Quote of the Day: On June 27, 1977, Elisabeth Congdon and her night nurse Velma Pietila are found dead at Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN. What some of the headlines looked like just over 40 years ago. The case got national attention.
The Glensheen Mansion in Duluth is still a favorite tourist stop. After seeing the musical two years ago at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN, my friend and I and her two young daughters visited the mansion. I also read the book “Will to Murder” by Gail Feichtinger with John DeSanto and Gary Waller. The cast of characters are troubled, and the actions bazaar. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher teamed up with composer/lyricist Chan Poling to create this macabre musical. They’ve been playing it at the History Theatre every summer since 2015. The house was full last Sunday when I attended. Artistic Director Ron Peluso asked the audience before starting the show, “How many people have seen this show before?” Nearly half the audience raised their hands! Including me. This time, I brought a friend who hadn’t seen the show, didn’t know anything about it, and it was also her first time seeing a show at HT. She was impressed. We laughed. We sighed. We shook our heads in wonder. I got the chills several times during the songs, especially when Jen Maren, who plays Marjorie Congdon, sang her final song “Torch Song.”
Stand out moments for me this time, were Wendy Lehr, in all her roles. She was especially funny playing the lawyer. Her dance moves are hilarious. She has great facial expressions for Elisabeth Congdon, and respectfully portrays the tragedy of Velma who was the unsuspecting victim. The real life Velma Pietila shouldn’t have even been in the house that night. She was semi-retired, had only been working days for Elisabeth, but agreed to fill in for the night nurse that fateful night.
Gary Briggle is back as various characters. He gives each one unique personality. His voice is perfect for that opening number “The Ballad of Glensheen.” I had goosebumps as those notes filled the house, with chords that you’d hear in spooky Halloween tales.
Sandra Struthers plays the “other” sister Jennifer, and other characters. Jennifer seems too perfect, and lets a darker side out in a scene involving dolls and destruction. She was often at odds with her sister, like “Fire and Ice,” one of my favorite songs from this musical.
Dane Stauffer is back as Roger Caldwell and others. One look from him tells a story. He was truly fantastic. He creates a certain amount of sympathy for Marjorie’s second husband, the one she completely manipulated, yet he was blindly devoted to her, and ultimately took to fall.
Ruthie Baker slips in and out playing the tour guide and many other parts, adding her own subtle nuance to the characters and story as she welcomes us to the mansion and its mysteries. I felt like I was back on the tour when she started off the show by leading us on a tour of the mansion. “No photos on the staircase, please.” (Confession, when I was there, I took a photo or two on the staircase.)
Randy Schmeling has joined the cast in the ensemble, playing various roles. As he lends his amazing vocals to the songs, you will get those chills and goosebumps I was talking about earlier.
The live orchestra, under the direction of David Lohman, is located on stage, audience left. Some of the scenes are even set on or near the baby grand piano. Angela Andrikopoulos Hedegaard and Diane Tremaine are on cello. Gary Raynor on Bass. Ryan Golden on reeds, and Will Kemperman on drums. They create the music and atmosphere that gives this show a dark and mysterious feel.
Naturally, this is an extremely atmospheric production. Lighting design by Barry Browning and Sound by C. Andrew Mayer really set the stage. Rick Polenek designed the set which looks like the entrance of Glensheen, complete with that infamous staircase. Tinia Moulder is the choreographer. All the elements of this show are superb.
I hope some day that they will either tour the show up to Brainerd or allow local groups to produce it. I know it would be a big hit here as this is the site of the trial. People in our area know folks who were on the jury, reported, or worked in the courthouse. Whenever I drive by the hotel where they stayed, or the courthouse, I think of the people involved in the trial. For now, though, you’ll need to drive to St. Paul to see the show. It’s well worth the drive (even during road construction season). My friend and I had a great day visiting the city, seeing the show, and enjoying a delicious dinner at a new restaurant near the theater called The Loon Cafe.
You can see the Glensheen musical, directed by Ron Peluso, through August 4, 2019, at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: My friend, her daughters, and I enjoy exploring “creepy old houses.” What are some places that you’ve explored? Any recommendations on where we should go next?
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