Quote of the Day: During a lifetime devoted to public service, Harold Stassen left an indelible mark upon American politics. He first gained national prominence in the 1930’s by revitalizing Minnesota’s Republican Party and establishing a progressive, cooperative approach to state government. Although his achievements are often obscured by his seemingly relentless quest to become president, Stassen contributed greatly to the cause of international peace following Word War II. from the playbill for The Wonder Boy – Book, Music, and Lyrics by Keith Hovis, Directed by Laura Leffler, playing at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN through Oct. 29, 2023.
One of the most impressive things I learned about Stassen from the musical was his leadership in freeing thousands of POWs in Japan following the end of World War II. That, and the ending, were the most moving parts of the production. Also, in 1945, he was appointed by President Roosevelt to represent the United States at the founding of the United Nations. Keith Hovis has done his research on Harold Stassen, his life, and his career in service to his state and nation. It must have been hard to take all his accomplishments and life story and condense it into a two and a half hour musical. But, I feel that he captured the highlights, while giving a glimpse into the man.
The Boy Wonder is told through the eyes of Harold’s son Glen, played by Thomas Bevan. The play begins with Harold sitting in the state capital, looking at his picture. His son enters, and they begin to talk about Harold’s life and career. He’s looking to his son to find the best ending to his story. Through memories and flashbacks, scenes from his life both personal and political, we learn who Harold was. Bradley Greenwald plays Harold when he’s older, along with various characters, namely Harold’s father. He is so marvelously talented that he seamlessly moves in and out of scenes in these characters. His voice is lovely, only to be matched by Evan Tyler Wilson who play Harold Stassen as a younger man. Their scenes together as father and son are moving, and gorgeously sung. I would jump at the chance to attend any show that either of these two amazing singers are in.
Emily Dussault plays Esther Stassen, Harold’s wife. From all accounts, they were a team. They had undying devotion to each other, and Esther had a major role in gathering information from the wives of other world leaders during those UN talks. She was dedicated to her family. Emily also have a lovely voice and delightful stage presence. Jen Maren plays Elsie Stassen, Harold’s mother, and various other roles. She is great as Elsie, giving a few digs here and there to her daughter-in-law, and telling Harold that he’s still too young to be president of the United States, trying to protect him from those pressures. Jen is a dynamite actor. You might know her from her role as Margie in the History Theatre’s original musical Glensheen.
Playing various ensemble roles are Erik Ohno Dagoberg, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Carl Swanson, and Dwight Xavier Leslie. They are all spectacular actors as well, shining in each of their roles and having several pivotal scenes in Harold’s life. Namely, Erik as Harold’s assistant, Eric as the representative from the Philippines, and Carl playing Charles Lindbergh who has it out with Harold. Dwight is excellent at Ralph Bunche who works with Harold during the UN talks. All their voices are strong, and the blending of them all during ensemble songs was wonderful.
The band plays on stage, sort of a stage on a stage, like a bandstand during the performance. Amanda Weis is the Music Director and on the keyboard. Kyle Baker on bass. Jenessa Iverson on Bass. Asher Moreton on Guitar, and Kale Winship on drums. The music was excellent, with a mix of pop, classic musical theater, and ballads. Much of the dialogue and story are sung. The set, designed by Sadie K. Ward has a revolving center and background that offers a space for projections. Actors bring props and set pieces in and out for various scenes. Nice period costumes by Rubble & Ash. Choreography by Joey Miller. We saw the show on Sunday, Oct. 22, with ASL interpreters Linda Gill and Nelia Titus.
You can see this excellent new musical at the History Theatre through Oct. 29, 2023. Visit the History Theatre website for more info, tickets, and showtimes.
Go. Create. Inspire!