ELY, MINN. – Like the legend herself, Dorothy Molter’s story keeps on giving. This time, the audience has to trek indoors to learn about the outdoors. The robust, hilarious and touching moments of Molter’s life have been highlighted in the stage production, “Root Beer Lady: The Musical.”
Earlier this year, two Outdoor Weekend stories featured Molter’s impact on people and the Knife Lake region of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) where she lived for more than 56 years. Her tender heart and grit affected many lives. Many people knew her as the Root Beer Lady for her famous homemade root beer. Her story also paralleled major environmental and legislative changes, including establishing the BWCA.
The song-and-dance version of Molter’s life was written by Barb Cary Hall. It’s based on the book, “Root Beer Lady” by her father, Bob Cary, a longtime friend of Molter. Hall also composed four of the songs and adapted others.
Show director Peta Barrett explained that the one-act musical comes alive through rear-screen photo projections of Molter’s actual life and scenes performed on stage.
The show is peppered with colorful characters who comprised Molter’s circle of friends, family and neighbors. They flavor Northwoods life with tunes like “Black Fly” and “Kwitchurbeliakin,” Molter’s signature phrase for when the going got tough.
The story line also addresses Molter’s struggle with the federal government requiring her to abandon her home due to the Wilderness Act of 1964. After a long court battle, she was permitted to remain. One all-important number, “Copper Kettle,” describes how Molter avoided the legal agreement that prevented her from conducting commerce in the BWCA.
Cast and crew members are Ely-area residents. Some knew Molter and her home well, which has bolstered historical accuracy. “People who are still alive today … were out there,” Barrett said. “So attention to detail gets kind of important.”
The production received three grants, used in part to procure rear-screen projection equipment. The long-term vision of the project includes producing the show annually and taking it on tour. The Dorothy Molter Museum in Ely provided archival photos featured in the performance.
The 90-minute musical is family-friendly and will be performed Aug. 3-6 in Ely’s Washington Auditorium. For details and tickets, visit brownpapertickets.com. A portion of all ticket sales will be used to support the museum.
Scott Stowell is a freelance writer and photographer from Ely. He can be reached at email@example.com.