Old Log opens 75th season with new look and doo-wop musical

The cast of Life Could be a Dream.
The cast of Life Could be a Dream.
Photos courtesy Old Log Theatre

Greg and Marissa Frankenfield know mistakes were made during the first year they owned the venerable Old Log Theater, but they're confident the second season will continue to smooth the transition.

"We have an understanding of what is important to our audience and the folks who eat here," Frankenfield says.

See also: Old Log shows teething pains at opening of Cowgirls

Last season's bumpy ride included an opening night that nearly wasn't, as a cascade of issues pushed the opening of Cowgirls back by more than half an hour. It continued with an uneven set of shows that moved away from the farces and comedies that the Old Log has produced in recent years, and a restaurant with an evolving menu.

"Change is constant, but as you get older it gets more painful. We have to be respectful to our audiences that have been coming here for a long time. It's important to explain why things have changed and not assume they will think it is better," he adds.

The longstanding theater, owned and operated for generations by Don Stolz and his family, has had a facelift. The newly installed kitchen in the restaurant (re-branded as Cast & Cru) gleams, while the lobby area has a new, slicker look (never fear -- the familiar fireplace is still there).

The restaurant side, both in the completely renovated interior and a revised menu, has received quite a bit of attention. Those menu changes include adding 16 tap beers (with plenty of local microbrews) and using the onsite garden for fresh vegetables and tomatoes in dishes.

The new menu is "very American. There's a lot of locally grown food and a lot of interesting game on the menu, like wild boar shanks and venison filets," Greg Frankenfield says.

There are also seafood choices and traditional items like burgers and steaks. "We are trying to hit a little something for everybody," he says.

That's important, as they are hoping to attract several different types to the restaurant, from those who want to make an evening of it at the Old Log (dinner and a show) to ones who want just a meal or a drink while looking out at the theater's impressive Excelsior-area grounds.

The 75th season opens with Life Could Be a Dream, a jukebox-style musical that uses the doo-wop sounds of the early 1960s to tell its story of a group trying to break out of the basement and into the (relative) big time.

"We looked at it and fell in love with it right away. It has a simple love story, and the music is some of the best from the time," says director Kent Knutson. "Listening to it takes me to another place."

A young quintet of performers takes on the roles and sings the songs, which include the likes of "Earth Angel," "Fools Fall in Love," and "Unchained Melody."

Shows that look back to a "simpler" past tend to be popular in times of crisis, and the current climate certainly is fraught, Knutson says. "It brings back a time that the young as well as the old will enjoy," he says.

The improvements have extended to the theater portion of the Old Log. There is new soundproofing at the back of the house, so the sound from the theater and that from the dining area won't bleed back and forth. A new dressing room and wing space have also been added, which will allow the theater to do larger-scale musicals, like the upcoming Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

These shows are also pushing the Old Log in a new direction. That did have some success last year. One of the biggest hits in 2013 was Rancho Mirage, a newish Steven Dietz play that attracted a top-notch cast. This season, the theater features a mix of musicals, a new stage version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Outside Mullingar by Pulitzer winner John Patrick Shanley.

"We have a broader array of artistic offerings. The audiences are looking for something like that. They want something special when they come out," Frankenfield says.


Life Could be a Dream Through January 3 Old Log Theater 5185 Meadville St., Greenwood $16-$35 For tickets and information, call (952) 474-5951 or visit online.

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Old Log Theater

5185 Meadville St.
Excelsior, MN 55331



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