Quote of the Day: I can see developing in Minnesota the same friendly spirit of cooperation between men and women of all nationalities, creeds and races, of all political parties, of all stations in life, that we have witnessed together here in Dakota County. There is deeper realization that the men and women of all nationality backgrounds have made a contribution that has been woven into the very fabric of this state and nation as we know it today. There is a deeper realization that progress was never paved by bitterness and dissension, by corrupt machine politics, by name-calling and epithets, or by wild talk of economic wars and gloomy prattle of the failure of the American system. It is in a humble effort to give leadership to that constructive feeling of unity, to seek to build up our state and to improve the conditions of our people, that we have carried on these past eight months. Harold Stassen, 1938
Isn’t that a lovely speech from a former governor of the state of Minnesota, back in 1938! Seems progressive to me. The History Theatre in St. Paul, MN commissioned Keith Hovis to write a stage production on the life of Harold Stassen. I’ve been intrigued since I heard about it. I got the chance to interview (via email) the creator, Keith Hovis.
MA: Who chose to do this play? Was it commissioned by the History Theatre, or did you pitch the idea?
KH: Former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie pitched the idea to former History Theatre Artistic Director Ron Peluso. Ron came and saw a production of mine at Park Square in 2019. After that performance, he met with me and asked me if I’d be interested in being commissioned to write this musical. He gave me a copy of the biography, “Harold E. Stassen: The Life and Perennial Candidacy of the Progressive Republican,” by Alec Kirby, David G. Dalin, and John F. Rothman. I wrote a treatment of what the musical could look like, and Ron decided to move forward with the commission.
MA: What source material did you use? And, what was the process like?
KH: My degree is in journalism, so I understand and am trained in the importance of research. Over the course of writing the show I spent hours and hours researching. This ranges from reading books, searching news archives, talking to relatives, and visiting archives at the Historical Society. I found the news archives were particularly helpful in verifying things and offering insight from the time period.
An incomplete list of some of my sources and research include:
- Conducted interviews with Mr. Rothmann; Stassen’s daughter, Keen; and his granddaughter, Rachel Stassen-Berger.
- Read the book, “When Republicans Were Progressive,” by Lori Sturdevant and David Durenberger
- Read Harold’s section in the book, “Ten Men of Minnesota and American Foreign Policy,” by Barbara Stuhler
- Read Harold’s section in “Inside U.S.A. (50th Anniversary Edition)” by John Gunther
- Read “Stassen Again” by Steve Werle.
- Searched archives for Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Spokesman-Recorder, and Time Magazine, pulling 100+ articles and profiles from throughout his career and life.
- Spent multiple afternoons with the Stassen Archive Boxes at the Historical Society
- Bought copies of magazines from the 1930s and 1940s that had profiled Harold Stassen.
- Read speeches and writings of Harold Stassen.
- Was also able to look through boxes of Stassen’s campaign materials and writings through boxes that were donated to my old employer, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs
- Poured over multiple scholarly journal articles, such as Professor Hyman Berman’s “Political Antisemitism in Minnesota during the Great Depression” and “Harold Stassen and the Rebirth of the Republican Party” by H. Henry Southworth.
- Read Harold’s Oral History interview with Alec Kirby, and other Oral Interviews available online.
MA: Did you write the music, lyrics, and book, or did you have a collaborator?
KH: I wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the show. My dramaturge, Alayna Barnes, played a key role in the process as well, helping me refine and clarify. She would read drafts and ask questions and worked with me on mapping the structure.
MA: How much did the History Theatre have a hand in making decisions on what goes into this production?
KH: The History Theatre would set deadlines (sometimes for readings, other times just to check in). We would then meet, and they would give me notes. I would work to incorporate their notes as I continued working to refine the show. This was a back-and-forth process of me writing, getting notes, writing more. They did give me freedom to have the show reflect my artistic vision.
Thank you so much, Keith. Now, I’m even more interested in learning more about Minnesota’s youngest governor!
I’ll be attending this production later, as I’m interested in the ASL interpreted performance on Sunday, Oct. 22, along with my friend who is studying ASL and is interested in working with students and theaters using ASL as a career. In the meantime, you can read reviews in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and my fellow blogger Rob at The Stages of MN. I hear that they have an outstanding cast! Visit the History Theatre website for more info, tickets, and showtimes.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Are you involved in local politics? Do you know anyone who has been a leader in your community? Are you someone who has aspirations to lead and govern?
For more information, here is the press release for The Boy Wonder at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN.
SAINT PAUL, MN – History Theatre is excited to present the world premiere of The Boy Wonder by Keith Hovis. A contemporary musical exploring Stassen’s relationship with his loving and supportive wife, the birth of the United Nations, and the impact he made here in Minnesota and beyond. Directed by Laura Leffler, The Boy Wonder runs October 7-29, 2023. All tickets are on sale now.
Born in West St. Paul, Stassen graduated from Humboldt High School at 15 and the University of Minnesota at the age of 22. Dubbed the “boy wonder” after being elected the youngest governor of Minnesota in 1938 at the age of 31, Harold Stassen was a popular and progressive leader with a vision to unify America. He resigned from being Governor in 1943 to serve in the US Navy, went on to be one of the U.S. delegates sent to San Fransico to help write the UN Charter, and even ran for president a time, or nine. This new musical examines a time in our history and reflects on where we are today. It is a story of perseverance, unity, and love for his family and country.
The cast features Evan Tyler Wilson as Harold Stassen (HT Debut), Thomas Bevan as Glen Stassen (HT Debut), Erik Ohno Dagoberg as Hubertus Van Mook/Ensemble (HT Debut), Emily Dussault as Esther/Ensemble (HT Debut), Bradley Greenwald as William Stassen/Ensemble (Raw Stages: The Kim Loo Sisters), Dwight Xaveir Leslie as Ralph Bunche/Ensemble (HT Debut), Jen Maren as Elsie Stassen/Ensemble (Glensheen, Lord Gordon Gordon) Eric Pogi Sumangil as Maximo Kalaw/Ensemble (Under the Stars & Stripes: Stories of WWII, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Debutante’s Ball), and Carl Swanson as Charles Lindbergh/Ensemble (HT Debut). Understudies include Davis Brinker, Peyton Dixon, Alex Galick, Neal Beckman, and Ruthie Baker McGrath.
The creative team includes Keith Hovis (Playwright/Composer), Laura Leffler (Director), Alayna Jacqueline (Dramaturg), Joey Miller (Choreographer), Amanda Weis (Music Director), Daniel Nass (Arranger), Sadie Ward (Scenic Designer), Rebecca Malmstrom (Props Designer), Rubble&Ash (Costume Designers), Jim Eischen (Lighting Designer), Katherine Horowitz (Sound Designer), Laura Topham (Reh. Stage Manager), Haley Walsh (Perf. Stage Manager), Jessica Goldade (Asst. Stage Manager), Julia Valen (Asst. Director), Gunther Gullickson (Technical Director), Zach Morgan (Lead Carpenter), Nick Walberg (Master Electrician), and Meghan Kent (Costume Assistant).
Musicians: Asher Moreton (Guitar), Amanda Weis (Keyboard), Jenessa Iverson (Bass) and Kale Winship (Drums).
Tiers 1-4: $43-74 (discounts available for seniors). Tier 5: $30. Additional discounts available for students and patrons under 30 (must call to purchase, ID required at pick up). For tickets call 651-292-4323 or visit www.historytheatre.com. Discount rates for groups of 10 or more. Call 651-292-4320 or email email@example.com to book a group.
Pay What You Can Preview performances: Pre-reserve for $20 or purchase at the door at a PWYC rate. Cash and credit accepted. October 5 and 6, 7:30pm.
Afterthoughts held following Sunday Matinees
October 8, 15, 22, and 29. Free and open to all ticketed patrons get closer to the story on stage with a lively post-show talkback.
Accessibility at History Theatre
History Theatre strives to make all events accessible to all patrons. When purchasing tickets please alert the box office of any accommodation or assistance needed. Accessibility offerings include hearing enhancement receivers, seating for patrons with wheelchairs and their companions, accessible restrooms, Entrance on Cedar St., and elevator right to the theatre level for easy access. Contact the box office at 651-292-4323 for more information. www.historytheatre.com/box-office/accessibility
- American Sign Language and Audio Description: Sunday, October 22, 2:00 p.m.
- Open Captioning: Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 29, 2:00 p.m.