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'Old Minnesota' show comes to Detroit Lakes

The "Acafellas" provide lyrical accompaniment to the "Old Minnesota" chatauqua show, which comes to Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre on Monday, May 4.

On Monday, May 4, Detroit Lakes welcomes Big Top Chautauqua's traveling Sesquicentennial show, "Old Minnesota: Song of the North Star" to the stage at the Historic Holmes Theatre.

You're invited to come hear what Minnesota was all about in its early history in this acclaimed musical theatre production, written by famed Midwest composer-historian-poet and founder of Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, Warren Nelson.

It was the second such show produced by Big Top Chatauqua, which was also commissioned to produce a show for Wisconsin's sesquicentennial in 1998.

"Our genesis with this organization really began in 1976, when Warren (Nelson) wrote the show for Fairmont (Minn.), the 'Martin County Hornpipe,'" said Phillip Anich, a longtime Chataqua performer who also serves as the organization's operations manager.

"Since then we've done a lot of (shows for) celebrations, including in 1998, writing the history and being the centerpiece of Wisconsin's sesquicentennial celebration."

Nelson quickly realized that Minnesota's 150th anniversary would also be happening soon, and began working on the script for the show that would eventually be titled "Old Minnesota."

Big Top Chatauqua, meanwhile, took a pro-active approach by forming a group to help raise money for the traveling show, and preparing the "pitch" for the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission. Their pitch was successful.

Last year, "Old Minnesota" was named the official Sesquicentennial touring show by the Minnesota Sesquicentennial commission.

"It was a preemptive act in preparation (for the sesquicentennial) that worked out well," Anich said.

Since being named as the official Sesquicentennial show, Big Top Chatauqua's cast and crew have been touring all over the state, producing the show at a variety of venues -- including a 12-day stint at the Minnesota State Fair, where, Anich said, "We did 48 shows in 12 days."

Those 48 State Fair shows were, however, an abbreviated version of the full two-hour production.

"We cut the show into two parts," explained Anich, noting that both parts were shown at different intervals during the State Fair.

"Old Minnesota: Song of the North Star" features a large cast of musicians, singers and performers. The story is an original, musical, and historical hike through the old ways of the Gopher State -- an opportunity to travel back down the river of time with Warren Nelson and the Blue Canvas Orchestra to see and hear what Minnesota was all about in its early history.

The show portrays in story, song and large-screen vintage visuals the lives, ambitions and accomplishments of Minnesota's Native inhabitants, European settlers and their descendants.

Each full show consists of two 50-minute sets, with a 20-minute intermission.

"We're really excited about it," Anich said, noting that the Holmes Theatre "sounds like a beautiful place to perform."

What makes a chatauqua show slightly different from standard theater is that, while the instrumentalists and vocalists are often featured prominently, "the focus is on the images and the lyrics," Anich said. "There's a story being told here -- there's educational value in what we do."

The May 4 performance begins at 7 p.m. All ages are welcome. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. For more information, please call the Historic Holmes Theatre at 218-844-7469, or go online to

Those who would like the chance to experience another Big Top Chatauqua show might want to head on down to Fergus Falls' Center for the Arts the following evening, Tuesday, May 5, for a performance of "Wild Woods and Waters" at 7 p.m.

Anich describes the show as "an illuminated journey celebrating the wild side of the outdoors, with an Earth Day theme." For more information about that show, call 218-736-5453.

Now entering its 24th season, Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua is a year-round nonprofit performing arts organization, located in Wisconsin, which is dedicated to enhancing cultural opportunities and strengthening connections to the history of the Chequamegon Bay area, state of Wisconsin, and the Upper Midwest through the uniquely American tradition of tent shows.

Anich said the air-conditioned tent has a capacity of about 1,000 people. Big Top Chautauqua's summer season begins mid-June and runs through early September. More information and ticket prices are available at or by calling 888-BIG-TENT (888-244-8368).

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454