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ELY- “What are the chances?” is a question that has never bothered Mike Rouse. He’s beaten the odds in life, after getting a terminal cancer diagnosis as a teenager. He went on to …
ELY- “What are the chances?” is a question that has never bothered Mike Rouse. He’s beaten the odds in life, after getting a terminal cancer diagnosis as a teenager. He went on to marry his childhood sweetheart Billie, raise a family, and watch their grandchildren grow up.
But now he’s transferred that luck (or gumption, perhaps) to Ely Memorial High School.
“We figured we had no chance,” he told a small crowd assembled at the Grand Ely Lodge last Friday. Those assembled included a core group of dedicated theater enthusiasts in Ely. They had no idea why they had been urged to come, and the only hint in the room was a bowl full of ice.
At exactly 6 p.m., the Rouses unveiled their news.
Ely Memorial High School has been given the exclusive licensing rights, free of charge, to produce the Broadway musical version of Disney’s animated classic “Frozen.” And through January 2024, they are the only high school in the state allowed to put on the production.
According to contest rules, if they had blurted out their surprise earlier, the school would have lost the rights to the show.
Rouse said Minnesota had a lot of entries in the contest, so after they submitted the application, prepared with help from Billie and Crystal Poppler, they had no real expectation that Ely would get the nod.
“I got the email in the middle of the night,” said Mike. “I woke up Billie and she screamed! Then we called Crystal and she screamed.”
Mike said it was really hard to keep the news secret, but the three succeeded until the formal announcement of state winners was made on Friday and they were free to share the news.
The United States of Frozen: Love is an Open Door was a nationwide contest this summer. Applicants had to show how their production would use the theme “Love is an Open Door” as an opportunity to strengthen their school community, provide outreach to underserved groups, and to support inclusive and diverse theater programs.
Ely Memorial might not have seemed high on the list to win the contest. The school is small, does not have a full-time theater teacher, and generally has only produced smaller musicals with a relatively small budget. But the school has a middle school musical theater program which has allowed students to develop their musical theater skills, and has the support of musicians and theater folks in the community, willing to assist in school productions. The contest required the school to use a live orchestra in their production.
The Rouses’ application made ample use of Ely’s physical climate and outdoor-based economy.
“We live in a community that quite literally exuded Frozen,” they wrote. They also talked about Minnesota’s cold temperature record being set in nearby Tower, the many sled dog teams, cross-country ski trails, snowmobile trails, and the Ely Winter Festival.
“I envision using many local craft-people and artists to help us create this production in a way that also looks familiar to the community ... like it could have actually happened right here.”
“Being a small school in a small town, we rely on many of our local craftsmen, artists, musicians, and technicians to help with the production of a show. It truly ‘takes a village’ ... and our ‘village’ is truly talented and generous. We would like to include the community through the use of, for example, Steger Mukluks and Wintergreen Northern Wear (both manufactured in Ely) as part of the costuming and local photographer’s photos of the northern lights as part of our set (projected). This connects the story of ‘Frozen’ directly with our community - which I believe will make it even more impactful,” they wrote.
Rouse expects the production to take place sometime in late 2022 or January 2023. The cast will include upwards of 40 students and would have room for talented middle school students in the chorus as well, he said.
The winning schools are the only ones in the country that will be able to put on the Broadway musical at this time. They can put on three performances for up to 500 in the audience each show, as well as video the production for broadcast, something that usually requires a special, and often costly, additional license fee. Rouse said the school typically pays between $2,000 and $3,000 to license their shows, but something like this would generally cost much more.
Disney’s animated musical “Frozen” was released in 2013, and quickly went on to become a classic. Rouse said the movie is well-loved by so many of his students, and he can’t wait to see their reactions when they realize they get to perform in the show next school year.
The musical, based on the movie, debuted on Broadway in 2018, which added many more musical numbers to the ones in the original movie. The ballad “Let It Go,” quickly became a Disney classic.
Frozen is the story of Anna who sets off on an epic journey, teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven, to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter.
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