There is a new storefront in downtown Excelsior with a familiar name: “Don Stolz Productions.” Yes, that Don Stolz, the man identified for seven decades with the Old Log Theater. Stolz still keeps his hand in show business, including a concert series on Mondays at the Old Log, where he regularly welcomes audiences.
“He keeps asking me, ‘When can I introduce you as the new owner?’ ” said Greg Frankenfield. “I told him that’s his night, the Monday night concerts.”
Soon though, most every night will be Frankenfield’s night as he prepares to launch the Old Log, the Twin Cities’ oldest theater and a west metro landmark, into a new era. He’s pumping $500,000 into technical systems, the restaurant, the 11 acres on which the theater sits near Lake Minnetonka and the auditorium. He’s upgraded the ticketing system and promises programming that, while familiar to Old Log audiences, offers new titles and such fresh faces as Stacia Rice, Ann Michels and James Denton.
Frankenfield, CEO and co-founder of Magenic Technologies, has hired longtime friend Kent Knutson as artistic director for the theater. They have seen more than 200 actors in the past three weeks as they prepare for a five-show season to open Sept. 5. During a recent interview, Knutson said he will direct all five, and Frankenfield wondered about that workload.
“I want to direct them all,” Knutson said.
In addition to his new duties at Old Log, Knutson will continue as a consultant at the Minnetonka Arts Center, where he has directed high school and community shows for more than a decade.
Frankenfield’s other primary partner in the enterprise is his wife, Marissa, who wants to transform the restaurant and grounds to attract banquets, weddings and casual dining. She has enlisted David Shea, perhaps the Twin Cities’ premier restaurant architect, to help freshen the interiors.
Eventually, the Frankenfields want to create a destination eatery that has its own identity. As Knutson grumbled under his breath about all these competing activities, Marissa Frankenfield smiled and reminded him, “The theater has to be primary.”
Old, new guard
Frankenfield consummated his long courtship of the Old Log by signing a purchase agreement in early May. He asked two of Don’s sons — set designer and builder John Stolz and stage manager Tim Stolz — to stay with the new company. Tim Stolz is serving as head of operations.
The Old Log, located in Greenwood, has struggled in the past several years, but there was no debt when Frankenfield paid cash for the property, he said. The mailing list had 5,000 corporate clients and 45,000 ticket buyers from the past 10 years. Frankenfield said records showed that ticket sales hit about $1.1 million in 2012. The theater indulges his passion for drama; he has no illusions about making lots of money at Old Log.
“Their goal is to create art,” said Knutson of the Frankenfields.
The vision is to broaden the repertoire, but make shows that appeal to Old Log’s bread and butter — groups that come in by bus. In addition, for the first time, Old Log will offer season subscriptions, made easier and possible by the new Vendini ticketing program.
Also key will be playing off the success Knutson has had with the school and community productions at Minnetonka, which sell about 30,000 tickets annually.
“There is a large audience in the west metro,” Knutson said.
The west metro is home to three of the four major for-profit theaters that operate in the Twin Cities (the Brave New Workshop is the fourth). The Old Log will compete with Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and the Plymouth Playhouse for roughly the same demographic group, right down to the bus business. Hence, Frankenfield and Knutson see the need to expand audience geographically and through individual sales.
“Success will depend on individual ticket buyers and subscribers” as opposed to bus groups, said Frankenfield.
First season ready
The Old Log opens Sept. 5 with “Cowgirls,” a musical about classical musicians who find themselves booked at a honky-tonk bar. Knutson’s cast includes Seri Johnson, Andrea Wollenberg and Summer Hagen. The change in programming is most evident with the second offering of the season, “Rancho Mirage,” which runs Nov. 7-Dec. 7. Former Minnesota playwright Steven Dietz wrote the script about three couples in a dinner party that gets pretty honest — along the lines of “God of Carnage” or “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” A regional premiere, the production stars Denton, the erstwhile hunk from “Desperate Housewives,” along with Rice, Michels, Mo Perry and David Mann.
Knutson indulges his love for musicals with “A Year With Frog and Toad,” for the holidays, Nov. 18-Dec. 29. “Almost, Maine,” a play that is among the nation’s most-produced shows, will try to capture the midwinter audience, Jan. 23-March 29. Carolyn Pool and Natalie Wass are in the cast. The season will conclude April 4-May 17 with the familiar “Steel Magnolias.” The cast includes Jody Briskey, Greta Grosch and Laura Rudolph.
Knutson said the programming is not all that different from the fare Don Stolz had been offering in recent years, with such productions as “The Dixie Swim Club,” “Forever Plaid” and “On Golden Pond.” The addition of the two small musicals and the Dietz play are indications of tweaks that he and Frankenfield want to make.
As Greg Frankenfield walked a visitor around to the many buildings on the grounds — including the old log cabin that gives the place its name — he talked about his dreams for this space and that. In many ways, the tour reveals that Don Stolz’s imprint remains, with props, sets, furniture and scripts piled high in ancillary buildings. Frankenfield notes the Lake Minnetonka regional bike trail that runs within spitting distance of the property. Would it be possible, he muses, to make the Old Log a trailhead or a stopping point? Are the grounds a good picnic location? he asks.
“It’s a little gem in the middle of Greenwood,” he said.