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Minneapolis Scene
by Steven LaVigne
October 2005
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

As a favor to director John Command, Sally Struthers starred two years ago in “Hello, Dolly!” at the Bloomington Civic Theatre. With more rehearsal, the production could have been better, but it was a success, so Struthers returned in September to play Miss Mona, the manager of the Chicken Ranch, a renowned location for over a century in Gilbert, Texas. The brothel, described by lyricist Carol Hall as a “little bitty pissant country place,” closed in the early 70s. A Google search reveals that it has since reopened.

A feature article in Playboy Magazine led to the development of a long-running musical, and a celebrated movie starring Dolly Parton. Because the title scares off most theatres, it is rarely produced. Along with Hall’s score, it features a terrific libretto by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson.

Sadly, Command’s production was lengthy and sluggish. Staged in a presentational, operatic style, there was little room for subtleties or character development. For the most part, Command only gave the script lip service. He did not trust the nuances of the songs much, either. While “Good Old Girl” is one of the weakest on the cast album, it managed to work here. “Doatsey Mae,” the town waitress’ lovely anthem to sexual objectivity was lost in Command’s broad staging, although Sarah Gibson gave it her best shot. Miss Mona’s biographical “Bus from Amarillo,” the best in this tuneful score, lacked the right emotion.

What we are stuck with are the production numbers. The choreography often seemed derivative. Stuart Felth, as Melvin P. Thorpe, managed to overcome this shortfall in “Texas Has a Whorehouse in It, and Elisa Pluhar was delightful leading “The Angelette March.”

Jeffrey Holenko never took the ensemble through “The Sidestep,” but Command’s penchant for bare-chested beefcake was rampant in “The Aggie’s Song.” He even had the twelve men moon the audience wearing tight jockstraps as they pulled up their jeans.

Sally Struthers did as well as she could in this role, even though it was obvious that she is a rather limited performer. Presumably, she will be back in another show. Bloomington Civic Theatre follows this with “Follies,” a show Minnesota hasn’t seen in more than thirty years.

Debbie Does Dallas, The Musical

Fifty Foot Penguin is a semiprofessional theatre that’s been in existence for almost a decade. They opened their current season with the area premiere of “Debbie Does Dallas, The Musical.” Directed by Zach Curtis, with choreography by Jim Lichtscheidl and the music handled by Jon Trones, this small, minor musical is based on the popular porn film of the late 70s, thus proving that if there’s a creative fervor, anything can be transformed into a musical.

The score by Andrew Sherman features tunes like “$10 Closer,” “The Dildo Rag,” “Bang Bang” and “Dallas, I’m Coming.” The plot, adapted by Erica Schmidt, concerns high school cheerleader Debbie Benton, as she and her fellow cheerleaders become working girls to earn the cash to pay for a chance to audition and become professionals with the Dallas Cowboys.

The material is relatively inoffensive nonsense, and there are peachy performances from Kristin H. Husby as Debbie, Joanna Jahn as Lisa, Carson Lee in a trio of roles and especially David Tufford as Mr. Biddle, the naughty Librarian. With the exception of a jock in a strap, the costumes are too tame to be either rude or pornographic.

A good time is had by all at “Debbie Does Dallas,” even if it never erupts into anything spectacular.


Knowing that their producer was a fan of pinball, Pete Townsend of The Who built the first rock opera, “Tommy,” around this theme. Following assorted performances, the most important of which was at the Metropolitan Opera, the show was transformed into a spectacular movie in 1975. Featuring rock stars like Elton John, Tina Turner and Eric Clapton, along with Ann-Margret and Jack Nicholson, it was a smash.

A little more than a decade later, Des McAnuff fashioned the material into a stage musical. While sticking closely to its rock music roots, the score has been revised. McAnuff inverted the “Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard” sequences. Certain characters have been given more responsibility and the Minneapolis Musical Theatre has opened their current season with Steven J. Meerdink’s energetic production.

Featuring a lively and exciting cast that includes Patrick Morgan as the adult Tommy, Karlina Beck as Mrs. Walker, Shaun Nathan Baer as Cousin Kevin, Christine Nelson as the Gypsy, and Sondra Norland, the show moves along at a sharp pace, and there are few false moves here. As young Tommy, Andrew Lentz is a wonder, and the entire ensemble delivers a sensational production.

The real difficulty with “Tommy” is the material itself. While it’s sensational, the show is really empty and rather trite, with a conclusion that’s pointless. There’s no emotional core, either. With a production that’s as good as this, though, one can forgive the shortcomings.

Ivey Awards

Back in the early 80s, the local critics gave out their “Kudos Awards.” This honor event was offered only once. On October 3, 2005, promoter Scott Mayer teamed with Ameripride and created the “Ivey Awards,” which were given at the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. It was a pleasant evening, and a lot of local talent was honored.

The evening opened with a video presentation featuring many local theatrical organizations of which few people knew about. While they did not reveal the criterion for those honored, the “Ivey League,” an ensemble of local performers did a song from Stephen Sondheim’s “The Frogs” to get things off to an upbeat, humorous start. Hosts Ben Cameron from the Theatre Communications Group and former Children’s Theatre Company Actor, Justin Kirk, who recently played the title role in “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” at the Jungle Theatre, explained that “This is Minnesota and no one is better than anyone else.”

Local celebrities presented the awards, recognizing:

  • Kimberly Joy Morgan for her solo show “Hot Comb”
  • Steve Hendrickson for his performance as “Cyrano de Bergerac”
  • Ten Thousand Things (which tours prisons)
  • Stacia Rice for her performance in an Equity Showcase production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”
  • Nathan Christopher as the year’s most expressive Merging Artist
  • Peter Rothstein for producing, directing, and designing his outstanding Theatre Latte Da staging of “La Boheme”
  • Marcus Dillard as Outstanding Lighting Designer
  • Joe Chavla for Choreography
  • Helen Kwan for Costume Design
  • Children’s Theatre Company’s revival of “A Year with Frog and Toad,” (had a Broadway production)
  • Off Leash Productions for “Psst,”
  • Theatre de La Jeune Lune for “The Miser”
  • The Guthrie for “Death of a Salesman.”

Unquestionably, the greatest honor went to Lou Bellamy, Artistic Director of the Penumbra Theatre, who was honored for Lifetime Achievement. His commitment to the African American community and the community at large is remarkable, and he truly deserved recognition.

While the Iveys never mentioned the contributions of community or storefront theatres, specifically the services provided by the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres, one hopes that the Iveys will continue as those Minnesotans who are “no better than anyone else” are recognized for their achievements.

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