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'Minnesota Nice On Ice': Play to be performed under a tent on shore of Lake Bemidji

Cast members of "Minnesota Nice on Ice," a musical that will be performed this weekend as part of Brrrrmidji Polar Daze, gather around a fishing hole in a fish house on Lake Bemidji. Cast member are, back row, from left, Dan Johnson, Ted Thorson, Charlie Parsons and Richard Lehmann; front row, from left, Paul Tarutis, Jan Persson, Teri Harrington and Cate Belleveau. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall

It is not hard to imagine that a play about fishing buddies would be performed under a tent on the shore of Lake Bemidji during Brrrrmidji Polar Daze, a popular annual winter celebration.

Cate Belleveau, the author of "Minnesota Nice on Ice," said the idea for the play came to her while driving past Lake Bemidji to and from a teaching position in Cass Lake. She spoke with special education teacher Teri Harrington, who writes musical parodies for the end-of-year programs at Cass Lake-Bena School about her idea for an original musical comedy.

Almost two years later, the idea has turned into a musical comedy about a struggling family business competing with the new chain restaurants in town, the owner's bizarre schemes to save the business, a wife more interested in fishing than running a grill, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officer who spends time on the ice, three local "good guys," and a business woman girlfriend who transferred here from a cosmopolitan area.

Belleveau recruited colleagues from her school district, a local businessman, a politician and well-known chorale singer to fill roles in the play.

Charlie Parsons is Rod, the owner of Hanson's Grill, formerly a successful Bemidji family business started by his grandfather. Parsons, a retired professor at Bemidji State University and founding president of the Bemidji Chorale, lends his baritone to the original lyrics and music.

His wife, played by Harrington, is more interested in fishing and designing lures than keeping the struggling business alive.

A DNR conservation officer is played by Jan Persson, a transplant from Tok, Alaska, who said she and her husband moved here for the weather. Winter in Tok is 60 degrees below zero during the winter.

"This weather feels like spring in Tok," Persson said.

Persson, a school nurse with Cass Lake-Bena Schools, sang with the Fairbanks Light Opera Company and many other chorale groups in musicals such as "Oliver."

She said she auditioned for this show to meet people and get to know the Bemidji community.

Belleveau plays Susan, a frustrated businesswoman who is trying to cope with her hapless boyfriend, Larry, who is played by Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann.

"This play is genuine Minnesotan, friends caring about each other, good-hearted joking," said Lehmann, who was last seen on stage in a bit part for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse in summer 2004. "It accentuates the positives of living in northern Minnesota."

Ted Thorson and Dan Johnson round out the musical cast as other fishing buddies in the production.

Paul Tarutis currently is an understudy for the men's parts to cover during performances throughout the region, such as the Annual International Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker and the Ely Winter Festival.

Johnson said acting in a play was on his bucket list and this was a good opportunity.

"The writer of the play understands the psyche of us sportsmen, the camaraderie of ice-fishing with the closeness of ice houses and talking with each other," he said. "This play is a wonderful expression of living in Bemidji and the great times we have."

Johnson, the owner of an Edward Jones office in Bemidji has underwritten the cost of recording a CD by the cast of the musical score in the studio of Gary Burger. The CDs will be on sale at the performances.

Patty Lester, managing director of Mask and Rose Women's Theater Collective, the sponsoring theater group, reminds the public to dress warmly and bring a blanket.

The show is rated PG for language and is appropriate for middle-school ages and older.

If you go

Performances are at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, under a heated tent on Lake Bemidji behind Paul and Babe, unless the weather is dangerously cold.

The alternate location will be the Mask and Rose Theater across the street in the Mason's Building, 501 Bemidji Ave. N.W.

Tickets are $7 for adults and $4 for students and are available at Brigid's Cross Irish Pub in downtown Bemidji, and at the tent beginning one hour before showtimes.