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'Bend in the River' premieres Sunday

A Puposky woman is bringing Beltrami Country's history to life through her original musical, "Bend in the River."

The opening performance of Cate Belleveau's musical is set for 7 p.m. Sunday at Wild Rose Theater in the Masonic Building, 501 Bemidji Ave. N. Admission is $5 to $10, depending on what people feel they can afford. No one will be refused at the door. People should use the building's side entrance.

A second performance of the musical is set for 7 p.m. Monday at the pavilion at Diamond Point Park as part of Bemidji's Capital for a Day festivities. A freewill offering will be accepted.

Presented by Mask & Rose Theater, the musical will highlight many eras of Beltrami County's history through a theatrical introduction to historical people, narration and musical performances.

Among the stories highlighted in the musical is one about Ozaawindib, an Ojibwe guide who lead Henry Schoolcraft to the source of the Mississippi River. Speaking in Ojibwe and English, Larry Aitken of Cass Lake will portray Ozaawindib and Aitken's daughter, Ann, will play a traditional flute.

The musical will also tell the story of French Voyageurs who traveled in the area trading fur. In costume, Bemidji residents Fran?ois Fouquerel and Shep Wilimek will sing two French Voyageur paddling songs.

The story of Count Beltrami will also be shared.

"Beltrami is a very interesting character," Belleveau said.

She said the man from Italy was planning to travel to New Orleans, but by a "quark of history and fate," he headed north on an expedition looking for the source of the Mississippi River. After experiencing personality differences with the captain, Beltrami was dropped off near Thief River and he walked to Lake Julia near Buena Vista, she said.

"And he was sure that that was the source of the Mississippi," Belleveau said.

The story of Chief Bemidji, narrated by Aitken, and the tale of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox will also be highlighted. Paul Bunyan will be portrayed by Bemidji High School sophomore Dan Aackhus.

The musical will also explore other eras of the county's history through the stories of Charles Scrutchins, Sister Amata and James J. Hill.

Bemidji blues musician Jim Miller will perform his original song about Scrutchins, an African American lawyer who came to Bemidji in the 1890s. Belleveau said Scrutchins, who was the vice president of the local bar association, sued a Blackduck barber who was going to charge him $5 instead of 15 cents for a haircut.

Also, Miriam Tell of Bemidji will sing her original song about a little boy who wanted to see Hill when he came to town, and Bemidji resident John Henningsgaard, who will portray Beltrami, will perform "Man from the Moon," a song about Beltrami written by Jim Post of Galena, Ill.

Sara Breeze of Bemidji will portray Sister Amata, a nun who visited logging camps in the area and sold tickets to loggers that were considered the first workman's compensation benefits for loggers in the area, Belleveau said. Breeze will sing a Norwegian song that typically would have been played in logging camps.

Also, the cast will perform a theme song titled "Bend in the River" that was written for the musical by Charlie Maguire, a singer and songwriter from the Twin Cities, through a Region 2 Arts Council grant.

The cast will also perform a song titled "Back When" during a slideshow of old archival photos of Bemidji at the turn of the 20th century from Beltrami County History Center.

Drawing inspiration

Belleveau said she became inspired to write a musical about Beltrami County's history on a summer trip to Bayfield, Wis. She said the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua south of Bayfield shows a musical in the summer about the history of the Apostle Islands and Bayfield area.

Belleveau began researching for her musical about a year and a half ago and started writing the piece in early April.

"This is a work in progress," she said, noting that she will take feedback on the musical and continue to tweak it.

Belleveau plans to hold performances of the musical throughout the summer.

"We would like to offer it on the lakefront under a tent this summer," she said.

She said she hopes the musical will engage tourists in Beltrami County's history.

"The play has been written for tourists," she said. "That's our No. 1 audience."