Talking Minnesotan

Mohr comes to SMSU to check out rehearsal for musical

Photo by Cindy Votruba Paul Ragan, Raxson Rax, Danny McDonnell and Morgan Benson rehearse a scene from “How to Talk Minnesotan: The Musical,” which opens today at the Southwest Minnesota State University Fine Arts Theatre.

MARSHALL — When the author of the show they’re doing was sitting in on one of the rehearsals, a couple of actors for the upcoming theater performance at Southwest Minnesota State University admitted they were a little nervous.

The SMSU Theater Department is presenting “How to Talk Minnesotan: The Musical” at 7:30 p.m. today-Saturday and Oct. 26-28, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, at the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre. The show is being directed by SMSU theater professor Mike Lenz.

“How To Talk Minnesotan: The Musical” is by Howard Mohr, a former writer for “Prairie Home Companion” and former SMSU faculty member, and is based on his book of the same name. The music is by Drew Jansen, and the lyrics are by Jansen and Mohr.

Mohr sat in on one of the show’s rehearsals recently. SMSU students Paul Ragan and Danny McDonnell said it was nerve-wracking.

“This show is his baby,” Ragan said. He said Mohr wrote the book and the script for the show. “Having him here, you want to do well.”

“(It was) a lot of pressure, but it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Morgan Benson said.

“His dry humor that he uses in the show does come from him directly,” McDonnell said.

The show features Ed and Lucy Humde and friends at the Lost Walleye Lodge.

McDonnell and Benson play Ed and Lucy. Ragan plays Miller Johnson, Elizabeth Zoya plays the Humdes’ daughter Darlene, Raxson Rax plays Donny, and Dean Zinda portrays Russ Renner.

“We haven’t done a show in this style for our students,” Lenz said. “It’s a good learning opportunity for them.” He said “How to Talk Minnesotan” is in a variety show/vaudeville style and contains lessons, commercials and songs.

When the actors first read through the script, they could see some familiarities.

“I was like, this is my family, and it’s hilarious,” Benson said.

McDonnell said he also loved the script and when he was reading through it in his room, he’d laugh out loud.

“My RA told me to be quiet,” he said.

Like Benson, McDonnell said he saw a lot of his family in the script as well.

Ragan said he absolutely loved the script.

“The moment we started, I knew my parents would have to come see it, I knew they would love it,” Ragan said.

“Our first read-through, I was laughing at so many things,” Ragan added. Ragan noted parts of the show talked about how hot dish is a religion in Minnesota and the different types of waving.

“It makes a good story to tell,” Ragan said.

Benson and McDonnell said their characters educate people on “how to talk Minnesotan.”

“We go through everything when an out-of-stater asks ‘why do you talk the way you do?'” McDonnell said.

“We give language lessons,” Benson said.

“And cultural lessons,” McDonnell added.

The show is a “love letter to Minnesota” Benson said, it’s appreciation for who we are, and “it’s really fun.”

“The most challenging thing is getting the dialect not too overpowering,” McDonnell said.

Mohr said he’s very happy that the SMSU Fine Arts and Communication Department is doing his summer musical and doing it with a cast consisting of current students.

“I was invited to have a peek at them,” he said. “They are looking good, and I have to admit they made me laugh.”

Ragan said they made some changes to the show, and Mohr loved the changes they did.

“It brings new life to something he’s seen performed before,” Ragan said.