Fringe Festival is full of musicals

KAREN ZAMORA | Updated 7/30/2014

Despite challenges, the Fringe Festival may be ideal for musicals.

A scene from “Top Gun: The Musical” presented by Rooftop Theatre Company
Renee Jones Schneider

Among 169 shows at this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival, 21 are musicals. What could their producers have been thinking?

The constraints of the Fringe — micro budgets, a 60-minute time limit, cheapskate production values, short rehearsal periods — would seem to run counter to the DNA of the average musical. You know, lavish sets, big cast, live music, song and dance. But at the Fringe, producers of musicals must do lots with less.

“We bought really simple costumes, everyone has their own instrument, and we didn’t spend too much money on props,” said local playwright Gemma Irish. Her Fringe show, “Into the Unreal City,” will take audiences on a walking tour of Minneapolis’ West Bank, with songs.

Even with the odds against her, Irish said, it’s the risk that makes producing a musical more rewarding.

“If it’s possible to pull off a musical walking tour, which I think it is, then the Fringe is absolutely the place where I want to try,” Irish said. “The audience always shows up with a smile on their face ready for whatever you’ve got for them.”

The Fringe runs July 31 to Aug. 10, with shows of every description firing at more than 19 venues. Challenges aside, musicals are not unusual at the Fringe. Veterans fondly recall such shows as “Soulless, Bloodsucking Lawyers: A Musical,” “Reefer Madness: The Musical” and “Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical.”

Irish and co-creator Mark Sweeney gave themselves a humble budget of $2,200 for their six-person cast of “Unreal City.” Their piece is a site-specific, traveling story about the “human experience.” It comes with its own set of obstacles, such as playing instruments loud enough to be heard by 20 audience members while walking in traffic. “It’s not on a stage, there is no facade, [the actors] are not wearing makeup, they are not in amazing costumes. It is just two people having a moment and singing to each other and it’s kind of great,” Irish said.

Fringe newcomer Anders Mattson took to Kickstarter and raised more than $1,500 for his original musical, “Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. The nine-person cast (including him) and two live musicians volunteered their time for the production.

“The goal was to do it cheaply and still put on a really good show,” he said. “It’s flattering to me that they are willing to donate their time to be in this show, and it means, to me, that they believe in the music.”


More Fringe musicals

“Pretty People Suck (and Other Indisputable Facts About the Universe)”: An original pop-musical about loneliness in the era of Facebook, Twitter and Tinder. (Playwrights’ Center.)

“Edgar Allan”: A “manic lullaby” about 11-year-old Edgar Allan Poe, his evil shadow and life at boarding school. (Minneapolis Theatre Garage.)

“Native Man the Musical”: Local playwright Rhiana Yazzie opens up the world of American Indian men and their journey as warriors, fathers and politicians. Performed with a live band. (Rarig Center.)

“Top Gun: The Musical,”: The classic 1986 film will take your breath away again, with music and Broadway-style dancing. (Illusion Theater.)

“A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant”: This off-Broadway satire makes its Minnesota premiere at the Fringe. (New Century Theatre.)


Minnesota Fringe Festival

What: A cavalcade of 169 hourlong dramas, comedies, musicals and more.

When: July 31-Aug. 10.

Where: 19 Minneapolis venues.

Tickets: $12. Multi-show passes available.