By: Arden Harrison-Bushnell
On Presidents Day 2013 Old Log Theater presented a performance of “They Knew Lincoln,” written by Old Log Theater founder Don Stolz. The show was originally produced as a Lincoln Day celebration for the Minneapolis Rotary Club, and since then has been performed throughout the country more than 200 times.
The recent performance on Feb. 18 included not only Stolz but also some other recognized local individuals such as Darel Leipold of Leiopold’s on Water Street in Excelsior and former news anchor Don Shelby, also of Excelsior. Scott Crosbie (inventor of the “Whizbang” sound and music machine), Dr. John Najarian and Anita O’Sullivan rounded out the six-person cast.
This half-dozen very convincing and heartfelt individuals did a spectacular job of recalling how and when they each “knew” Lincoln. Stolz portrayed Lincoln’s law partner, while the others were a storekeeper, a fellow who had witnessed Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, “Mrs. Bixby,” who lost five sons in the war and two newspaper reporters.
Old Log’s Will Kenzie opened the show, which followed a medley of music performed by “The Brian Sundberg String Quartet.” They played music from the times of the Civil War (some composed by Stephen Foster) and other Confederate tunes.
This was a real treat for the audience since lyric sheets were provided for those who wanted to sing along.
Some songs included were “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Camptown Races,” “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” and one of Lincoln’s favorite tunes, “Dixie.” The audience participation was awesome as some just quietly sang along and some all but belted out these memorable tunes from days gone by.
And, all except for laughter, we all sat still for the actual “They Knew Lincoln” presentation.
Stolz’s love for our country shined through a weave of true American history, passion, humor and wit. There were times when other actors were portraying their memories of Lincoln that I detected a sparkle falling from Stolz’s left eye. I had to wonder … is that a twinkle in his eye or a tear?
After all these decades (more than 70 years) of hard work and dedication, he was able to again see it come to fruition — something all artists hope and dream of. That is, to see that which they have created come to life and breathe life into others via any form of art … be it, dance, music, visual or the theater arts.
This was a show that truly roused not only our attention for President’s Day but a form of art that above all brought Stolz’s genius to the fore and enlivened us all. People were saying “They Knew Lincoln” was the frosting on the cake, since they had already seen the Lincoln movie or read the latest book on Lincoln, “Killing Lincoln.”
It was sure a night to remember. Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. What better way to reminisce at Old Log Theater in Excelsior?