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FEATURE: The Secret Life of Fringe Remounts

Note: This article has been updated to include a mention of Dancing Bare Feet.

Extending or reprising a show’s run is every theatrical producer’s dream. Evidently dreams do come true, because several shows from the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival are having reprises and remounts. Two of the best-selling shows of this year’s Fringe, It Can’t Happen Here, A Pickle, have already returned for reprises. Next week, Melody Mendis is “Barbra” comes back to Bryant-Lake Bowl, followed by Dancing Bare Feet. Next month, the flame-twirling Medusa catches fire again and last year’s BALL: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle will show that it still has it where it counts.

It Can’t Happen Here is a famous 1935 Federal Theatre Project play that adapted Sinclair Lewis’ anti-fascism novel of the same name for the stage. The version that played at this year’s Minnesota Fringe was adapted by Kit Bix, trimmed down to Fringe size and offered as a benefit for the American Civil Liberties Union. Its story about the rise of fascism, popularism, and authoritarianism – the production took place the same year as the infamous Nuremberg Rally and Race Laws in Germany – struck a chord with Fringe audiences and sold out every performance.

Formally, It Can’t Happen Here was produced for the Fringe by Sinclair Lewis Productions, a short-lived producing moniker typical of Fringe shows. It received another lease over Labor Day weekend, with a September 2 staged reading produced by Kit Bix Productions in association with Actors Theater of Minnesota. The reading saw several members of the Fringe cast and director Bryan Bevell return and served as a benefit-fundraiser for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A promotional image for A Pickle.

A Pickle by Deborah Yarchun is a scrawl of serious commentary about the Minnesota State Fair, battered and fried up in a comedic shell. Rendered by the fine comedic talents of Angela Timberman, its hilarious yet nuanced exploration of Minnesota Nice and the limits of diversity in one of the state’s most beloved institutions caught fire. Just days into the 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival, A Pickle was its fastest-selling show, selling out every performance – and selling every one after opening night well in advance.

Getting admission tokens for A Pickle became so difficult that it anecdotally caused more customer service problems for Fringe staffers than any other show. It was no surprise, then, when director Basil Considine of Really Spicy Opera received a call from Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater about doing a remount. “A Pickle struck a particular chord with Minnesota audiences,” Considine said. “The State Fair is something we all know and love, and we all know that the demographics of Minnesota are changing dramatically. When we love something, however, we often want it to stay just the way it is – which creates this very interesting tension where the play makes comedy.” Last night’s remount, coming on the heels of record-setting attendance at this year’s State Fair, proved just as popular, selling out in advance and bringing a string of hopefuls to the box office to snap up any cancellations and no-shows.

Melody Mendis, imitating an iconic photo of Barbra Streisand.

In a curiously circular path, Melody Mendis is bringing her Barbra Streisand tribute show back to Bryant-Lake Bowl. A voice teacher and resident of St. Louis Park, Mendis sold out an early Mother’s Day 2017 offering of her show at BLB. As fate would have it, she played there five more times during the 2017 Fringe. She returns to BLB again tonight at 7 PM, and is currently scheduled to do the show two more times at the Cabaret at CAMP Bar in St. Paul on Oct. 6-7.

Dancing Bare Feet, a Bollywood dance musical from MN Fringe 2017, returns September 17 – this time as a benefit for RGK Modern Indian Dance Academy. It truly brings a bit of everything to Hopkins High School’s Little Theater.

Another hot property, a fire-twirling, site-specific show called Medusa, powered through several rain-related cancellations to sell out its final Fringe show. Medusa was produced by Infiammati FireCircus [sic], a group whose stated philosophy is “Everything is better on fire.” Not one to be doused by an early run of fall weather, the FireCircus will be bringing its show back to Boom Island from October 6-8.

Also in the “too hot to handle” is last year’s BALL: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle, a critical and audience favorite that snapped up an encore at last year’s fringe. This seriocomedic, autobiographical tale of star Max Wojtanowicz’s bout with testicular cancer is coming back (the cancer, thankfully, is not). Wojtanowicz will reprise this powerful show on October 1 at Good Samaritan United Methodist in Edina, MN.

Amy Donahue