Review of Sweet Land the Musical at History Theatre

Quote of the Day: lyrics from the opening song Land So Sweet from Sweet Land the Musical, based on the short story A Gravestone Made of Wheat by Will Weaver, inspired by Ali Selim’s movie Sweet Land, book and by Perrin Post, and Laurie Flanigan Hegge, who also wrote the lyrics, music by Dina Maccabee, and directed by Perrin Post. Produced by the History Theatre. (Thanks to Jill at Cherry and Spoon who posted these lyrics on her review.)

Every place has a story
Every person has their time
Every tale has an ending
Don’t know yours
Don’t know mine
Every end has a beginning
All beginnings have an end
In between come all the hours
We can barely comprehend
And we hope what came before us
Was a story born of love
Trust the earth
Trust the sun
Trust in God above

These lovely lyrics are set to Scandinavian style folk music. Listen for the strains of the violin, the cello, and the keys. Blend in some woodwinds, guitar, flute, and the accordion, and soon you might be dancing the Schottishe with this divine cast. They are telling the story of the Norwegian immigrant farmer Olaf Torvik (Robert Berdahl), whose mother (still in Norway) sends him a bride, Inge (Ann Michels). Turns out she’s from war-torn Germany, following the Great War, where many of Olaf’s friends and neighbors lost their sons. She is not well received. In fact, Pastor Sorenson (Michael Gruber) passes the harshest judgement. Olaf is a simple, and lonely, bachelor farmer who just wants to live a quiet life farming the land alongside his bride. His friend Alvin Frandsen (John Andrew Hegge) is a photographer at heart, a farmer by necessity. He and his wife Brownie (Tinia Moulder) have eight children, and counting. When Pastor Sorenson refuses to marry Olaf and Inge, the Frandsen’s take her in. This arrangement is less than ideal for Inge, and in a sweet song title Peace and Quiet, she slips back over the fields and moves into Olaf’s house. (He sleeps in the barn!)

Review of Sweet Land the Musical at History Theatre

Ann Michels as Inge and Robert Berdahl as Olaf in Sweet Land the Musical at the History Theatre. Photo by Rick Spaulding

Sweet Land is about the immigrant farmer experience in Minnesota. It’s about the hate and fear of someone perceived as the enemy, about cultural separation, and community. It’s also about acceptance and seeing beyond yourself, or realizing where your fears and hatred come from, and ultimately, it’s a love story. 

Review of Sweet Land the Musical at History Theatre

(l-r) Robert Berdahl, Jon Andrew Hegge (driving), Ann Michels, Matt Riehle (pushing car) in Sweet Land the Musical at the History Theater. Photo by Rick Spaulding

This show is so expertly cast that I felt like I was watching friends, family, and neighbors play out our story on stage. I grew up on a farm in Northwest Minnesota, with a strong Norwegian/Scandinavian influence, attending a little country church, neighbor helping neighbor, and potluck dinners. The anti-German sentiment was pretty much gone by the time I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, but I do remember hearing the relatives talk about how one of Grandma’s sister “married that German.” 

I was excited to see that Sweet Land the Musical will be touring in greater Minnesota, with a stop at Theatre L’Homme Dieu, June 20-25, which is near Alexandria, where our family gathers in the summer. I called my mom up, raved about this lovely musical, and she said, “Get me a ticket.” I’m hoping to bring a large crowd of Aalgaards to a performance.

Watch for more details of other venues and dates (click on the website above for Sweet Land). Or, get your tickets for a performance at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN, through May 28, 2017. Sweet Land is my new favorite musical! I bought the instrumental CD, and am hoping they’ll make a cast recording (please, pretty please). Thank you, Will Weaver, for writing this beautiful story that inspired the creative spirits of other Minnesotans to bring it to life on stage.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Where do your family roots go? Do you have any family heirlooms or stories that have been passed down? Ask your relatives what they remember.