History Theatre at Home streaming Sweet Land, the musical

Experience the poignant, lyrical celebration of land, love online

History Theatre - Sweet Land

Photo: Rick Spaulding
Ann Michels and Robert Berdahl star as Inge and Olaf in the History Theatre’s virtual production of Sweet Land, the musical.

St. Paul, Minn.

During October, History Theatre at Home will be proud to present Sweet Land, the musical from the writing team of Perrin Post (book), Laurie Flanigan Hegge (lyrics and book), and Dina Maccabee (music). 

The musical is based on the movie Sweet Land, a beloved indie feature by filmmaker Ali Selim, which was, in turn, inspired by A Gravestone Made of Wheat, a short story by award-winning Minnesota author Will Weaver. 

The musical’s touching love story follows Inge Altenberg, a German immigrant who, in the wake of World War I, arrives in Minnesota to marry a Norwegian bachelor, sight unseen, and is ostracized by the community. 

“The story of Sweet Land belongs to all of us,” said Hegge. “Our ancestries may be different, but each of us has a story about where, how, and why our families came to be. Many of our families were considered ‘other’ at some point. We want to believe we are loving and accepting when welcoming outsiders into our communities. The truth is, we often fall short.”

In 1917, Germans represented the single largest ethnic group in Minnesota. With the outbreak of World War I, the environment toward German Americans turned deeply hostile. Suddenly, loyalties were questioned, and civil liberties were suspended. A network of spies informed the newly formed Minnesota Commission of Public Safety on the “patriotic attitudes” of recent immigrants. Fear was institutionalized. 

This is the world that Inge stepped into when she arrived at Olaf Torvik’s farm. This stream is a closed-captioned recording of the innovative 2017 world premiere production directed by Post, with musical direction by Jason Hansen and choreography by Joe Chvala at the History Theatre in St. Paul, Minn. The production stars Ann Michels as Inge Altenberg and features an ensemble cast of 13 actors and musicians.

Selim’s film about Scandinavian immigrant farmers reminded Post of the stories she had heard from her Finnish grandparents. Post (who also directs the musical) recalls being so touched by the movie that she wrote a note to Selim, who shared it with Weaver. 

“I still don’t know why they chose me, except that I was passionate about it and really cared about this simple and quiet story,” said Post. 

About History Theatre at Home

While the History Theatre stage is dark, rehearsals are on hold and theater seats are empty, we wanted a way to stay connected to our loyal audience. To that end, History Theatre is releasing new History Theatre at Home programming, streaming curated gems from History Theatre archives, and sharing behind-the-scenes secrets and creative conversations, including insights from the Sweet Land creative team and cast.

“Over these 42 years, we’ve had the privilege to tell stories that matter. Please join us from the comfort of your home and let’s keep our community engaged through creative, fun, and thoughtful connections,” said Artistic Director Ron Peluso. 

Sweet Land, the musical will be available online Oct. 9-22. For details, visit www.historytheatre.com.

See also “Adaption of Sweet Land onstage in Seattle” by Lori Ann Reinhall, The Norwegian American, July 27, 2018 (www.norwegianamerican.com/adaption-of-sweet-land-onstage-in-seattle).

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.