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Grand Forks Central re-opens historic auditorium with musical, original balcony

A long time ago, in the early- to mid-20th century, the auditorium at Grand Forks Central High School was the biggest, most impressive theater in town. Some of the country's most popular entertainers performed there.

The cast of "How to Succeed..."
The cast ( Brenna Peterson, Francesca Curran Ben Breidenbach, Mike McGurran Alec Selnes and Brianna Becks, left to right) of Grand Forks Central High School's first play , "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", to be presented in the school's remodeled auditorium jumps for joy.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

A long time ago, in the early- to mid-20th century, the auditorium at Grand Forks Central High School was the biggest, most impressive theater in town. Some of the country's most popular entertainers performed there.

"The first and second row of the old balcony were the best seats in Grand Forks," said retired Red River High School music instructor Ken Sherwood, whose father, Dwight Sherwood, taught music at Central for nearly 30 years.

The newly remodeled 600-plus seat auditorium is hosting its first performances as Central students present the musical "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying." The balcony original to the theater (and removed in about 1969) has been rebuilt and is ready for a new era of theater-goers.

Paul Barta, director of the show and a choir director at Central, said the theater's re-opening has been much anticipated by students and staff since the first day of school last fall.

The remodeled auditorium was part of a projected $8.8 million in upgrades at Central that included a performing arts addition next to the auditorium, and a gymnasium addition. The music department moved to a new addition near the theater, and the art department moved to another location so a balcony could be built.


"We pushed the stage out quite a bit, so the old stage is a shop that is closed off," Barta said. The stage has a fly system, new lights and side space for actors to stand before they come on stage. The theater kept the proscenium area over the stage and its art-deco theme.

When the stage was moved forward, the auditorium lost seats, and the balcony was brought back to compensate.

Famed actors

Ken Sherwood, who graduated from Central in 1949, was the volunteer manager of the Grand Forks Artist Series for a couple of years. The series brought professional actors and singers to Grand Forks for four shows a year in the Central Auditorium, he said.

Among the performers was Paul Robeson, an African-American singer and actor who became an international movie star for his role in "Show Boat" and other pictures. When Robeson performed at Central, Dwight Sherwood introduced his young son to the actor whose acclaimed performances included the role of Othello in London in the early 1930s.

"Paul Robeson," Ken Sherwood said. "And that man shook my hand. I was about in the seventh grade."

Another performance featured English stage and film actor and director Charles Laughton ("The Private Life of Henry VIII") and matinee idol/swashbuckler Tyrone Power ("Captain from Castile") and two other actors, Sherwood said. The four sat on stage and read a play.

"I was so mesmerized with how the audience could sit still for two hours for this performance," he said.


Back in the day, Central's stage only had footlights, and to say his lines, an actor would walk to the footlights and "yell your head off" because there were no microphones, Sherwood said.

New tools

Barta and his cast shouldn't have to worry about lighting or yelling their lines during their musical tonight and Saturday.

There is, however, work still to finish to get everything up and running in the auditorium, Barta said, and lots of new things to learn to use the auditorium to its fullest.

"How to Succeed in Business..." (which opened Thursday night) is a satire of big business and all it holds sacred. It follows the rise of lowly J. Pierrepont Finch (Ben Briedenbach), who finds a little handbook that helps him climb the corporate ladder.

If you go

• What: "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," the first show in Central High School's newly remodeled auditorium.

• When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday,


• Tickets: Adults, $8; students/senior citizens, $4.

Cast and crew

• Cast: Alex Barta, Briana Becks, Ben Breidenbach, Jake Brindley, Cameron Burton, Francesca Curran, Jan Gaul, Rachel Iams, Ivy McGurran, Mike McGurran, BJ Morin, Brenna Peterson, Alec Selnes, Matt Stavens, Landon Swallow, Gus Tandberg, Ben Wood.

• Ensemble: Jadyn Cox, Shanlee Cox, Lizzy Dessellier, Madison Diemert, Lizzy Dorner, Hannah Gault, Ted Helgeson, Carl Kasowski, Casey King, James Lamberson, Casey Olstad, Michael Schauer, Melody Sondroi, Anna Vandeberg, Jasmyne White, Hannah Wilkinson, Juliet Wolfe. Book Voice: Jim Bollman.

• Director: Paul Barta. Music director, pit orchestra conductor: Geoff Mercer.

• Crew: Kate Anderson, Arianne Cominghay, Brianne Dessellier, Karl Flint, Huso Jusic, Marshal Thompson, Kristen Zettler.

• Pit orchestra: (Students) Maddie Comeau, Shelby Degeldere, Amber Lautt, Lucas Moen, Jon Penman. (Others) Christie Aleshire, Erin Cox, Don Craig, Melanie Craig, John Gangelhoff, Sarah Harlow, Alec Hepper, Matt Hillestad, Mark Lentz, Cody Oss, Amy Roethke, Tom Wogsland.

• Choreographer: Maren Tunseth. Assistant: Tyler Rood. Accompanist: Marlys Murphy. Set:Todd Aleshire. Costumes: Janelle Evert. Hair and make-up: Yvonne Kalka.


Call Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1134; or send email to ptobin@gfherald.com .

031315.N.GFH.A view from the balcony
A balcony has returned to the Grand Forks (N.D.) Central High School auditorium now that the school's building and remodeling project is complete. Part of the orginal building the balcony was removed in the late 60s to make room for the art department, but now has been resored to boost the auditorium's seating capacity to 600-plus.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

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