Twin Cities theater offers great variety

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The Orpheum Theater opened in downtown Minneapolis in 1921. It was designed after the Beaux Arts style and seats about 2,500 people. The first performers included the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny and Fanny Brice. In the 1940’s it became a major cinema theater. Over the next thirty years it showed movies and touring productions such as My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof. It became run down and eventually closed.

Bob Dylan and his brother David purchased it as an investment in 1979. They gave it a light facelift and then brought A Chorus Line to be the opening show. In 1988 they sold it to the Minneapolis Community Development Agency who spent $10 million to restore the theater. It re-opened in 1993 and in 2005 it was transferred to the Hennepin Theatre Trust.

During the renovation they found some gems including six Pompeiian friezes that had been hidden under fake window grids and a false wall. The chandelier that dominates the main auditorium is 15 feet high and weighs 2,000 pounds. Today the Orpheum shows theater productions and concerts.

The hallway ceiling at the Orpheum
The hallway ceiling at the Orpheum

We went to the Orpheum recently to see the Book of Mormon, a funny musical written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. It irreverently pokes fun at the young Mormons who are sent out into the world to proselytize without really knowing anything about the places they are being sent to. This particular group ends up in Africa and is faced with war lords, aids and female circumcision.

It has some dark moments as most satire does but everything turns out okay in the end and lessons are learned. During one scene a missionary has a dream about Hell and my favorite part are the two dancing Starbucks coffee cups.

The following week we saw something very different.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is across the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. A large portion of the funding came from the Ordway family, heirs to the 3M fortune as well as various corporations and foundations making it, at $46 million, the most expensive performing arts venue in the state. It was designed by St Paul native Benjamin Thompson and opened its doors in 1985 as the Ordway Music Theater.

The Ordway
The Ordway

The name was changed in 2000 so as to include the variety of performances it offers. The Minnesota Opera, The St Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Shubert Club all call the theater home. It is one of the country’s largest not-for-profit performing arts centers. We were there recently to see the Pilobolus Dance Theater.

According to their website “Pilobolus crystallinus is a phototropic (light loving) fungus. Commonly known as “Hat Thrower,” its spores accelerate 0–45 mph in the first millimeter of their flight and adhere to wherever they land.”

It is a good a description. The group started at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1971. They have been performing in theaters, on TV, in movies, in advertisements and at the Olympic games as well as schools and businesses for the past forty-five years. However, I had never heard of them. I went not knowing what to expect. I was delighted by what I saw.

Inside at the Ordway
Inside at the Ordway

The show started with “On the Nature of Things” where three nude (g-string) dancers, two men and a woman performed a beautiful writhing piece on top of a small round table. Between each dance a screen came down and showed the audience a short film while the crew changed the stage around. The films were artistic and amusing. Another dance was called “The Inconsistent Pedaler” and it included a multi-generational family and a young girl riding a bike. Every time she stopped pedaling, everybody on stage would slow down and eventually collapse. She would hop back on the bike and they would come back to life.


If you get the chance to see this group, it is worth it. Here is a teaser.