Serendipity is at the heart of the long history of Minneapolis Musical Theatre, note co-founders Kevin Hansen and Steven Meerdink. "There would be no Minneapolis Musical Theatre if Kevin hadn't been cast in a community theater production I was directing," Meerdink says.
That show nearly collapsed, but Hansen encouraged Meerdink to continue on. That was the start of a long friendship that saw the two form their theater company two decades ago. This weekend marks the end of an era, as The Story of My Life opens. After it, Hansen plans to shuffle off from the day-to-day work he has done for 20 years with the company.
Before that, the pair gets the chance to share the stage in a musical that, fittingly enough, examines the long friendship between a pair of men.
"We were looking for a play where we could be onstage one last time together," Meerdink says. "We toyed with the idea of bringing La Cage back (the last time the two shared the stage), but after that came through on tour, we knew it wasn't a good option."
They found it in the two-person musical, which provided roles for each of them, and also fit in perfectly with the mission of the theater: to do shows that have not, or are rarely, seen in the Twin Cities.
In the case of The Story of My Life, both men were struck by the high quality of the score, along with the very real emotions that are explored within it.
"Hopefully, that comes through onstage," Hansen says. "Once we got past the memorizing and really started to work on the show, it got emotional pretty quick. There is a lot in here that resonates with the two of us personally," Hansen says.
The piece also gave the pair a chance to really play. "We get to be first graders up to the present," Hansen says.
After their first experience working together, Hansen and Meerdink continued to develop projects. For a time, this included producing pieces for various theaters around town, along with touring. A second piece of serendipity came when they were scheduled to present at the University of Minnesota - Morris, but literally had to come up with a name for their ensemble on the fly.
"The program was going to print and we had to come up with a name right then," Hansen remembers. "We came up with the name 'Minneapolis Musical Theatre Troupe.'"
The 'troupe' was dropped as the fledgling theater set up shop at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.
Immediately, Hansen and Meerdink worked to stretch what they could present on that stage, including stripped-down productions of Sweeney Todd and Candide. They eventually found a bit more space when they took up at the old Hey Theater (now Brave New Workshop's downtown location).
"They were doing Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding. They had the wedding upstairs and the reception downstairs. We could use the upstairs space after they were finished with the wedding each night. So we would be waiting backstage for them to finish. Then we would tear down their set, put up ours, get our audience in, and do the show. After, we had to tear down our set and put theirs up again," Hansen says.
MMT moved to its current digs at the Illusion Theater several seasons ago. All the while, it has remained true to its core mission.
"Twenty years ago, when we started this thing, we had no idea that it was going to be a legit theater in the Twin Cities," Hansen says. "We've been very fortunate to get some of the best talent in the Twin Cities because of our mission. They're not making a fortune, but they are getting to do shows that they're not going to be able to do anywhere else," Hansen says.
For Hansen, stepping aside will give him a bit more free time (he also has a day job) to plan vacations or "putz in my garden."
For Meerdink and the rest of the organization, "it will be different not to have Kevin as a sounding board, especially on the shows he isn't involved in," he says. "We are not changing our mission or anything. And if there is a show he is interested in acting in, or music directing, or directing again, I hope he is open to that opportunity as well."
IF YOU GO
The Story of My Life
Illusion Theater 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Friday through March 25
For tickets and more information, call 612.339.4944 or visit online.