'Love & Marriage': Singing for equality

Cat Brindisi and Reid Harmsen.
Cat Brindisi and Reid Harmsen.
Photo by Lauren B. Photography
The latest show at the Illusion Theater is a case of two minds thinking along the same lines.

Earlier this summer Roberta Carlson, a local songwriter, musician, and arranger, stopped by the theater office to chat with Bonnie Morris, one of Illusion's co-producing directors. "She asked me if there was anything I was interested in doing, and I told her something had popped into my mind the other day," Carlson says.

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The idea was to create a revue centered on relationships and marriage in response to the upcoming marriage amendment vote in Minnesota. As it turned out, Illusion's other co-producing director, Michael Robins, had come up with the same idea.

"We both agreed that we didn't want to do a political diatribe. We wanted a Valentine that embraces all forms of love," Carlson says.

Love & Marriage merges musical moments with video testimonials of more than a dozen area couples of various ages, places in their relationship, and orientation. The show features a company of eight singers -- including Dennis Spears, Randy Schmelling, Melissa Hart, and Cat Brindisi -- working through a diverse list of love songs, from standards to show tunes to pop anthems by the Beatles, Billy Joel, and Stevie Wonder.

"There is no shortage of songs written about love," Carlson says. "There was a constant balancing act. I went through reams of material and hours of iTunes to come up with the songs that were best suited to the format and the voices we had."

The singers aren't playing particular characters -- they aren't even paired up consistently -- but instead work in different configurations. "We had to create a company that is embodied by our choice of songs, with it connecting more metaphorically to what the people say in the videos," Robins says.

Sometimes, this included stretching the performers. "We gave them some things to do out of their style zone. We are trying to create a community onstage that is as distinct and varied as eight random people you might run into as you walk out of the building," Robins says. 

For the videos, Robins and Morris called on a number of couples they already knew. "We picked people who would be at ease when asked these questions. I was honored that they gave us this kind of gift. For a lot of them, no one had asked them how they met and fell in love," Robins says. "There were three couples of different ages who were getting married within two weeks of being interviewed. When you talk to them that closely to the event, there is an inner shine to those people."

And while the show isn't about making speeches from stage, there is definitely a political motivation. "It is political in the oldest way theater is: as a reflection in the moment of these honest values. No one is saying do this or that," Robins says.


Love & Marriage
Through October 28
Illusion Theater, Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, 8th Floor
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For information and tickets, call  612.339.4944 or visit online
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Illusion Theater

528 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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