Eric Petersen, Alan Mingo, Jr. and Haven Burton
in Shrek the Musical
(© Joan Marcus)
Eric Petersen, Alan Mingo, Jr. and Haven Burton
in Shrek the Musical
(© Joan Marcus)
Parents looking to whet their children's appetites for theater will have some sure bets this month. Shrek the Musical (Orpheum Theatre, February 1-6), making a Twin Cities stop on its national tour, is based on the story and characters from William Steig's book Shrek! as well as the popular DreamWorks Animation film, and features book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori. The swamp-dwelling ogre and the feisty Fiona will be played by Eric Petersen and Haven Burton, respectively, with Alan Mingo, Jr. as Donkey and David F. M. Vaughn as Lord Farquaad.

More sober fare for young audiences can be found at Park Square's The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Scott Rubsam (February 14-March 10) as well as Steppingstone's Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 (February 4-27), a new play by Christina Ham that commemorates the lives of the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.

A more local instance of African American history is told by the Great American History Theatre's world premiere of Brian A. Grandison's Adrift on the Mississippi (February 10--27). James A. Williams directs this blend of recollections, prayers, and spirituals inspired by the true story of Reverend Robert Hickman, who led a group of slaves out of Missouri on a raft to Minnesota, and founded its first Black church. Penumbra Theater's production of August Wilson's classic Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will grace one of the three stages at the Guthrie Theatre, February 11-March 6. Raw, powerful, and improvisatory, like the music it celebrates, Ma Rainey is one of the earliest of Wilson's "Pittsburgh cycle" of African American history plays; celebrated director Lou Bellamy's longtime collaboration with the late playwright makes this a must-see event. Jevetta Steel plays the title role.

Also at the Guthrie is Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, directed by Jonathan Munby, January 29-March 27. Another tale of romance, jealousy, mistaken identity, and magical transformation might be found at Theatre in the Round's Ring Round the Moon, Christopher Fry's adaptation of Jean Anouilh's Invitation to the Castle. Despite showing the more troublesome side of love, these productions might still work for Valentine's Day fare. A much more skeptical choice, despite its title, might be Jungle Theater's Shirley Valentine (February 4-March 20), Willy Russell's 1986 play directed by Bain Boehlke, and starring Cheryl Willis. Finally, for those renouncing Cupid in more ways than one there is Ten Thousand Things' production of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: A Parable at Open Book, February 11-March 6. Shanley's gripping play about the Catholic Church and the possibility of sexual abuse is directed by Peter Rothstein, and features beloved Twin Cities actress Sally Wingert, along with Kris Nelson, Jane Froiland, and Regina Williams.

This month a number of new plays receive their regional premieres on Twin Cities stages. The Guthrie rounds off its slate of co-productions with Little Eyes (February 4 -20) by Cory Hinkle, produced in collaboration with the Workhaus Collective and EM Lewis' Song of Extinction (February 25- March 20) with Theater Latté Da. The former is a dark comedy that explores American fear, denial, and religious fundamentalism in the months following 9/11; the latter takes on the science of life and loss, the relationships between fathers and sons, Cambodian fields, Bolivian rainforests and redemption. It's the winner of the Steinberg New Play Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critic's Award for Outstanding New Play, and is directed by Peter Rothstein.

Pangea World Theater and Teatro del Pueblo join forces on the 2011 Political Theatre Festival, including the multimedia sci-fi Latino noir solo performance Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers by José Torres-Tama (February 15-19) and the one-man musical Gaytino by Dan Guerrero (February 22 - 27), both at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul. Immigration, ethnicity, and identity are also topics of Mixed Blood Theatre's Agnes Under the Big Top (February 18 -March 6) a new play by Aditi Brennan Kapil that imagines the intersecting lives of an itinerant subway busker, a Liberian home care worker, a former Bulgarian ringmaster and his wife, and an Indian call center escapee in today's America.