upon himself to show the truth to his mother and country, no matter what cost.

With spectacular leads, such as Joe Birdseye as Hamlet and Meghan Jarecki as Millie Dillmount (both long-time Playhouse family members) and an equally as amazing ensemble in both shows, these productions are a must see for the summer. Both productions showcase familiar faces, such as Maddie Nachtsheim (Dorothy Brown) and Simon VanVactor-Lee (King Claudius) but what makes this intensive different from previous years is the amount of new talent found in both shows. When asked what drew them to the Playhouse and what they like about the experience so far, Hamlet ensemble member Hans Arvidson-Hicks says, “I heard about the Playhouse from a few of my friends and I decided to try it for the sake of trying something new. So far I like the people, learning about Hamlet and trying to get out of my comfort-zone/becoming a better actor.” From the Millie cast, Annabelle Revak says this, “Our school drama club came to Duluth to see Anything Goes, which is how I found out about the Playhouse. I thought it would be a good experience to try something outside of Spooner, and so far it’s been great! Everyone here is so passionate about theatre and it’s inspired me to work harder. I feel like I’ve found my people, in a way.”

The intensive, and theater in general, creates well-rounded, able teens in our community prepared to take on jobs and careers at an early age due to the amount of responsibility they grow accustom to while putting together a production. The amount of talent going up on the Playhouse main stage this August is sure to overwhelm and excite: both shows are a must see!

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Les Miserables – Meet Jean Valjean

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PLAYHOUSE: Everybody knows that Jean Valjean and Javert are mortal enemies – have you and Jeffrey [Madison] done any special preparation to get into that mindset?

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Pictured: Adam Sippola as “Jean Valjean” left, Jeffrey Madison as “Javert” right at “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

ADAM SIPPOLA: For the last couple of months, Jeff and I have been randomly showing up in each other’s daily lives, singing threateningly in each other’s general direction, and then darting off.

Really though, it’s been thoroughly enjoyable to get to know one another off stage, and to enjoy each other’s work onstage. There’s a camaraderie and artistic trust that enables for good, honest work. Now watch, in reality, Jeff probably has a dart board with my face on it in his dressing room.

PH: The role of Jean Valjean is a coveted role in musical theatre history – what is it like to play him?

Adam: This role is one of only a few on the bucket list, so to have the opportunity to bring it to life on stage at the DECC, with this phenomenal cast, members of the DSSO, amazing crew, designers, and director, is pretty awesome, to say the least.

PH: What research did you do to prepare for Valjean?

Adam: I went back and re-read section of the book, watched some clips from old film adaptations, but as with other shows, I mostly look to the text, myself, my fellow actors, and my director.

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Adam Sippola as “Jean Valjean” at “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: What was your biggest challenge in playing this role?

Adam: The greatest challenge has been to strip away preconceptions of Valjean, and to just allow myself to find the character in my voice and body, and in my life, regardless of how it’s been done before, or what expectations others may have.

PH: Tell us a little bit about what this production/role/opportunity means to you.

Adam: It’s an absolute honor, all of it. It’s a joy to play on stage every day and night with this cast and crew – there’s great love there. It’s both humbling and empowering to perform with such consistently high caliber musicians and actors, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Ms. Danner, a beautiful person and wonderful director, continuing in my personal growth as a performer. Perhaps most importantly, I am honored to be a part of telling this story of love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness – to meet my fellow actors in this world of Les Miserables, and to go with them beyond the barricade.

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Adam Sippola as “Jean Valjean” left, Jennifer Graupmann Campbell as “Cosette” right at “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: Any special thanks or shout outs?

Adam: My childhood cello teacher, Betsy Husby, taught me so much, not only about how to play the cello, but by example, how to carry myself as a musician and performer. Week after week, year after year, sitting in lessons with her, exploring music, I can see in retrospect that I was also finding my voice, and cultivating a passionate attitude for music performance, which became the foundation for how I sing and perform today. I am so thankful! And the serendipitous part is that Betsy is playing cello in the orchestra for Les Miserables, so after many, many years, we’re making music together again.

I’d also like to thank my mom, Carlene, for always being my biggest fan and supporter, along with my dad, John, for always singing with me, and for teaching me the art of listening. And thank you Nicole, Vali, and Anja, for your love and support.


Don’t forget to get your tickets, we open tonight! You can purchase in person at the DECC Ticket Office or online by clicking the button below. We’re expecting it to be busy at the door, so advance sales are always recommended. See you at the show!

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Les Misérables – Meet Fantine!

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Ali Littrell Finstrom in “Les Misérables” at the Chanhassen

PLAYHOUSE: It’s great to have you back for another Playhouse production! But this isn’t your first time being in Les Mis, right?

Ali Littrell Finstrom: That’s right! I was blessed to play the role of Cosette in a production at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters back in 2007. Being a part of Les Misérables is a dream for many performers, so getting to do it twice is unbelievable!

PH: You play Fantine in the show – what does this role mean to you?

Ali: Fantine is a wonderful role and I feel grateful to have the chance to play her. But the show itself has much more meaning to me. I love what the show stands for; forgiveness, love, grace, and redemption. It is a beautiful and powerful show and I am excited to share it with the Northland!

Ali Littrell Finstrom in "Les Misérables" at the Chanhassen.

Ali Littrell Finstrom in “Les Misérables” at the Chanhassen.

PH: What research did you do to prepare for this role?

Ali: I was eight years old when I first saw Les Misérables so I have loved this show for many years.  As I said previously, this is not the first time I have done this show. Last time, it ran for 6 months! So I know the show forwards and backwards. This time around however, I committed to reading the Victor Hugo novel. There is so much more detail and background that I was able to apply to my role having read the book.

PH: What was your biggest challenge in playing this part?

Ali: The biggest challenge would have to be Fantine’s emotional journey.  I am only on stage for a total of about 25 minutes, but it is an intense 25 minutes!  Being a mother of three small children, I can relate to how desperate Fantine is to provide and care for her child, Cosette.

Ali Littrell Finstrom on left as Fantine in "Les Misérables" rehearsal at UMD.

Ali Littrell Finstrom on left as Fantine in “Les Misérables” rehearsal at UMD.

PH: What has been your favorite part about this production? Or a favorite part of the show?

Ali: The best part of this production is the fact that it is a collaboration of some of the best artists in the community.  From the directors and performers to the crew and orchestra, many people are working very hard to make this show something that will raise the bar for productions in Duluth.  As far as my favorite part in the show; I would have to say the very end when the entire cast sings all together in the big finale!

PH: Any special thanks or shout outs?

Ali: Always grateful to my loving, supportive husband Erik and our three sweet munchkins Kayleigh, Andrew, and Emily!  Being wife and mommy is my favorite role to play!!

Ali Littrell Finstrom in "The Sound of Music" at The Duluth Playhouse.

Ali Littrell Finstrom in “The Sound of Music” at The Duluth Playhouse.


Don’t forget to get your tickets, we open next week! You can purchase in person at the DECC Ticket Office or online by clicking the button below. And check back for more Q&A sessions with the cast!

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