For over 100 years, starting with its humble beginnings in a small church in 1914, the Duluth Playhouse in all its various reincarnations and venue changes has been entertaining local audiences. The hundreds of shows since its modest start have been at the heart of the city’s cultural identity.
The Playhouse takes one of its most gigantic leaps forward with the February 1 opening of the smash Broadway musical hit “Mamma Mia” in their new home in the renovated NorShor theater.
The Meaning of Community Theater
On the occasion of the Playhouse 100th anniversary, I wrote their commemorative booklet as part of the anniversary events. The voices of those who love the Playhouse still resonate with me, as each person I chatted with and included in the booklet had their own take on the meaning of community theater in Duluth.
Playhouse veteran actors Bob and Selma Goldish, who sadly both passed away this past year, shared, “Meeting everyone in each production, terrific people of all stripes and levels and ages whom we would probably never have met otherwise, tightening old friendships, sharing meaningful memories . . .Personally finding a welcome common interest and activity we could do together was wonderful.”
“Some of the happiest moments of my life have been in this place,” said actress and director Julie Ahasay
Former Mayor Don Ness said, “For a century, the Playhouse has grown and evolved with the city, and it will forever be a center for community engagement and exploration.”
Introducing the 'New' NorShor Theater
Now, that growth and evolution will blend the historical roots of downtown Duluth’s past on the site with all the up to date theatrical bells and whistles, to become the city’s theatrical hub in the totally renovated NorShor theater.
The different uses of the building have seen some highlights, lowlights, and then it became an empty blight on Superior Street. After the 30 million dollar, sixteen month project, the NorShor will be a glorious venue for a generation of new audiences.
The building will be home to the Duluth Playhouse productions, as well national theatrical touring shows and musical acts, local music, opera, and theater groups and will even serve as a rental space for private parties and events.
“Our new NorShor home will once again be a source of pride for our community," says Christine Seitz,” Playhouse Executive and Artistic Director.
Becoming a Heart for the Arts Community
The first Playhouse production in the new space, “Mamma Mia,” will star Broadway actress Jen Burleigh-Bentz, playing the leading role of Donna Sheridan. She was in the Broadway production for four years.
“Not only am I just tickled pink to play Donna again, but I am really thrilled to be part of the opening show for the newly renovated and recovered NorShor for the Duluth Playhouse - it's IMPRESSIVE - So much history, what a treat!” says Burleigh-Bentz.
In his first role in the Playhouse with “Mamma Mia,” actor Derek Bromme says, “I can't adequately describe to you what it feels like to be part of something this momentous for the Duluth community. We as the cast really feel a responsibility to give the audiences something special. We want this new theater to be a beacon of excellence and a heart for the arts community . . .”