Review-Complicated Fun: the Minneapolis Music Scene-The Minnesota History Theatre in association with McNally School of Music

complicatedfunresizedBy Rebecca Marx

The musical Complicated Fun: the Minneapolis Music Scene is a timely show that takes place in for what was for many of us was the epicenter of music-Minneapolis in the 1980’s. A place in time that was virginal, unspoiled by the music industry and stardom. It sounds so magical, something out of a fairy tale in comparison to the music industry of today. It was, that’s why we look back on it with such nostalgia.

The musical written by Alan Berks and directed by Dominic Taylor is centered around the iconic First Avenue Seventh Street Entry music scene of the 1980’s. The stand out performance is by Josh Carson who portrays First Ave’s legendary general manager/booking agent Steve McClellan. McClellan is a man who doesn’t get what the money men and industry suits want from him, he just wants to book good music. All around him the town is exploding with talent from Prince (whelp) to The Babes in Toyland, and he has had a hand in it all. The musical succeeds in conveying the tension that McClellan experienced on a day to day basis as his baby rose to eminence, and suddenly everyone wanted a piece.

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Second class to being in a band in 1980’s Minneapolis, were those who worked in a record shop. Seriously great gig, you had access to brand new local music, pre-show in store gigs at shops like Northern Lights (Nirvana played there) and a lot of friends because you had the power to hand out passes to the Entry and the Mainroom at your discretion. So much power in the age before the internet!


The bands, you couldn’t go anywhere in Uptown without seeing your favorite band members at area record shops, or just walking down Lyndale Avenue. It was a DIY world and band members lived where they played-support local!

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Those unfamiliar with the politics of the scene may not be privy to the class dynamics during this time, with the affluent patrons of the scene referred to as “Tourists” in the musical. These kids who could come and go from the scene-taking it on but knowing they had a fallback if the music thing didn’t work out. The “Tourist” issue was played to hilarity at times by the talented Andrea Wollenberg who played the part of the “Cousin”-an insider of the scene who introduces her naïve cousin “boy” from Edina to its inner workings.

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The parts of the “boy” and “girl”, played by Bowen Cochrane and Stephanie Bertumen respectively put a personal spin on that class relationship as the two come together over a shared love of local music. Bertumen excels as the plucky “girl”, embodying so many of the young women who dreamed of being onstage. She starts at the bottom-overnight clean up crew at the club, a job that “boy” has some doubts about, questioning her about her long term plans, to which she tells him: “I don’t have a back up plan.” “Boy” loses girl, but “girl” ultimately finds that her hard work pay off as she plays the main stage in the last scene.

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The musical has its “complicated” moments too, as in the scene where Peter Jesperson introduces a tape of the freshly recorded Replacements song “Within Your Reach” to the record store elite. Let’s just say that the song that Paul Westerberg thought would launch him was not exactly received well. There is also the good natured feud that existed between the Huskers and The Replacements’ rabid fans, it seems the two sides just couldn’t see eye to eye that both bands were amazing. Less complex was the reenactment nod to the audio recording of the “Fuck the Police” shout out (rumored to be Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner) that is featured just prior to the punk masterpiece “Kids Don’t Follow” by The Replacements on their 1982 EP Stink.

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It all comes back to the raucous music. The musical is thoroughly punctuated by the live music of Husker Du, The Replacements, Loud Fast Rules (Soul Asylum), Babes in Toyland, The Suicide Commandos (who are currently recording with local phenom Kevin Bowe), Trip Shakespeare and so many more as performed by the skilled band of Nic Delcambre, Blake Foster, Riley Jacobsen, Mitch Benson and Lynnea Doublette. There is a heady amount of tribute given to the late, beloved Prince, an acknowledgement to the huge debt that Minneapolis owes him.

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It is all too simple to argue that it was a microcosm, that the 1980’s music scene is over hyped. If you widen the scope you’ll see that these bands formed in our basements and garages changed the game, they made icons out of our self deprecating heroes and proved to us that the feelings we had were universal, that we weren’t alone. Those songs that elicit mountains of memories when you hear them, their influence lives on in you, in the person you were, and in the person that you are today.

Complicated Fun: the Minneapolis Music Scene, an alternative theater experience to showcase First Avenue

The Minnesota History Theatre in association with the McNally Smith School of Music presents the alternative theater experience until 5/29 with an afterthought discussion series at its Sunday performances.

Go to for full schedule