‘Complicated Fun’ is a seriously fun look at 1980s Minneapolis music; new director for Regional Arts Council

Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
“Complicated Fun: The Minneapolis Music Scene”

“I made you a mixtape,” Boy tells Girl in “Complicated Fun,” playwright Alan Berks’ new musical at the History Theatre. “The songs tell you how I feel about you.”

Named for a song by the Suicide Commandos, “Complicated Fun” is Berks telling Minneapolis how he feels about his adopted town and the music born here in the 1980s: the Replacements, the Suburbs, Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, the Suicide Commandos, Trip Shakespeare, Mint Condition, Babes in Toyland and Greg Brown.

And Prince. For rights reasons, none of his songs are included, but “the little purple god” is a main character, though he never appears. In other circumstances, all the nods and mentions would have been joyous tribute to the genius in our midst. But Prince died just three days before “Complicated Fun” opened, making each mention bittersweet.

Berks’ jukebox musical is complicated – there’s a lot going on, and it’s sometimes too talky – but it’s also serious fun. Scenes in famed First Avenue manager Steve McClellan’s office, and the late lamented indie record store Oar Folkjokeopus (whose clerks could be cousins to Barry and Dick in Stephen Frears’ film “High Fidelity”), are linked by covers of 26 songs, all performed live. Nic Delcambre serves as music director and bandleader, and he does an amazing job.

So does the cast of 17, some playing multiple roles, who are often required to run down aisles, jump on stage and dance like crazy. Carl Flink of Black Label Movement is the show’s choreographer, and when you work for Flink, you work hard, and you sweat, and you sometimes come close to crashing into other people.

Dominic Taylor directs, masterfully managing many scene changes and moving parts, along with the overflowing energy and passion that Berks poured into his creation. Berks has said that a Replacements tape someone gave him in the 1980s changed his life. He has his characters say more than once that music can change the world. He probably believes that himself. A lot of people do. Maybe it’s true.

“Complicated Fun” is five years of Minneapolis music history tightly packed into two hours. If you were around in the ’80s and hung out at First Avenue and 7th Street Entry, you can decide for yourself whether Berks captured the scene you remember. Those of us (cough, cough) who spent most of that time with jazz and classical MPR can learn a lot about what we missed. (OK, fine, we get it, the Replacements were a really big deal.) Either way, it’s an exhilarating, entertaining night at the theater, and a close look at a defining moment in our history.

Some of our favorite lines, just because.

  • “You’re crazy if you think people will fill your club for jazz. In Minnesota?” (Yee-ouch.)
  • “John Koerner taught Bob Dylan, not the other way around.”
  • “It’s so Lutheran of you to want a rock & roll band to work hard.”
  • “No one is going to remember this song in 30 years.” (The song is the Suburbs’ “Love is the Law, ” which in 2013 was the unofficial theme song of the movement to legalize gay marriage in Minnesota.)
  •  “Don’t tell me you’re going to wear flannel shirts all your life and talk about seeing Prince before he was big.”

“Complicated Fun” continues at the History Theatre through May 29. FMI and tickets ($15-$45).

A new director for MRAC

Amy Crawford will be the new head of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, MRAC announced earlier this week. She takes over from interim ED Julie B. Sand, who stepped in when Jeff Prauer left in January after eight years as leader.

MRAC provides grants for small arts organizations and activities in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. Funding comes from legislative appropriations from the state’s general fund and, more recently, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, better known as the Legacy Fund.

Crawford previously served in executive leadership roles at several organizations including H2O for Life, Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota and United Way of the St. Paul Area, and as an assistant to former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer. She has also served on the boards of the Advocates for Human Rights, Minnesota Council on Foundations, Disability Funders Network and the Ann Bancroft Foundation.

Sand will remain at MRAC until Crawford comes on board in mid-June.

A Great Day for area jazz musicians

Most jazz artists and fans know “A Great Day in Harlem,” Art Kane’s iconic 1958 black-and-white portrait of 57 jazz musicians in front of a brownstone in Harlem. Anyone who went to the Artists’ Quarter before it closed in 2013 saw “A Great Day in St. Paul,” Byron Nelson’s 1998 color photo of Twin Cities jazz musicians.

On Sunday, May 22, all Twin Cities area professional jazz musicians and vocalists – veterans and newbies, working and retired – are invited to be part of the next “A Great Day in St. Paul.” Arranged by Twin Cities Jazz Festival Executive Director Steve Heckler, the photo shoot will take place in the McNally Smith auditorium in downtown St. Paul. Official Jazz Fest photographer Andrea Canter will do the honors. By Jazz Fest in June, the image will be a poster (with a key IDing everyone), available for sale as a Festival fundraiser.

How many musicians and vocalists are expected to show? “We’re clueless,” Canter said in conversation Thursday. “The 1998 ‘Great Day’ photo had 70 or 80 people. Maybe 150? We didn’t ask for an RSVP.” She hopes for a good turnout – and beyond that, a diverse turnout. “We want a picture that represents the current jazz scene in the Twin Cities – gender, age, culture, instruments, vocals, styles, genres.”

To be part of this historic image, arrive as close to 1 p.m. as possible. Enter on the building’s north side – the History Theatre entrance. Shooting begins at 1:30. You’ll be out by 2:30 if not before. Sorry, friends and family will have to wait in the lobby.

Want to be on a film crew?

A new film starring “Game of Thrones” actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau will be shot in and around the Twin Cities this summer. Produced by St. Paul native Keith Arnold, directed by Danish director Peter Flinth (“Arn: The Knight Templar”), “The Spinning Man” is a thriller based on a novel by George Harrar, about a philandering professor who becomes the prime suspect when a high school cheerleader disappears. Sounds perfect for Coster-Waldau who BTW didn’t really have his right hand chopped off. Emma Roberts and Greg Kinnear round out the cast. Minnesota Film and TV says to send inquiries about crew positions to revolvingmoviecrew@gmail.com.

The picks

Opens today (Friday, May 20) at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Marguerite.” Why is everyone suddenly so fascinated by Florence Foster Jenkins, the New York heiress who thought she could sing opera but was horribly, embarrassingly tone deaf? “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a Stephen Frears film starring Meryl Streep, opens in U.S. theaters in August. “Souvenir,” a play by Stephen Temperley based on her life, is at the Commonweal Theater in Lanesboro now. First out of the gate was this 2015 French film directed by Xavier Giannoli, inspired by Jenkins’ life and starring Catherine Frot, who won a César (a French Oscar) for her performance as the screeching diva. We saw it in an earlier run at the Edina and found it lovely to look at, both funny and sad. FMI including showtimes and tickets ($5-$8.50). Ends Thursday, May 26.

Catherine Frot as “Marguerite.”

Saturday at the Black Dog: Kelly Rossum Quartet. Trumpeter/composer Rossum, now based in Virginia, is back in the Twin Cities for a visit, bearing a brand new CD, “Blue Earth County,” and gigging with friends at the Black Dog and Vieux Carré. (The latter is a benefit Sunday for the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, where he’ll direct a 21-piece Dakota Combo Alumni Big Band; Rossum led the Combo when he ran the jazz program at MacPhail.) Saturday’s event at the Black Dog is a public performance with his quartet for the evening: bassist Michael O’Brien, also visiting (from New York), Dave Hagedorn on vibes and Eric Kamau Gravatt on drums. 8:30 p.m. Arrive by 7 to hear guitarist Joe Shapira’s Convergence trio, with O’Brien and Gravatt. Reserved seating available ($20) or just show up. P.S. the Black Dog now has a real kitchen, and a chef, and food made from scratch.

Closes Sunday at the American Swedish Institute: “The Watercolor Worlds of Lars Lerin.” We mentioned this show in Wednesday’s Museum Days coverage, then trotted off to see it ourselves. It’s so mind-blowing that we’re begging you to squeeze it in sometime this weekend before it’s gone for good. Especially if you think that watercolors are all mushy flowers and cute cottages, you should see what Lerin does with apartment buildings, birch trees and abandoned farms, mosques and taxidermy birds. This is the sort of exhibition that gives you new eyes. Today (Friday) until 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday noon – 5 p.m. Included with museum admission ($10 adults, $7 for 62 and up, $5 for 6-18 and students with ID, free for members and kids 5 and under).

Tuesday at the Dakota: Bryan Nichols “Looking North” CD release. One of our finest jazz pianists, Nichols has made a deliberately regional solo recording of mostly original music. Inspired by his time in Minneapolis (where he grew up and now lives), Iowa and Chicago, his family, the city lakes near his Minneapolis home and other musicians he enjoys playing with (the album has only two covers, one by drummer Dave King and the other by dreamy folk band The Pines), “Looking North” is tender, romantic, witty and wide-open. At the Dakota, he’ll play a solo set, then a trio set with the fabulous Bates brothers, Chris on bass and JT on drums. 7 p.m. $7 at the door. FMI. Reservations at 612-332-5299.

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