Do you remember the song from the Explore Minnesota commercial that included a verse that Minnesota had more theater seats per capita than any other state? Your mind might have jumped to visions of the Guthrie, Ordway or even the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, but don’t forget about Plymouth’s very own theater: the Plymouth Playhouse.
Back in 1974, Curt Carlson of the Carlson Companies built the Plymouth Radisson Hotel/Corporate Conference Center near I–494 and Hwy. 55 to lure the Japanese market to the Twin Cities area. His gimmick: Add a few different restaurants and meeting rooms to the space. While the restaurants were regularly busy, Carlson wanted to fill the meeting rooms during non-business hours as well. After talking with close friend Don Stolz, founder, producer and director of the Old Log Theater in Excelsior, Carlson decided to rent out the meeting room in the basement for theatrical productions.
With Stolz as artistic director, the Radisson Playhouse, as it was known, opened for the first time in the middle of a blizzard on January 20, 1974. In the hopes of attracting a large audience opening night, Stolz cast big names in Woody Allen's Play it Again Sam, including Nancy Nelson, a former Miss Minnesota and well-known TV personality.
The show was a hit, and Stolz led the theater for the next six years before U.S. Communications took over, says Curt Wollan, president and executive director of Troupe America Inc., the current creative managing group. (The theater went through six different production companies before St. Louis Park-based Troupe America took over in 1988.) Control of the theater wasn’t the only thing that changed through the years. When Carlson Companies sold the Plymouth Radisson Hotel and the space became the Quality Inn Plymouth in the early ’80s, the name of the theater changed to the Plymouth Playhouse.
Now in its 38th year, the Plymouth Playhouse continues to entertain audiences. Ranked one of the top 10 theaters in the Twin Cities, this 211-seat “gem of a theater” is comfortable for audiences, Wollan says, adding “the seats offer different views and angles of the semi-thrust stage but are all interesting.” With eight shows a week, 52 weeks a year, the 80,000–100,000 people that come to the Plymouth Playhouse annually must agree.
Aided by its intimate seating structure, Wollan says he found the theater’s niche in small-cast original musicals, adding he wanted to specialize in premieres. If the theater was to “become unique, we should write our own [materials],” he says. And write they did. While the theater has shown more than 30 different shows, some of the more notable original productions include The Lovely Liebowitz Sisters, How to Talk Minnesotan and The Church Basement Ladies series.
Scanning the list of every play shown at the Plymouth Playhouse, it becomes obvious not all have a local angle, but Wollan says many of the locally inspired productions end up touring the nation. “We’re taking Twin Cities theater on the road,” he says. “The [original] Church Basement Ladies has been on four national tours.
“People say, ‘I’m going to the Guthrie,’ and they go and have a good time, as that theater has become a destination that people trust,” Wollan continues. “At the Plymouth Playhouse, people say, ‘I’m going to see The Church Basement Ladies,’ because we’re known [more] for our shows.”
Works in progress for the Plymouth Playhouse include a show about a bake-off and Achy Breaky Boyz, a 1950s-era musical about 4 small town male friends intent on starting careers as a pop quartet. Fans of the Church Basement Ladies series also will be happy to learn work has begun on the fifth installment of the popular comedy.
While the Plymouth Playhouse might sound to the uninformed like a community theater, it’s not. Wollan’s staff creates the sets, costumes and whatever else is needed for the show to go on. “We’re not a nonprofit,” he says, “but if people want to volunteer they could.” Rest assured, though, the actors on stage are local acting professionals, and if you want to someday see yourself on stage or if you have an idea for a play, Wollan encourages you to contact Troupe America Inc.
2705 Annapolis Ln. N.
Now playing: The Church Basement Ladies in A Mighty Fortress is our Basement