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'Route 66' takes audience on nostalgic road trip with rock n' roll and California surf music

This season's Frost Fire Summer Theatre production, "Route 66," is a high-energy, choreographed show that's nothing short of "pure entertainment," said David Paukert, one of the show's directors.

The set for the Frost Fire Summer Theatre musical revue, "Route 66," captures the look and feel of the '50s rock 'n' roll era. The set was painted by Carol Clark of Walhalla, N.D. (Photo by David Paukert)
The set for the Frost Fire Summer Theatre musical revue, "Route 66," captures the look and feel of the '50s rock 'n' roll era. The set was painted by Carol Clark of Walhalla, N.D. (Photo by David Paukert)

This season's Frost Fire Summer Theatre production, "Route 66," is a high-energy, choreographed show that's nothing short of "pure entertainment," said David Paukert, one of the show's directors.

The show, a nostalgic musical journey on the quirky old roadway that predated the nation's interstate highway system, combines the best elements of "Grease," "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and "Forever Plaid," Paukert said.

"'Route 66' is a really fun road trip down memory lane," he said. "The audience will know a lot of the songs from the late '50s and early '60s. They'll also recognize the old radio commercials-like Firestone Tire.

"It's nice that the show hits a chord with folks."

The mid-20th century sounds of America come alive with iconic tunes like "King of the Road," "Little Old Lady from Pasadena," "Six Days on the Road," "Little GTO" and "Fun, Fun, Fun."

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The musical revue features 34 of the greatest rock 'n' roll hits of the 20th century, including beloved songs of 1950s Chicago and California surf music, Paukert said.

It's about a gang of grease monkeys who abandon work at a Chicago service station and head out on a road trip to Los Angeles. The guys cruise along old Route 66 through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

"The show ends with a Beach Boys medley in California," Paukert said.

'Terrific response'

The rollicking "Route 66" has attracted viewers from around North Dakota, Canada and "all over Minnesota," Paukert said.

More than 3,700 people have attended the show that opened June 30. It runs through Wednesday.

"We've had a terrific response so far, and we have four more performances," Paukert said.

The cast consists of five singer-actors: Jace Erickson, Ryan King, Matt Stavens and Alex Stroth, all of Grand Forks, and Jordan Thornberg, Walhalla, N.D.
The audience response "is due, in large part, to the talents and energy of these five men," he said.

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"They are all on stage all the time-and there are costume changes," Paukert said. So the pit musicians, who are visible on stage, "have to act within the transitions of the show."

At least one audience member has already mentioned "how fun it was to see the pianist's fingers flying over the keys," he said.

The musicians are: Spencer Black, electric bass guitar, and Riley Scheer, percussion, both of Grand Forks, and Farren Rowan, piano, Tomah, Wisc.

Adam Giebner, Duluth, Minn., is the musical director, and Maren Dewar, East Grand Forks, is the choreographer.

Set is a 'masterpiece'

Paukert is particularly proud of the show's set, which was painted by Carol Clark, of Walhalla.

It is "one of her masterpieces," said Paukert, who's the assistant director of the show. His wife, Amy Jo Paukert, is the director.
"We felt she did an outstanding job on the visual aspects of the production," he said of Clark, who has been painting sets for Frost Fire for 14 years.

Crafting a set that helps transport the viewer requires careful attention to details that audience members may never think about but will enjoy nonetheless, he said.

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The set backdrop for this year's production "is a really busy piece," Clark said.

"It seemed like it was going to be really difficult, but it was fun," he said.

The set was built by Pete and Pat Danielson of Walhalla.

"The biggest challenge in painting a set, as compared to a small piece of artwork, is climbing up and down the scaffolding and ladders and running up into the seats many times to see how it actually looks from a distance," she said.

Clark would study elements of the set-such as size and proportion of different features, shading and highlighting, and readability of words-and adjust them, if necessary.

This year's set was one of her favorites to paint, she said.

"The (road) map was a challenge but, actually, pretty fun to do," she said. "The many images were like small paintings that I am more accustomed to."

Long tenure

Clark began working with the Frost Fire crew in 2004 when the owners, Richard and Judith Johnson, and costume designer, Cindy Frechette, asked her to help design and create the costumes for "Beauty and the Beast."

"It was a huge undertaking but thrilling and wonderful to see the costumes come to life on stage," she recalled. "Tears came to my eyes."

The following year, she was asked to paint the set for "The All Night Strut."

"I told them I was not qualified for the job, but they insisted and persisted, and I finally agreed," she said.

The set for the show in 2006 show was not so simple. "The Sound of Music" had three backdrops-the mountains, the Abby, and the interior of the Von Trapp family home.

"I was a nervous wreck," Clark said. "But again, I surprised myself. It must have turned out alright because this is my 14th year as their scenic painter."

The most difficult set to paint was for Frost Fire's 2007 production, "All Shook Up," which required many backdrops and double-sided set pieces.

Her favorites have been "Fiddler on the Roof" in 2009, "Big River" in 2011 and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in 2015, she said.

Clark, who grew up on a farm near Mount Carmel, N.D., graduated from high school in Langdon, N.D., in 1983. She credits her mother, Betty Mikkelsen, with fostering her interest and skills in arts and crafts.

She also traces her skill development to working with her father, Floyd Mikkelsen, in his painting and drywall business, teaching elementary art classes in Walhalla, and being a member in the local painting group, "The Brush Bunch."

If you go

What: "Route 66," a musical comedy revue

Who: Presented by the Frost Fire Summer Theatre and the Pembina Gorge Foundation

Where: 7 miles of Walhalla, N.D., on County Road 55

When: 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday (final shows of the season)

Tickets: For theatre only-adults, $30, and children (10 and younger), $12. For theatre and buffet dinner- adults, $43, and children (10 and younger), $21. (Group rates also available.)

For more information: Call (701) 549-3602 or visit www.frostfirepark.org

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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