That Wonder Boy Wins Big in the Big Apple
‘That Wonder Boy, created by Twin Cities performer Bob Stromberg, wins three awards at New York theater festival.
The piece, written by Twin Cities performer Bob Stromberg, was named “Best One-Man Show”
By Graydon Royce Star Tribune NOVEMBER 24, 2015 — 1:34PM
Bob Stromberg starred in “That Wonder Boy,” which opened several years ago at the Music Box Theatre. “That Wonder Boy,” an autobiographical show written by Twin Cities performer Bob Stromberg, won three awards Sunday at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York.
Stromberg won for “Best One-Man Show” and Risa Brainin was honored as best director. The piece also won the Backstage Audience Award — an online poll sponsored by Backstage Magazine. Both Stromberg and Brainin were in New York for the ceremony and Stromberg said they had to wait through 30 awards before their names were called. Then, they won three of the final five honors.
“It’s the first award that I’ve won since I won for playing the accordion when I was 7,” Stromberg said Monday morning.
“We had no clue,” said producer Dennis Babcock, who mounted an Indiegogo campaign to get Stromberg to New York for two sold-out performances at the end of October. “But we got an email last week encouraging us to have someone at the awards.”
That usually means something is afoot. The festival, in its sixth year, chose 150 shows from six continents out of 800 applications.
Babcock said he’s been working with Theater Mogul, the company that sends out “Defending the Caveman” and other small shows, for getting both “That Wonder Boy,” and “Triple Espresso” (which Stromberg helped create) on a national circuit.
“It could not be better timing,” Babcck said.
Stromberg’s show is one man’s ruminations about what makes art and whether it comes from great suffering or great joy. He strings together beautifully crafted and poignant stories from his own life. He opened the show several years ago at the Music Box Theater in Minneapolis.
“Even my sixth-grade valentine came out to see the show – and my mom and dad were able to attend,” Stromberg said Monday. “This is really a wonderful validation.”
“One of the most substantive comical one-man shows ever conjured.” The Culture Buzz, DesMoines
Bob Stromberg masterfully weaves autobiographical experiences into a critical exploration of the long-standing bromide that great art only comes from great suffering. This leads the audience on a captivating journey through life and art. In the process, everyday experiences become anything but ordinary, leading to moments of discovery and unexpected insight.
Minneapolis Star Tribune critic Graydon Royce writes “Bob Stromberg need never wonder whether he is an artist. His divine comic mission seems clearly fixed on uplifting the hearts of audiences, which he did for many years in “Triple Espresso.” Stromberg goes solo in a new show, “That Wonder Boy,” which opened Wednesday at the Music Box Theatre in Minneapolis.
Stromberg weaves tales from his life to explore whether he has the necessary suffering from which to create art. His gambit is a bad review (fictional) that he proposes he received a week ago. The wound has caused him to reflect, and he casts back to his childhood in search of his artistry.
This is a sunny warrior, genuine and comfortable as a leather slipper. Stromberg has a strong sense of the young Dick Van Dyke in his style — superb physical malleability, a halting vocal delivery and perfect timing. He has obvious love for his subjects, but his self-deprecating wit prevents his stories from becoming saccharine. He starts out brilliantly, telling of a sensitive lad who is overwhelmed by the melancholy chords of a simple folk song, the mystery of a great painting and the dazzling flame of autumn foliage. A poignant tale about the girl he sat next to throughout school — the crush he was too insecure to ask out — is absolutely gorgeous. We get the full portrait of a happy-go-lucky kid who was too shy to cut a swath in the world. ”
Beautifully designed and staged, the show uses video projections and an original soundscape by Michael Pearce Donley to perfectly underscore Stromberg’s gift of mesmerizing narrative. That Wonder Boy is directed by Risa Brainin, who formerly served on the artistic staff and directed at the Guthrie Theater, and is currently an award-winning regional theatre director based in California; set and costumes are by Nayna Ramey, whose extensive credits include everything from Shakespeare festivals to over 60 productions at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Minnesota. Lighting is by Michael Klaers, whose work has been seen around the world, including at the Guthrie (and Triple Espresso). Technical sound design is by John Markiewicz of Audio Logic Systems, based in Bloomington, Minnesota.
The show premiered at the Minneapolis Music Box Theatre star in September of 2008. Since then, scripts and materials have been circulated to regional theaters around the U.S., resulting in interest in the show from multiple artistic directors. The goal is to achieve regional prominence in order to set up a successful off-Broadway production in the near future.
“Stromberg is a bit like a cross between Bob Newhart and Garrison Keillor.” St. Paul Pioneer Press
“As Da Vinci wrote, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Here’s hoping Stromberg does not let go of this piece quite yet.” Minneapolis Star Tribune
Theater: “That Wonder Boy” finds the joy in comedy
by Graydon Royce, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Bob Stromberg’s best-known contribution to the Twin Cities entertainment universe remains “Triple Espresso,” which he created with two partners and continues to perform on occasion.
In 2008, Stromberg made a leap on his own with “Mr. Wonder Boy,” a largely autobiographical work about his journey as a comedian. He has continued to tinker with the show (art is never finished, only abandoned) and on Thursday, he re-launched “That Wonder Boy” at the Music Box Theatre in Minneapolis.
Working with director Risa Brainin, Stromberg has sharpened his focus and thought more deeply on what he wants to say about the artist’s impulse and mission. He still rambles in his charming manner and never gets too serious. That is the show’s weak point but also its saving grace, for Stromberg is a happy and funny storyteller.
What elevates “Wonder Boy” is Stromberg’s sincere and abiding understanding that from the time he was a child, he was different. He was deeply moved by art, whether it be the folk song “Shenandoah,” Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or a Richard Pryor routine. He saw and felt things with greater poignancy than did his mates. And he was brave enough to say he wanted to be an artist, a performer. He wanted to answer “a higher calling.”
A college professor told Stromberg he hadn’t suffered and therefore didn’t have the well of pain that great artists require. And he admits that was true. He wanted to make people laugh, with his goofy, rubbery face, his limber physicality and a self-deprecating demeanor reminiscent of Bob Newhart.
Stromberg does make people laugh. But his greater gift is his eye and ear for the stories of his life. He tells of childhood sweethearts, lost opportunities, painful episodes with exquisite details, stinging truth and vulnerability. He does, as Bob Dylan wrote, “think and feel too much within.”
But for all of Stromberg’s boyish charm, we wish he would on occasion let his material land deeper in our hearts. He defuses a moment here and there with a loopy grin, a laugh or a cliché. Go ahead, Bob, trust these beautiful and authentic heart-piercing stories. You don’t need to be funny all the time.
“That Wonder Boy” has grown theatrically, with visuals and sound. Michael Pearce Donley, one of Stromberg’s co-creators in “Triple Espresso,” has composed music and a soundscape that supports his friend’s work nicely.
But this work will always rest solely on the buoyant shoulders of its creator. Stromberg takes seriously his mission here on Earth: to spread joy and share his insight into what it means to be human.
Isn’t that what we ask of artists?