Ole’s Last Bow, a new musical comedy about a Scandinavian vaudeville troupe careening toward an unknown future, opens its world premiere mini-tour of the Twin Cities on May 1. Written by Peter Holbrook and directed by Randy Winkler, the show takes audiences back to a time when entertainment for working class immigrants was a rare and much-anticipated treat — and a temporary escape from a new world that was often confusing and inhospitable.

Ole’s Last Bow features a variety of songs from the vaudeville era, as well as a number of Holbrook’s original compositions. The story is loosely based on the life of Hjalmar Peterson, a famous Swedish vaudeville performer of the early 20th century (better known by his stage name, Olle i Skratthult, or “Ole in Laughterville”).


“The idea for Ole’s Last Bow has been percolating for a long time,” says Holbrook. “Partly it was an excuse to perform some funny old vaudeville songs, some of which I first heard sung by Anne Charlotte-Harvey at the old Snoose Boulevard festivals of the 1970s. But I also wanted to remind people that there is much more to Scandinavian-American culture than Ole and Lena jokes, lutefisk and hotdish.” For example, Holbrook states that Scandinavian-Americans have a strong theatrical tradition that dates back at least as far as the 1850s. “This is an aspect of our grandparents and great-grandparents’ lives that most of us know nothing about. That’s a shame, because I believe knowing where you come from gives you a much truer picture of who you are now.”

To impoverished emigrants from rural Scandinavia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, arriving in America might have seemed like stepping onto an alien planet. Surrounded by unfamiliar sights and strange people with stranger ways, it’s no wonder that homesick Scandinavians would flock to traveling vaudeville shows, where they could enjoy familiar old songs, jokes about people they knew and dramas presented in their native tongue.

Although the songs in Ole’s Last Bow are sung mostly in English, the show does include several old Scandinavian favorites like Nikolina, Johan på Snippen and Hälsa dem Därhemma. “There are even a couple opportunities for the audience to sing along, if they feel so inclined,” says Holbrook.

In planning to stage the premiere of Ole’s Last Bow at various suburban venues around the Twin Cities, Holbrook wanted to test his idea that there was an appetite for original theatre with an audience that has largely been ignored by most producers. “Coming into Minneapolis or St. Paul to see a show can be a real hassle for people who live in the far suburbs and beyond,” says Holbrook. “My idea is to make attending a live stage show easy and affordable, like going to a movie. Except way more fun.”

Venue information for performances on May 1-2 in Maple Grove, May 8-9 in Chaska, May 15 in Mahtomedi and May 16 in Lakeville can be found at www.oleslastbow.com. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 general admission, and can be purchased online.

About the production
Directed by Randy Winkler. Book, music & lyrics by Peter Holbrook
Douglas Anderson (Ole Ivarsson)
Dorian Chalmers (Lola LaRue / Ulla Ivarsson)
Brent Berheim (“Diamond Ray” / Kalle Klavestad)
Carl Swanson (Pete / Torger Tollefsson)
Mathias Becker (Freddie / Torvald Trelleborg)
Christine Polich (Rita Gunderson / Ingeborg Egekvist)

Production Staff
Sarah Rostance (Stage Manager)
Lynn Farrington (Costumes)
Hayes O’Brien (Set Design & Construction)

Detailed Schedule and venues:
Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2
7:30 pm
Maple Grove Jr. HS Theatre
7000 Hemlock Lane N., Maple Grove MN

Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9
7:30 pm
Chaska Community Center Auditorium Theatre
1661 Park Ridge Drive, Chaska MN

Friday, May 15
7:30 pm
Mahtomedi High School Chautauqua Theatre
8000 75th Street North, Mahtomedi MN

Saturday, May 16
7:30 pm
Lakeville Area Arts Center Theatre
20965 Holyoke Avenue, Lakeville MN