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'Tall Grass' coming to Holmes

"The Greeks have their Odyssey. Finland has its Kalevala -- and now, the Great Plains of America has Songs From The Tall Grass..."

So begins the news release announcing the upcoming Sept. 15 performance of the 2001 musical, "Songs From The Tall Grass," at Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre.

And while the wording of that press release might seem to be an exaggeration, the musical's author, Los Angeles-based composer Randy Hale, feels "Songs From The Tall Grass" touches audiences more than any other work he has created to date.

"I've been doing theater, television, films for many, many years, and I've written several shows," Hale said in a telephone interview from his temporary home in Fergus Falls, where he has been living since launching the current northwest Minnesota tour of his musical earlier this summer.

"People have a good time (at Hale's other shows)... they'll laugh, and enjoy it -- but I've never seen a show touch people like this one does. It's quite remarkable.

"All I can say is that it's a unique show in the sense of how it touches people -- it really is," he continued. "It makes them laugh and laugh, and cry and cry, and really just reaches out (to the audience), especially in this part of the country where they know the stories...

"If you are from here, or have people from this part of the country, this show is going to speak to you in a big way."

Not that Hale takes all the credit for its creation. "I had a lot of help," he said. "My wife, Emily Corey, helped me write and do the research for it."

In fact, Hale's entire family went on a two-month odyssey through the Midwest, looking for music from the "prairie sodbuster" era.

Though the musical score for "Tall Grass" is made up mostly of Hale's original compositions, many of the songs' lyrics are either borrowed or adapted from hundreds of forgotten tunes that the Hales unearthed from dusty archives.

"I took all of these old songs, changed the lyrics around a little bit and wrote new music for most of them," Hale said. "In many cases the language was old-style English, so I had to update that. Also, none of the songs had bridges, which we're used to listening to, so I had to add bridges."

"All the songs but one ('Once Was A Pioneer') use lyrics from the 1800s and new music by Randy," said Hale's wife and writing partner, Emily Corey.

"It's such an unusual conceit, to have the lyrics from the 1800s and the music contemporary. It's allowed us to bring in such unusual ideas to sing about, yet puts everything in a melodic context that is very welcoming to a modern ear."

Corey added that the trip she and Randy took with the kids to research the lyrics used in "Songs from the Tall Grass" was "the best trip of our lives."

"Songs from the Tall Grass" premiered at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., in March 2001. Since then, there have been 11 different productions of the show staged, with anywhere between 500-600 individual shows, Hale said.

And despite the fact that, as one of the show's main leads, Hale has performed these songs hundreds of times, they never get old for him.

"I love, love, love doing it," Hale said of performing in 'Songs from the Tall Grass.'

"More than anything, it's the audience's reaction," he said, discussing why he continues to be inspired by the show after so many years of performing it. "Anybody who's got an agricultural or farming background, or knows people who have a farming or ranching background, this show really speaks to them."

Hale said he's had people from Bulgaria and South Africa come to him after seeing a show and tell him how similar the story told in "Songs" is to their own cultural heritage.

"More than anything, it (the narrative) talks about family values... not proselytizing, just showing you how these people lived and dealt with the difficulties of their lives."

Not that the show doesn't have its more humorous, light-hearted moments.

"It's just a lot of fun," Hale added.

"Songs from the Tall Grass" will be presented on the Historic Holmes Theatre stage at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. Tickets are $18 for adults, $9 for students, and may be purchased at the Holmes Theatre Box Office at 806 Summit Avenue (on the north side of the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center), by calling 218-844-7469, or by visiting the community center's Web site at

This production features a cast including actors from Fergus Falls, Fargo and Minneapolis and Wisconsin violinist Randy Sabien.

Other upcoming performances of "Songs from the Tall Grass" include shows at the Fargo Theatre, Sept. 12; John Calbert Theater, Central Lakes College, Brainerd, Sept. 20-21; Dassel-Cokato Performing Arts Center, Cokato, Minn., Sept. 22; Memorial Auditorium in Dawson, Minn., Sept. 23-24; The Arts Center, Jamestown, N.D., Sept. 27; and A Center for the Arts, Fergus Falls, Sept. 28-30.

Co-produced by the City of Fergus Falls and A Center for the Arts, the 2007 summer tour of "Songs from the Tall Grass" was funded in part by a National Endowment for the Arts "American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius" grant. For more information about the "Songs from the Tall Grass" 2007 summer tour, visit www.songsfromthetallgrass.comor call A Center for the Arts at 218-998-2787.

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