As Paul Hustoles wraps up his final year at Minnesota State University, the MSU theater department will be putting on some of his favorite shows.
Hustoles has been a professor for more than 40 years, and has been at MSU for 35.
“I always get excited. I’m the producer, so I always get excited about the whole season.” Hustoles said.
After spending much of his career at MSU, half of the plays and musicals for the mainstage theater season this year are from Hustoles’s wish list, and he and the rest of the department are excited to put on some of the best shows of the 21st century.
“He’s built a program that is recognized nationally, and it’s because of his tirelessness that this department has succeeded as well as it has,” said Heather Hamilton, the director of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” “He’s given his heart and soul to the program, and I don’t think that anybody will be able to fill his shoes. This year, we kind of wanted Paul to do the shows that spoke deeply to him.”
This season, Hustoles will be directing “Newsies,” “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” and “Shakespeare in Love.”
“I’m really excited about ‘Curious Incident’ just because I think it’s such a stunning play, but I’m equally excited about ‘Newsies’ because that’s the opening play,” Hustoles said.
“Newsies” takes place in the late 1800s. It is the story of a group of boys who sell newspapers to make a living, going on strike after the owner of their newspaper decides to sell them less product for the same amount of money. The story also includes a romance between the head of the newsies and the daughter of the man who owns the paper.
Hustoles is also excited for “Newsies” because it has elaborate dance numbers and will be a bit gender bent, with many female dancers playing males.
As for the other show Hustoles is especially excited for, Hustoles believes that “Curious Incident,” will wow audiences.
“We always do a cutting-edge play, and this year’s is ‘Curious Incident.’ It’s one of those plays that if they see it, they will go, ‘Oh my God,’ and tell all of their friends to come see it,” Hustoles said.
“Curious Incident” is about a boy named Christopher who is on the autism spectrum. A dog is killed in his neighborhood and is found with a pitchfork sticking out of it. Christopher is determined to solve the mystery of who killed the dog. His father forbids him from looking further into the mystery, but despite his wishes this detective work does not cease and ends up turning Christopher’s world upside-down.
“I saw it in London, mainly because my wife had read the book, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God this is the best show in the 21st century that I have ever seen, if not the 20th century,’” Hustoles said.
Hustoles’ wife was formerly a special education teacher, leading this play to hold a special place in his heart.
“This year I had to give up ‘Mamma Mia’ to do the best play of the 21st century, which is ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.’”
Although he was sad to give up on one of his favorite musicals, he is excited for the talent that the university is attempting to bring this year to direct it.
“We’re bringing in somebody with Broadway credentials, hopefully, to do the last show,” Hustoles said.
“Mamma Mia” is one of the most famous broadway musicals. It is the story of a young girl traveling back to a Greek island just before her wedding on a quest to figure out who her birth father is. This musical is known for its songs as it is often referred to as a “jukebox sensation.”
According to university surveys, “Mamma Mia” is currently the show that most people are interested in seeing, which has excited the department. But Hustoles and some of the other directors are encouraging audiences to step out of their comfort zone and see some of the plays they have never heard of.
“We have a professor who is coming in as a managing director, Matthew Caron. He’s shadowing me throughout the year, and I’m teaching him all of the pitfalls to avoid. He will be doing the classic show, and that will be ‘A Doll’s House,’ Hustoles said.”
“A Doll’s House” was known as a scandalous musical when it first came out in the 1800s.
“It’s the story of Nora, who is a Norweigan housewife, and her husband, Trovald, who is a banker,” Caron said. “She’s done some shady things in the past: her husband was sick so she took out a loan to get to the southern part of Italy to get him treatment, and he didn’t know. She did this by forging her father’s signature.”
In a time where women were still largely viewed as property, this play turned a lot of heads when it first came out as Nora navigates the murky waters to do what is best for her family while her husband frets about his reputation and whether or not his wife’s behavior will corrupt their children.
Another classic play, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” is also about women attempting to use their judgment to navigate a tricky situation. Fittingly, this creepy play launches around Halloween.
“There are these two very sweet little old ladies,” Hamilton said. “They are spinster maiden aunts, and they have just spent all of their time doing charity work and volunteering in the community. Then they discover that there are all of these lonely, single old men in the town who come to their house to be boarders who have no family and no happiness and no joy.”
The two women then decide that the most merciful thing to do with these men would be to poison them with arsenic and bury them in the basement, so they do. Although the premise of this musical is rather creepy, the play will have many farcical elements to it, making it a creepy comedy.
Lastly, there will be five studio season plays this year instead of four, one of which is a part two to “A Doll’s House,” which was recently written and shows Nora grappling with a decision she made at the end of the original play. This main and studio stage season is expected to have something for everyone.
“I know they can expect to see a top-quality production. MSU prides itself on top tier work,” Caron said.