A high-ceilinged space just slightly off the beaten path, with few windows in its sturdy walls and roof beams proudly exposed. Snacks for sale in one corner (on the honor system, so bring your ones and quarters), board games stacked on a shelf in the other. A low stage against the wall, ready for live music or anything else.
The Twin Cities' newest taproom? Nope, it's the Twin Cities' newest theater. Located in Crystal, a 15-minute drive (or a 45-minute bike ride) northwest of downtown Minneapolis, the Elision Playhouse is a cozy box run by Theatre Elision, a two-year old company that's staked its claim to putting superb actors before small audiences, giving them some strong musical material that hasn't been done to death, and letting it rip.
For its debut production in the new space, Elision is returning to Ruthless, a show it produced last year to positive response at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center. On Friday night, a comfortably sized audience filed into the lobby (which doubles as a cabaret stage) after pausing to ooh and aah at Lili Payne's Art Nouveau mural, which covers an exterior wall of the former Mill End Textiles building.
Through an interior door and past a brightly lit arrow, the 119-capacity main stage is where the stars of Ruthless are holding court through July 21. Director/designer Lindsay Fitzgerald situates the six actors in upstage chairs, where they lounge with cocktails in front of pianist Harrison Wade and percussionist Erik Schee, stepping forward when their characters enter the story.
The light musical by playwright/lyricist Joel Paley and composer Marvin Laird premiered off-Broadway in 1992, and has proven popular with regional companies. No wonder: Its compact scope makes it a perfect fit for venues like the new Playhouse, where the cast's interpretive skills shine in this comic tale of an aspiring child star who will do anything, anything, to break big.
Bethany McCade plays Tina, a precocious 8-year-old who's ready to jump straight from her school play to the Great White Way. It looks like she just might get her break via Pippi in Tahiti, a Longstocking tale penned by ambitious third-grade teacher Miss Thorn (Elena Glass, committed as always). When a rival (Deidre Cochran) is cast in the starring role, though, Tina doesn't have to dig very deep to find her inner Bad Seed.
The ensemble cast merrily feed on their shared energy; there are plum roles for Church Basement Ladies veteran Greta Grosch as an unapologetic critic and for Susan Hofflander as a talent scout with a mysterious past. Ultimately, though, the show belongs to Elision regular Christine Wade, whose hair-raisingly brittle stage mom discovers her own gifts and flowers into a decadent diva.
It's no Shakespeare, but god knows there's plenty of that to be found elsewhere. What you can now find, in Theatre Elision's snazzy new space, is the next generation of accessible, people-pleasing suburban musical theater. Bring your mom, but be prepared: She just might get some ideas.