St Norbert Summer Music Theatre: Synergy and Harmony

Andrew Kruse-Ross

andrew kruse-ross | snc music theatre | june 2018

St. Norbert Music Theatre celebrates its 57th season in 2018, but it does so for the first time without the legendary Dudley Birder, who was at the helm for the first 56.

“It's an auspicious legacy that he has left for the college and the community," says Kent Paulsen, musical director for “Mary Poppins." “The college really has a passion for saying we're not just a college, but a center for the culture and arts for the whole community. We want to go another 56 years."

Determined to carry on that legacy, the St. Norbert Summer Music Theatre Team comprised of Paul Mashl, Kent Paulsen, Michael Rosewall and Stephen Rupsch are eager to present an ambitious three-show summer season that promises to be highly entertaining while remaining true the team's vision to make the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of age or generation.

Offering productions of “Return to the Forbidden Planet" in June, “Mary Poppins" in July and “Jekyll & Hyde" in August, the 2018 season covers a spectrum of tastes that should appeal to a multitude of audiences.

According to Rosewall, audiences looking for something “funky and offbeat" will enjoy “Return to the Forbidden Planet," “Mary Poppins" is the classic show for the entire family, and “Jekyll & Hyde" presents audiences with intensity and drama.

When the team first sat down to discuss the program's future after Birder — roughly two years ago — the team agreed that in order to carry on in its role as a cultural center, the program would need to synergize.

Team members wouldn't have to look far to make that happen, teaming up with Green Bay's first professional theatre company, Play-by-Play Theatre and St. Norbert's own high school training program, Next Stage and combining them with their traditional community program.

“We had this great high school program, we had this great community program, we had this professional theatre program that's run by St. Norbert alum … We thought, let's just bring it all together," says Paulsen.

Doing so has allowed all involved to combine marketing resources under a single banner as well as increase opportunities for St. Norbert to offer internship and apprenticeship opportunities to aspiring students and St. Norbert graduates.

“That really keeps things very homegrown and tied to the college," says Rosewall. “What we're hoping is to continue this great legacy of having St. Norbert as this center that draws people to come together each summer and experience fantastic entertainment."

The logistics involved in presenting the 2018 summer season are daunting and fall upon the team's managing producer, Paul Mashl.

Rehearsal space at the college is at a premium, with three separate production crews operating independently in order to be ready for their respective opening nights.

The SNC Music Theatre Team: Kent Paulsen, Michael Rosewall, Stephen Rupsch and Paul Mashl.“We are maxing our capacity doing all three shows in the way that they're overlapping," says Mashl.

Despite his best effort to prepare beforehand, once directors and creative teams begin work, a production can take an unexpected turn at a moment's notice, as was the case when a record number of people turned up to audition for “Mary Poppins."

“Even with best-laid plans, the shows organically take on a life of their own," says Mashl.

The turnout prompted the show's team to go with a larger cast, which in turn affected costuming, set design and the production's budget. Such changes would be problematic if not for the generosity of the program's season sponsors.

“I don't know that there's an arts group in the country that breaks even on ticket sales," says Paulsen. “We're eternally grateful to our donors and sponsors. The community response has been tremendous."

Collectively, the team is well aware of the challenges presented by Birder's departure and is eager, not only to pick up where he left off but raise the bar even higher — creating something lasting for both this generation and the next.

“[The program] has a distinguished tradition and we want to do it right," says Rosewall. “We're really hoping to pass this love of theatre on to the next generation."

Adds Paulsen, “We need more beauty and fun in the world and we feel the magic of live theatre does that."

Return to the Forbidden Planet

If there's a dark horse running in the 2018 season, this is it. Set in outer space and borrowing from the 1957 sci-fi film classic “Forbidden Planet" and including songs originally performed by The Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Van Morrison and others, this is Shakespeare's “The Tempest" done in a way few would ever imagine.

“One of the problems we have in trying to explain this show to people is they don't think musical," says Mashl. “I know that if we don't get as many people in there as we want, they're going to miss out because this thing is hilarious."

Play-by-Play's Mary Ehlinger, who performed in the Off-Broadway American premiere of this musical in 1991, directs.

Billed as “Shakespeare's lost rock 'n' roll masterpiece," this show runs June 13-23 at the Webb Theatre. Presented by SNC Music Theatre in association with Play-by-Play Theatre.

Mary Poppins

SNC's Summer Stage presents a community theatre experience for all ages. This classic family-favorite based on the books by P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film needs little introduction and lends itself perfectly to the stage.

“It's just a little bit different than the actual movie," says Paulsen. “The musical is a little bit more of a profound story. It has more elements of Mr. and Mrs. Banks and the changes that especially Mr. Banks as he sees the effects of his choices on his kids."

Story aside, audiences can expect plenty of wow-factor as Mary Poppins and the children embark on their magical adventures.

“The technical side of these shows is really state of the art. 'Mary Poppins' is going to have some technical things that will blow peoples' minds," says Rosewall.

'Mary Poppins' runs July 12-22 at the Walter Theatre.

Jekyll & Hyde

Based on the gothic novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, many will be familiar with this story of the scientist that in an attempt to find a cure for his father's illness devises a potion that separates his own good and evil sides.

This production showcases SNC's Next Stage, which draws students from 18 regional high schools to provide them with elevated theatrical training and experience they might not readily receive elsewhere.

“It seemed a natural fit for us, as we started putting together as a team, this idea for what's next, to combine the new exciting training program for kids with this grand tradition of the adult program," says Rosewall.

“The directors of this show tackled it for the high school students not only because it's got lots of drama and lots of roles, but at this particular time in history, a lot of kids are wrestling with the idea of good and evil."

'Jekyll & Hyde' runs Aug. 8-12 at the Walter Theatre.

SNC Music Theatre is sponsored by Belmark, Inc., The George F. Kress Foundation, Romo Durable Graphics and the Law Firm of Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry, S.C.

For more information and a list of showtimes visit snc.edu/musictheatre.

Tickets at snc.edu/tickets.

Use promo code FRANK at checkout to receive $3 off each ticket to “Return to Forbidden Planet."

More from Category

DIVAS In A Man's World by Andrew Kruse-Ross

Stay up-to-date

Sign up for a monthly digest of everything new in GB.