Quote of the Day: first lines of the poem Paul Bunyan by Shel Silverstein

He rode through the woods on a big, blue ox,
He had fists as hard as choppin’ blocks,

Five hundred pounds and nine feet tall…that’s Paul

We have a home-grown musical here in the Brainerd lakes area – Paul Bunyan: the Man, the Myth, the Musical. Book by Roger Nieboer, Music by Don Gorham and Sarah Gorham. Directed by Gary Hirsch. Choreography by Wendy DeGeest.

Jesse Brutscher, Eddie Binda, and M. Hollis Ford as Brainerd businessmen in Paul Bunyan, the Man, the Myth, the Musical at Stage North. Photo by Gary Hirsch

I was in the audience for the opening night premiere of this fun production. Nieboer took Paul Bunyan legend and lore, added some Brainerd history, mixed in a little light-hearted rivalry with neighboring city Bemidji (who also claims to be the home of Paul Bunyan), a talented cast, a quirky director, and a choreographer who can work with casts from kids to less than sure-footed oxen. The show starts with a play within a play, the cast is rehearsing for a Brainerd musical (great costumes by Deb Binda), to a catchy tune that runs throughout the show (and lingers on in my psyche long afterwards). Naturally, they’re running into a few snags. 

Paul Bunyan (Jesse Brutscher) and Babe the blue Ox (M. Hollis Ford and Eddie Binda) dance a duet in Paul Bunyan, the Musical at Stage North. Photo by Gary Hirsch

Flash back to 1935 to a discussion between three Brainerd businessmen who want to attract more people to the area. They decide Paul Bunyan and his legend and lore are a great place to start. After all, Brainerd began as a logging community. This show coincides with the town’s sesquicentennial celebration. The character Teddy (played by Barb McColgan) acts as narrator, giving us history and stories of both Brainerd and the legendary Paul Bunyan. I love it that she portrays the character as gender neutral, as stories come from women, men, children, the land, and the various people who populated it. (Although, not much mention of the original people who farmed, fished and lived on this land.)

Barb McColgan as Teddy, a True Scholar, narrator and storyteller in Paul Bunyan, the Musical at Stage North. Photo by Gary Hirsch

The three Brainerd businessmen double as Paul Bunyan characters. In one delightful scene they are on stage, like a To Tell the Truth gameshow, where the Pauls are asked questions. They answer as the character from different parts of North America, Maine, Canada, and the Midwest. We get a few more fun stories about Paul, his size, his accomplishments, and his pet ox. The audience votes by applause who they think is the real Paul. We have a few more moments of interaction during the show. When King Bemidji appears (played with great comedy by Mike Paulus), the audience is encouraged to react to his presence and lines.

Izzy Pence as Barb and Jenny Kiffmeyer as her mother in Paul Bunyan, the Musical at Stage North. Photo by Gary Hirsch

Izzy Pence plays a young girl trying to decide if Paul is real, or just a legend. In a nostalgic scene, we’re brought back to the times when Paul Bunyan Land was the featured attraction as people came Up North to visit their cabins or explore the lakes area. The giant, talking Paul, was purchased in the 1950’s from a display at the World’s Fair and brought to the area. It sat on the busy intersection of Highways 371 and 210 until the land was sold in 2003, and Paul and his rides and attractions moved out to the farm, just east of town, still called Paul Bunyan Land.  Folks can still enjoy the rides, talk to Paul (who always knows your name), and see other old farm displays. 

Cast of Paul Bunyan, the Man, the Myth, the Musical at Stage North. Photo by Gary Hirsch

You can see Paul Bunyan, the Man, the Myth, the Musical at Stage North at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd, MN through Sunday, October 17, 2021. You can read more about the musical and performances in this article from the Brainerd Dispatch

Note: Covid safety protocol for Stage North, recommends (but nor requiring) masks, and social distancing. The crowd was low on opening night, making it easy for audience members to keep a distance when choosing seats. 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you have a favorite Paul Bunyan story? What are legendary characters from where you live?