So, how about something funny, featuring a beloved, iconic character and a cast of half a dozen or so. Something that can be staged outdoors. Maybe it should have some puppets. Keep it under an hour. Oh, and could you make it a musical?
Open Eye Theatre’s producing artistic director Joel Sass wasn’t asking for much when he asked Josef Evans to create a spring show.
About four weeks later, Sass says Evans came back to him with “Log Jam! A Paul Bunyan Musical Spectacular.” Well, it didn’t have that title yet, but pretty much the rest of Sass’ tall order had been filled.
“Log Jam” opened May 27 on the rooftop lawn of the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis with eight actors, three musicians, puppets and a “broad and bawdy” tale.
Sass says he believes its the first theater show with a cast of more than one or two since COVID-19 shut down stages in March 2020. Back in February, Open Eye started to think that spring could be a good time for a “more sizeable” show performed outdoors.
The Minneapolis theater company produced a show on the Bakken rooftop in October. A shadow puppet show, “Bug Girl” sold out in five hours. Though there was early snow, theatergoers showed up with lawn chairs and bundled up to sit outside, Sass says.
“The Bakken invited us to to pitch them another show,” he adds.
“Log Jam” is a “wild and wooly little folklore tale,” Sass says. It opens with a crabby groundskeeper yelling at a young girl to get off the lawn. He then proceeds to tell her a story featuring young Betty Kensack on a quest, who seeks help from Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. A polar vortex has frozen Betty’s mother into a ball of ice.
Paul and Babe are in “much reduced circumstances,” Sass says. They have literally shrunk to human size.
Bunyan is a sort of Homer Simpson hero. The show has flavors of “The Simpsons” and “South Park,” Sass says.
The lumberjack of legend is portrayed by veteran Twin Cities actor Maren Ward, which further subverts the “inflated, prideful symbol of masculinity,” Sass says. The show doesn’t ignore the fact that logging caused environmental destruction and Indigenous displacement, but it’s not “lecture-y.”
“Log Jam” also has elements of the social isolation of the last year, harsh winters and the fear in the air, adds Sass, who is directing the show.
Young girl on a quest in a “Frozen” environment. Sounds a little familiar? Sass doesn’t deny it. He says the actor portraying Betty, Suzie Juul, is “a total Disney-o-phile who understands the princess culture profoundly.”
The puppets in “Log Jam” are the work of Steve Ackerman, whose style Sass describes as “folk art punk rock puppetry.” There’s also a three-piece orchestra, “eight wonderful known and soon-to-be-known musical theater starlets,” Sass says, and a blockbuster action scene with elements of “American Gladiator,” Indiana Jones and the Wisconsin Dells.
The cast was able to start rehearsing together last week after COVID vaccinations were completed for everyone. Sass expected the facial “unveiling” to be an emotional gathering.
“Log Jam” will be staged in the round, with the audience seated around the edges of the rooftop lawn. It’s a BYO lawn chair event. There’s no intermission and the show will run less than an hour.
Not everything is solved and ends up correct in “Log Jam,” Sass says. But the message is so relevant.
“With the world opening its possibilities to all of us, it’s incumbent on all of us to do better and be better.”
Open Eye Theatre’s “Log Jam! A Paul Bunyan Musical Spectacular”
- When: May 27-June 20
- Where: Rooftop lawn of the Bakken Museum, 3537 Zenith Ave. S., Minneapolis
- Tickets: $30 general admission, $25 for students and seniors, $15 economic accessibility (10 tickets available per show at this price)
- Info: openeyetheatre.org