Friday, June 30, 2023

"LOCH MESS! The World's Largest Freshwater Musical" by Open Eye Theatre at the Bakken Museum

As Open Eye Theatre's Artistic Director Joel Sass said, the best thing to come out of the pandemic is their tradition of annual original musicals performed outdoors at the Bakken Museum's lovely green rooftop overlooking Bde Maka Ska. Well, one of the best things anyway (personally, it was my newfound love of Minnesota State Parks). In the summer of 2021, when we weren't quite ready to go back into the theater yet, there was a plethora of outdoor #TCTheater. One of the best was Open Eye's sweet, silly, and very Minnesotan musical LOG JAM! A Paul Bunyan Musical Spectacular. It was so successful and popular, they followed it up with HAIR BALL! A Bigfoot Musical Adventure in 2022. This year brings us LOCH MESS! The World's Largest Freshwater Musical (are you sensing a theme?). With book, music, and lyrics by Josef Evans and direction by Mr. Sass, this delightful and hopefully never-ending series of musicals is fun, silly, clever, and heart-warming. The 85-minute show happens at 7pm Thursdays through Sundays until July 16, and should definitely be added to your summer traditions.

Dangus MacMacaroney saves the day (Tom Reed with Jared Mogan,
Abilene Olson, and May Heinecke, photo by Nicole Neri)
The story of LOCH MESS takes place sometime in the Olden Days and centers around a young woman named Beatrix (Abilene Olson) from the small town of Beaver Bay. With dreams of being a ship's captain, she makes her way to the bring lights of Duluth - "they say it's like San Francisco, if San Franscisco was cold." She gets a job on a Lake Superior cruise ship doing whatever needs to be done, which includes being a stagehand for the onboard performer, Lillian LeGrande (Lux Mortenson), who is accompanied by her manager (and secret admirer) Barrymore (France Roberts). The ship's captain (Antonio Rios Luna) and first mate (May Heinecke) don't think a girl can be captain, but she soon wins them over with her pluck and determination. When they run afoul of a sea (lake) monster, they make a stop in the dreaded land of Wisconsin (the only thing Minnesotans love more than lutefisk jokes is making fun of our neighboring states) where they enlist the services of Scottish sea (lake) monster hunter Dangus MacMacaroney (Tom Reed in the shortest kilt I've ever seen). They're seduced by the siren song of the Kelpies (Lux, appropriately), which makes them dance uncontrollably (with some fun choreography by Heidi Spesard Noble). There are some sweetly surprising romances, and things get worse before they get better, but our heroine prevails and accomplishes her dreams.

involuntary dancing (photo by Nicole Neri)
For the first time in this series, they're using amplification. While I always prefer unmiked musicals whenever possible, I understand that can be a challenge for some, especially under a flight path. They also use recorded music (by Josef Evans and Dan Dukich), with one live guitar player (Jared Mogen, who also serves as narrator/commentator/lifeguard for the evening). The amplification and recorded music make the score feel more rock than in previous years, so it works. Performers sing and speak into a few corded microphones, with the choreography of getting to the mic and moving them around without tripping on the cord adding another level of entertainment. The score is funny and catchy and clever (you can listen to a song on their website), and this cast is incredibly talented vocally and as performers, with a campy/sincere spirit and great sense of play.

The whimsical design matches this playful tone. The costumes (designed by Kathy Kohl) are cute and colorful and sailor-themed, and also include those inflatable costumes that make it look like you're being carried off by a sea (lake) monster or riding on a crab. The props/puppets are charmingly DIY, and the final effect of the monster in the sea (lake) is something to behold!

Three years and counting of Open Eye Theatre's wonderfully silly and surprisingly heart-warming musicals, performed outdoors for all to enjoy. Bring your blankets, lawn chairs, sunscreen, and maybe a picnic, and enjoy a new and hopefully continuing summer #TCTheater tradition.