I sat in the balcony to watch a preview (or Sponsor Night) performance of The Music Man by the Duluth Playhouse at the Norshor Theatre. The performance was enjoyable, the text is enjoyable, if complicated for the 21st century, and as this was my first trip into the new Norshor, I have some thoughts about that.
Back in January, Don Ness emailed me something like, “Hey, Anna. I’m hosting a party at the NorShor Theatre on March 3 and I’d like you to tell some stories. Would you do a reading?”
Ness, as you probably know, is the former mayor of Duluth and, as you might not know, a positive master of understatement. I figured he was inviting me to perform at a little reading party. You know, 50 people or so in the NorShor’s mezzanine. And then a friend of mine messaged me a poster for a Low concert in the NorShor’s 632-seat theater. I zoomed in to see the date, to see if I could go, and saw MY NAME ON THE BOTTOM OF THE POSTER — and I, embarrassed and panic stricken that my name had somehow gotten on the bottom of this poster, looked at the date, and was like, “And I can’t even do it then, because I’m gonna be at Don Ness’s party!” Took me like ten seconds to figure out this was the thing Don had invited me to. Lord.
The truth is, when Don asked, I responded that it meant a lot for me to be a part of such an event — and I knew he knew exactly what I meant by that. I was honored to do it. The following is a transcript of what I read to that 632-person crowd.
“It’s going to be a busy year for Deaner,” the article notes. “She’s involved with a TBA project at the soon-to-reopen NorShor Theatre, and Superior Siren are launching their new album with a series of shows in January. What’s more, Deaner’s joining the Minnesota Music Coalition board of directors with the hope to ‘help bridge the gap between the metro and the North Shore.'”
The Growler is a monthly craft-culture magazine published out of St. Paul.
[Editor’s note: Duluth’s NorShor Theatre has been closed for more than seven years. It will reopen in February when the new operator, the Duluth Playhouse, launches its production of “Mama Mia.”
The NorShor, of course, has a long and storied history, including a stretch from 2006 to 2010 when it operated as a strip club called the NorShor Experience.
For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Ten years ago he paid a visit to the NorShor and published this bawdy report for Duluth’s weekly Transistor.]
Big Lips has the method down.
Every 10 minutes or so, he rises from where he’s been sitting alone at a table in the corner. Then, with his hands casually in the pockets of his camouflage jacket, he simply takes a little stroll, puckering his big fat lips and whistling as he looks to the left and to the right and behind him, making sure that no one is videotaping him or that his wife isn’t standing behind him ready to clobber him with a frying pan. Eventually, he makes it the 10 or 15 feet to the stage where some naked chick is grinding her life away. “Well,” he appears to suggest, “as long as I’m on my stroll, I might as well tip this stripper.”
This documentary by Bill Draheim follows Mike Watt and his band at the time, the Jom and Terry Show, as they drive into Duluth and load in for a performance at the NorShor Theater on May 28, 2002. They tour the old R. O. Carlson’s bookstore, do some sightseeing in Canal Park and spend the night at Shaky Ray Records before heading south for shows at the Turf Club in St. Paul and the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis.
Watt wrote extensively about the tour, and the Duluth stop, on his “Our Oars Became Wings” Tour 2002 Diary. He marvels in the diary and in the film about seeing Lake Superior for the first time. He also mentions in the diary getting a tour of “the secret tunnels” under the NorShor and how it “feels haunted down there.”
At a May 31 news conference, Duluth Playhouse Executive & Artistic Director Christine Gradl Seitz showed off a canvas painting discovered by workers busy renovating the NorShor Theatre. The Duluth News Tribune reports the painting was “behind a suspended ceiling that was installed in 1941 when the existing Orpheum Theatre was converted into the NorShor. The grand theater’s original balcony had been concealed and transformed into a makeshift attic. But Gradl Seitz said a careful exploration of the space revealed ‘this beautiful mural, which we believe dates back to 1910, and the original Orpheum.'”
The NorShor is expected to open in early 2018; the Playhouse has a run of the musical Mamma Mia scheduled for Feb. 8-24. Renovation work is about 60 percent complete.
The theater was purchased by the Duluth Economic Development Authority in June 2010 for $2.6 million. The $30.5-million renovation began in summer 2016. It is a partnership between Sherman Associates and DEDA. The 750+ seat theater will serve as an arts center managed by the Duluth Playhouse.
This photo was found in the Duluth Playhouse‘s archives. The kids, enjoying concessions at the NorShor movie theater in what appears to be the 1960s, are listed as: “Sandy Audio? Atto, Otto, Ottio? 5 years” and “Judy Hanson 8 years.”
The deal to restore Duluth’s historic Norshor Theatre has finally come together, and renovation work is underway. Last week, WDSE-TV‘s Almanac North hosts Dennis Anderson and Julie Zenner discussed the project with Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Duluth Playhouse Executive and Artistic Director Christine Gradl Seitz.
It was ten years ago — May 24, 2006 — that the NorShor Theatre first hosted exotic dancers, with two simple words on the marquee: “Live Girls.” Later, the words “Adult Club” would appear above the theater’s new business name: the NorShor Experience.
The announcement in 2013 that the NorShor Theater’s “tower marquee will rise again” appears to have been overly optimistic. During the Duluth City Council’s debate and 8-1 approval of plans to renovate the historic theater, Councilor Joel Sipress noted:
“The tower is not part of this restoration. There is some talk of maybe that being a future endeavor. [I] just don’t want anyone to be disappointed that when this is done the tower isn’t there. So I just thought I would share that with the public.”
Video of the full council debate and public comments is above. Sipress’ brief mention of the tower is at the 37:07 mark.
The city of Duluth announced in a news release today the restoration Duluth’s historic NorShor Theatre could begin before the end of 2015, with a grand reopening expected in mid 2017, now that the project has finalized its funding sources.
David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, shared details with the City Council during its Monday committee-of-the-whole meeting. He said none of the funding will come from property taxes.