‘Dead end! Paul Bunyan musical performance fills an uphill task – Twin Cities
So how about something funny, featuring a beloved iconic character and a cast of around half a dozen. Something that can be staged outdoors. Maybe there should be puppets. Keep it for less than an hour. Oh, and could you make a musical out of it?
Open Eye Figure Theater artistic director Joel Sass wasn’t asking for much when he asked Josef Evans to create a spring show.
About four weeks later, Sass says that Evans came back to him with “Log Jam!” A musical performance by Paul Bunyan. Well, he didn’t have that title yet, but pretty much the rest of Sass’s big order had been filled.
“Log Jam” opens May 27 on the roof lawn of the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis with eight actors, three musicians, puppets and a “large and debauched” tale.
Sass says he thinks it’s the first theater show with a cast of more than one or two since COVID-19 closed stages in March 2020. In February, Open Eye began to think spring might be the right time for a “bigger” Show performed outdoors.
The Minneapolis Theater Company produced a Bakken Rooftop Show in October. A shadow puppet show, “Bug Girl,” sold out in five hours. Although there was snow early, spectators showed up with lawn chairs and bundled up to sit outside, Sass says.
“The Bakken invited us to put on another show for them,” he adds.
“Log Jam” is a “wild and woolly little folk tale,” says Sass. It opens to a crab gardener yelling at a young girl to come out of the lawn. He then proceeds to tell her a story featuring the young Betty Kensack in quest, who enlists the help of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. A polar vortex froze Betty’s mother in a ball of ice.
Paul and Babe are in “very reduced circumstances,” says Sass. They have literally shrunk to human size.
Bunyan is sort of a Homer Simpson hero. The show has flavors of “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” Sass says.
The lumberjack of legend is portrayed by veteran Twin Cities actor Maren Ward, who further subverts the “puffy and proud symbol of masculinity,” Sass says. The show does not ignore the fact that logging has caused environmental destruction and aboriginal displacement, but it is not a “conference-y”.
“Log Jam” also has elements of last year’s social isolation, harsh winters and fear in the air, adds Sass, who runs the show.
Young girl in quest in a “frozen” environment. Sound a little familiar to you? Sass doesn’t deny it. He says the actor portraying Betty, Suzie Juul, is “a total Disney-o-phile who deeply understands the culture of the princess.”
The puppets in “Log Jam” are the work of Steve Ackerman, whose style Sass describes as “the folk art of punk rock puppetry.” There’s also a three-piece orchestra, “eight wonderful, well-known and soon-to-be known musical theater starlets,” says Sass, and a hit action scene with elements from “American Gladiator,” Indiana Jones and the Wisconsin Dells.
The actors were able to start rehearsing together last week after COVID vaccinations ended for everyone. Sass expected the face “reveal” to be an emotional rally.
“Log Jam” will be staged in the round, with the audience seated on the edges of the rooftop lawn. It’s a BYO garden chair event. There is no intermission and the show will last less than an hour.
All is not resolved and ends up being correct in “Log Jam,” Sass says. But the message is so relevant.
“As the world opens up its possibilities to all of us, it is incumbent on all of us to do better and be better.”
“Log Jam! A musical performance by Paul Bunyan ”
- When: May 27-June 20
- Or: Lawn on the roof of the Bakken Museum, 3537 Zenith Ave. S., Minneapolis
- Tickets: $ 30 for general admission, $ 25 for students and seniors, $ 15 for affordability (10 tickets available per show at this price)
- Info: openeyetheatre.org