You can nearly see the creativity emanate from Marybeth Lorbiecki and Owen Paul Olson as they talk about their biggest project yet – a brand new musical.
“Lucette! A Lively Tale of Lumberjacks, Trees & Paul Bunyan,” is a fun and fantastical take on the classic tall tale of Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, Babe.
In 2007, Lorbiecki published a children’s book called “Paul Bunyan’s Sweetheart.”
“From the minute I wrote the picture book, I could see it as a musical,” Lorbiecki said. “I kept hoping I could convince someone to write this and no one did. So I took a playwriting class.”
Once she had the words, she needed the tunes. Lorbiecki needed to find a musically inclined partner to take on the composition.
She could never have expected that a senior Hudson High School student would be the perfect person for the job.
It is a summer job like no other.
Before heading off to pursue composition professionally at college this fall, Olson, currently a senior, will build his portfolio, putting his name on a collection of contemporary works combining folk, swing, bluegrass, Celtic, jazz and musical theater for “Lucette!”
Lorbiecki and Olson have made a great team, bouncing ideas off of each other and sharing the creative, fun work style necessary for building an energetic, one-of-a-kind musical.
The two have three songs written so far: “Chop. Split. Build.” “Gotta Get Outta Here,” and “Haven’t You Heard the Tall Tales.”
The summer will be spent nailing down the rest.
In the works
When “Lucette!” received a matching grant from the St. Croix Valley Foundation through its fiscal agent, ArtReach St. Croix, those first three songs were the jumping off point for the “Lucette!” team.
In addition to raising funds for the matching grant, the team also needed to engage in educational opportunities and include people from across the St. Croix Valley.
With Olson still part of the Hudson High School community, he pulled in his choir director, Jaimie Palbicki.
Working with Olson, some of Palbicki’s students underwent a composing workshop, getting a taste for the process and music theory, and helping to craft the music.
At the 2022-23 pops concert, Hudson High School students sang the first three numbers composed for the musical.
With Olson’s animated and captivating ability to describe the music writing process and direct their performance, the students nailed it.
Thanks to the River Channel, the performance is available on YouTube. Watch “Chop. Split. Build” at the 9:50 mark; “Gotta Get Outta Here” at the 39:10 mark; and “Haven’t You Heard the Tall Tales” at the 51:10 mark.
Over the summer, high school students from across the St. Croix Valley will have the opportunity to help put “Lucette!” on stage for the first time.
Hosted at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, professor Kathy Welch will direct the stage-testing workshop, July 5 through Aug. 3, Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to noon.
Performances will take place Aug. 3-5.
The story of ‘Lucette!’
All is not well in the forests where Paul Bunyan and his lumberjacks are cutting trees. Lucette, also a tall tale figure, must flee along with her animal friends. When Paul, with Babe the Blue
Ox, and the lumberjacks come to Lucette’s new home, she and her enormous cow, Nel, are determined to teach them a lesson.
Trouble is, Paul’s fallen in love. Humorous calamities pile up. Will Lucette win the day to save the trees and animals?
It’s a tall tale rendition you won’t want to miss.
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing,” Lorbiecki said. A testament to the neat story and the lively telling.
Paul Bunyan, a French voyager, and other immigrant lumberjacks arrive on Lucette’s home turf in the forest.
One of the songs that features these immigrants is a “whiplash of a ton of different sounds, which is what it would have been like,” Olson said. The goal, Lorbiecki said, is to make the musical adaptable depending on where it is being performed. What immigrants would have been there? Who was native to the land?
Both the indigenous characters and the lumberjack immigrants are reflective of the St. Croix Valley area and the time.
Lucette, for example, is French voyager and Anishinaabe.
Lorbiecki’s goal is to “represent, not appropriate,” she said. She and Olson have been reaching out to organizations, like Native American Student Associations, to make sure they do just that. One of the tips they received and that they will incorporate into the project is a land acknowledgement.
It will read something like, “We are on the original and ancestral homelands of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ Dakhóta peoples. This land holds spiritual and ongoing importance for them, the original stewards and we give thanks for their presence past, present and to come.”
A dream come true
After “Lucette!” takes the stage at the UW-River Falls, its legacy will continue on campus.
As a part-time writer and part-time adjunct professor at the university, Lorbiecki worked with UW-River Falls to create a travel abroad course for the summer of 2024.
Enrolled students and interested community members (if there is room available) will take part in the international debut of “Lucette!” The hope is to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
As Olson and Lorbiecki talk about the musical, they get carried away with plans, ideas and excitement. Their work together is a unique collaboration of talents and dedication.
Sign up for stage-testing
Students interested in participating in the summer staging of “Lucette!” should sign up at signupgenius.com/go/10C094AA5AA2AA 5F8C25-summer to receive more information.
The next step for the project is fundraising in order to match the grant provided by the St. Croix Valley Foundation.
On Thursday, May 18, 5-8 p.m., Hop and Barrel Brewing in downtown Hudson will host a fundraising event for “Lucette!” There will be performances of some of the songs from the musical, a silent auction and of course, beer. You’ll have to try Hop and Barrel’s newly released Paul and Babe’s breakfast ale. The event will cost $15 at the door and include a beer. Cash or check only.
Donations will also be accepted through GoFundMe at gofund.me/b3bc73a1.
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