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Blockbuster hit musical tackles Glensheen murder mystery with wicked dialogue and evocative music

An heiress, kind and generous, is found dead in her bed. Her night nurse, lying lifeless on the staircase. A robbery? A clumsy break-in? A conspiracy? A scandal!  Witness this dark musical that tackles the tale with wicked dialogue and evocative music. Writer Jeffrey Hatcher and composer Chan Poling “pulled off a spectacular feat with a shamelessly witty script and score (Star Tribune).”

On June 27, 1977, heiress Elisabeth Congdon was found dead in her bedroom in the Glensheen mansion, smothered with a silk pillow. Outside her room, the night nurse, Velma Pietila had been violently beaten to death with a candlestick by an intruder. Marjorie Caldwell, one of Elisabeth’s adopted daughter’s husband, Roger Caldwell, was arrested for the murder and sentenced to prison. What would follow, would become the most talked about murder case in the history of Minnesota. Many books have been written about this event, and the play deals accurately with the history – but more than a book or a newspaper account, Glensheen: The Musical explores human behavior, comments on law enforcement and the justice system, while recognizing that two human lives were taken on the summer night in 1977.


 “What a story!” exclaimed History Theatre Artistic Director Ron Peluso. “Minnesotans are truly intrigued by these bizarre and tragic murders, the long and public trial and a justice system filled with shortcomings. Jeffrey Hatcher and Chan Poling created a compassionate, satirical and entertaining work that took the Twin Cities by storm.”

Jeffrey Hatcher, who penned the critically-acclaimed History Theatre play, A Piece of the Rope (1999-2000), was attracted to the murder mystery aspects of the gruesome tale. It was Hatcher’s wife who shared the story of the brooding mansion, the staircase, the candlestick, the pillowcase, a matriarch, a will, a twisty murder plot and an unending number of unexpected turn of events. A huge fan of the inverted mystery and a writer of Columbo, something Peter Falk told Hatcher resonated with the Glensheen case, “The audience likes to watch the rich, sophisticated, well-dressed murdered with his expensive handcrafted shoes trip up.”

“Glensheen is like an episode of Columbo that has been cast by the Coen brothers. Marjorie and Roger are desperate characters, not so far removed from the world of Fargo,” describes Hatcher. “The play is based on fact, but we play in the realm of fiction. Unlike most plays and films and television series that purport to be fact-based or “inspired by” real life events, we don’t try to confuse the audience and make them think that what we’re telling them is exactly what happened.  In Glensheen, by the time the show is over, you’ll know what was true, what was false and what questions remain.”

Writing the music for Glensheen challenged and inspired Poling in surprising ways, starting with the very concept of telling this “crazy” story through music.  He credits Hatcher for the idea. “Maybe he sensed a melancholic and humorous vein in my music. I immediately got the dark humor and beauty of it. And we both grasped the real human tragedy of it which adds real baseline emotion and immediacy to the work.”

Artist biographies

Jeffrey Hatcher (playwright)

Hatcher’s plays have been produced on Broadway, off-Broadway and at hundreds of theaters throughout the United States and abroad.  History Theater audiences have seen ALL THE WAY WITH LBJ, A PIECE OF THE ROPE, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE (with Mitch Albom), and the Ivey Award-winning TYRONE AND RALPH. He has written the films “Stage Beauty,” “Casanova,” “The Duchess,” and “Mr. Holmes.”  For television he has written for “Columbo” and “The Mentalist.”  He is a core member of The Playwrights Center.

Chan Poling (Composer/lyrics)

Poling is a Minnesota based pop songwriter and performer, and composer of theatrical and film scores. His alternative rock band, The Suburbs, voted among the “100 Most Influential Minnesota Musical Entities of the Twentieth Century” by The Mpls Star Tribune, became a touchstone of the “Minneapolis Sound” in the 1980s. His other group, The New Standards, produces the highly popular The New Standards Holiday Show in theaters and for TV. Among many honors for his work, including an Emmy and a Cine Golden Eagle for his film scores, the Minnesota Music Awards recognized Chan with their lifetime “POP” (Perpetually Outstanding Performer) Award. His work for theater includes “1789”, “Cyrano”, “The Nightingale”, and “Children of Paradise” (Yale Rep, La Jolla Playhouse) for Theatre de la Jeune Lune, & “Heaven” (Winner: Sage Cowles Award) directed by Joe Chvala at the Guthrie Theater. Mr. Poling has another musical-comedy in development, “A Night In Olympus”, also written with Jeffrey Hatcher.