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Theater Latté Da’s ‘Re-Cast’ is beautiful and personal; Rain Taxi presents Timothy Brennan and Nico Muhly

ALSO: Talking Volumes, Talking Race with Chang-rae Lee; pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Minnesota Orchestra in livestream; and more.

Nora Montañez sings “Never Never Land” from “Peter Pan” in “Re-Cast.”
Nora Montañez sings “Never Never Land” from “Peter Pan” in “Re-Cast.”
Courtesy of Theater Latté Da

Theater Latté Da launched the Ghostlight Series in January to bring us back to the Ritz, to bridge the gap between the Before and After Times, and to give more than 40 Minnesota artists paid work.

The series of five virtual cabarets began with “Twelve Blocks From Where I Live,” Regina Marie Williams’ response in songs, stories and images to George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. It continues with “Re-Cast,” in which five artists who have previously appeared in Latté Da productions are invited to sing songs they have always wanted to perform on stage.

We assumed it would be good; we’ve learned from Latté Da to have a certain level of expectation for their artistry and their work. We didn’t expect it to be so affecting and emotionally laid bare.

On an otherwise shadowy stage, with the ghostlight glowing in the background, each artist sings something important to them. Backstage in the dressing room, they tell us more about themselves and why they chose that particular song.

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Evan Tyler Wilson wonders “Why can’t people who look like me fall in love on stage?” and sings “She Loves Me” (from “She Loves Me”). Nora Montañez remembers her own life as a young immigrant, having to grow up faster than she wanted, and sings “Never Never Land” (“Peter Pan”). John Jamison recalls how home was complicated for him, then bursts into “Soon As I Get Home” (“The Wiz”).

By age 9, Jay Owen Eisenberg had already gone through “a childhood’s worth of shame and confusion and disappointment, and the constant begging ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’” Then they had a life-changing experience at the post office. Their song: “Ring of Keys” (“Fun Home”). Sara Ochs explains her choice of “Being Alive” (“Company”): “Being alive feels extra relevant right now. … I haven’t felt properly alive for months.”

After a lifetime spent in theater, Tod Peterson ponders, “Is it time to step back? Step down? Make room? Do something else? Can I do something else?” His song is “Music in the Mirror” (“A Chorus Line”).

Sara Ochs sings “Being Alive” from “Company” in “Re-Cast.”
Courtesy of Theater Latté Da
Sara Ochs sings “Being Alive” from “Company” in “Re-Cast.”
Under Kelli Foster Warder’s direction, “Re-Cast” makes us feel we’re meeting all the artists one-on-one. They’re joined on stage by Music Director Jason Hansen on piano and Joan Griffith on guitar, both masked, but the camera stays mostly on the singers. Although it sometimes looks as though the artists are singing, even dancing together, those are tricks of videographer Lucas Wells. All performances were filmed separately and safely.

It’s beautiful and personal, intimate and intense. Maybe we’re just extra-tender at this point, the one-year anniversary of everything shutting down, but for us, this production packs more emotional punch than anything we’ve seen this year. After 12 months and counting of distancing, staying apart, and crossing streets to avoid other people, we’re hungry for the heat of each other’s stories.

The next three chapters in the Ghostlight Series will be released in April, June and July. All will remain available for viewing through August. A series pass ($75) gives you access to all five, and you can watch them as often as you like.

More ‘Merges’ at the Cowles 

The Cowles Center’s inventive and adventuresome “Merges in March” series – three weekends featuring artists who don’t usually work together – concludes with “Give Ear,” a collaboration among dance artist Berit Ahlgren and theater artist Nathan Keepers.

Ahlgren, a founding member of TU Dance who performed with the company for 10 years, studied the Gaga dance language in Tel Aviv. Keepers is producing artistic director of the Moving Company and spent 11 seasons with Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

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“Merges” was originally scheduled for March 2020, with Ahlgren and Keepers set to go first, but their premiere was canceled just hours before it was supposed to begin. COVID also forced them to reinvent what they planned to do. “Give Ear” was supposed to incorporate audience listening and audio feedback. Not anymore. It’s now a dance/theater film that still explores what it means to listen, but in a new way.

“Merges” features Berit Ahlgren, left, and Nathan Keepers.
Photo by Bill Cameron
“Merges” features Berit Ahlgren, left, and Nathan Keepers.
Created in a pandemic, with the Cowles’ Goodale Theater now equipped for filming and streaming, “Merges” began two weekends ago with Helen Hatch and Darrius Strong’s graceful and gorgeous “HYBRID,” then continued last weekend with Penelope Freeh and Alana Morris-Van Tassel’s intense and astounding “Bring it down under your feet.”

“Give Ear” will premiere (for real this time) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 19, followed by a live artist Q&A. It will be available Saturday and Sunday to stream on demand. FMI and tickets ($25).

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will join the Minnesota Orchestra on stage at Orchestra Hall for Ravel’s Pino Concerto in G.
Photo by Andrew Eccles
French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will join the Minnesota Orchestra on stage at Orchestra Hall for Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G.
V Livestreaming Friday, March 19: Minnesota Orchestra, 8 p.m.: “Lament and Beauty.” After a slight delay – he was originally scheduled to open the 2020-21 classical season in Sept. 2020 – French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet will join the Minnesota Orchestra on stage at Orchestra Hall for Ravel’s Pino Concerto in G. The program will also include the slow movement from Pulitzer Prize winner George Walker’s String Quartet No. 1 and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Osmo Vänskä will conduct, Sarah Hicks will host. Watch on the Orchestra’s website or TPT MN; listen on Classical MPR. Free.

V Streaming Sunday, March 21, 4 p.m.: Zeitgeist: “Coincident” Episode 2. The new music ensemble Zeitgeist continues its telematic, multi-episode, yearlong audiovisual collaboration with composer Scott L. Miller, visual artist Carole Kim and an evolving list of artists. (“Telematic” because all of the artists are performing from their home studios, sending digital information over long distances.) Here’s our response to Episode 1, which will give you some idea of what to expect, except Episode 2 will be completely different. The premiere will be followed by a virtual reception with the artists. Watch here. Free.

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V Livestreaming Tuesday, March 23, 5:30 p.m.: Rain Taxi: Timothy Brennan and Nico Muhly: “Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said.” Said was a Palestinian American literary critic, a public intellectual, a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies, a political activist and a gifted pianist. U of M professor Timothy Brennan was his friend and is his biographer; Brennan’s book, “Places of Mind,” will be released on March 23. Rain Taxi has paired Brennan with the prolific, prodigious and astonishing composer Nico Muhly, a former student of Said’s at Columbia University and a favorite of the late, lamented Liquid Music series. This conversation could easily be mind-blowing. Free with registration.

Chang-rae Lee
Photo by Annika Lee
Chang-rae Lee
V Livestreaming Tuesday, March 23, 7 p.m.: Star Tribune and MPR: Talking Volumes, Talking Race with Chang-rae Lee. With anti-Asian hate crimes on the rise, we’ll want to hear what the Korean American novelist, Dayton Peace Prize winner and Pulitzer finalist will have to say in conversation with MPR’s Brandt Williams. FMI and tickets (pay-what-you-want, $0-20). Tickets are available until 10 a.m. on the morning of the webinar.