HASTINGS STAR GAZETTE 2016

Professional musical comes to Hastings June 1-5, features the life and works of two Hastings artists

By Katrina Styx on May 14, 2016

Last June, two Hastings artists sat in a Minnetonka theater and watched their own friendship and art play out on a stage, acted out by a group of professional actors. It was the first showing of “Lemonade for the Lawnboy: The Musical!”, a musical comedy with a bit of drama that is inspired by the life and work of Hastings residents David Cook and Janet Letnes Martin and featuring Cook’s own artwork.

It was exciting and at the same time a little uncomfortable, they said, but the audience’s response to the show has left them eager to continue sharing their story.

“I felt real validated every single show,” Cook said.

The Minnetonka showing was what producer Greta Grosch called an “out-of-town tryout.” Now, the musical is coming to Hastings. It will be performed June 1-5 in downtown Hastings at the Hastings Arts Center.

The show features Twin Cities actors Roxanne Britz, Shana Eisenberg, Wendy Short Hays, Robbie Manicina, Tina North, Gail Ottmar, Janet Paone and Edward Williams, who bring years of professional and award winning acting experience to the Hastings production.

According to the show’s synopsis, the musical “explores the magical and often tangled intersection between the genius of art and the self-destruction of addiction.” It follows David, the Lawnboy, a recovering addict, who creates several upper crust “ladies” out of found objects and interacts with them in his colorful, musical imagination. In contrast, the audience will see David’s black and white, non-musical reality, where he lives with Janet, a widow who took him in. The show highlights the unlikely friendship between the two, as well as what happens when David’s artistic world and his reality start to collide.

People who see the show will see themes of overcoming loss, loneliness, pain and grief.

“We are all trying to overcome these moments,” Grosch said.

But it also shows the beauty of art and friendship, as well as healing.

While the musical is based on the very real lives and friendship between Cook and Letnes Martin, not every aspect of the show is true to life. Some pieces have been fictionalized, Grosch explained.

“It is our job, also, to make their story universal,” she said.

The show has been about eight years in the making, Cook said. Cook, who is well known locally for his “flowerbombing” art displays and vine sculptures, worked with Letnes Martin to write the book “Lemonade for the Lawnboy.” They approached Grosch in 2007 and asked her to convert the book into a musical.

Since the show’s debut in Minnetonka last summer, Grosch and her team have been refining the show. There are two new actors playing David and Janet; the pair has a 25-year history on and off the stage, which allows them to bring a personal dynamic to their performance. The show has rearranged some of the show’s flow and honed in on what the story is really about, Grosch said, as well as each individual character arc. After the Minnetonka showing, the team asked for feedback from their audience and used that to help refine the production. The most important question, Grosch said, was “how can we tell the story even better.”

The set design was not only based on Cook’s own artwork, it also features Cook’s actual work. The set is inspired on Cook’s real-life art studio and while Letnes Martin’s daughter was the costume designer, it was Cook who embellished them. Grosch likened his work on the set to that of an interior designer; he didn’t build the set, but he did give it its unique look. Other pieces of Cook’s artwork also find their way onto the stage.

Local production

“Lemonade for the Lawnboy: The Musical!” comes to Hastings with the help of the Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council (HPAAC). Because Hastings is where the real story of Cook’s and Letnes Martin’s friendship took place, it’s an ideal location to present the musical.

“It’s an important part of the story to bring it here,” Grosch said.

But it also makes this showing a particularly sensitive one. HPAAC board member Bill Spinelli applauded Cook’s and Letnes Martin’s courage in having the show display their lives in their hometown. There’s a certain vulnerability in opening up one’s life in such a way, he said.

Spinelli is excited to bring a professional production such as this one to Hastings. It’s one of the first steps toward an exciting HPAAC goal: to make Hastings as well known for its art and performance as Chanhassen.

“This is no accident,” Spinelli said.

Coinciding with the musical will be two art shows featuring Cook’s artwork. One will be held at BreakAway Arts on May 26, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. The show will have beer and wine as well as signature lemonade and recipes from the book, “Lemonade for the Lawnboy.”

The second art show will be in the lobby at the Hastings Arts Center during the show’s run, June 1-5. There, his work will be on display and available for purchase.

For more about the show, go to www.lawnboymusical.com.