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Twilight Hour's rock, theater show comes to Sheldon

Veteran Minnesota musicians John Munson and Matt Wilson and the rest of The Twilight Hours band will perform “Jerome of the Snake” March 29 at the Sheldon Theatre. Submitted photo

"Jerome of the Snake" takes elements of a rock concert, theater and storytelling and puts them together in a way that has not previously been seen on the Sheldon Theatre stage.

The show's uniqueness is not uncommon for the Sheldon's Enlighten series, which makes a practice of introducing local audiences to innovative, unexpected performances.

"Jerome of the Snake" is a new production created by The Twilight Hours, a Minnesota band led by veteran music-makers John Munson and Matt Wilson. It will be performed at 7:30 p.m. March 29 at the Sheldon.

Sheldon officials described it as an "unexpected show (that) blends the vivid storytelling and distinct characters of Wilson's songs with illuminating theatrical scenarios performed by a small acting company on a unique set."

Munson explains that it has elements of a musical, but it doesn't use songs as the vehicle to propel the story. Instead, it uses the songs — rock songs ­‑ to "illuminate the emotional context of the story."

The project reflects the two musicians and their outlook on their lives and their music.

"Matt (Wilson) and I have been around the block," Munson said. "We are mature artists" who have been performing — mostly together — for more than 30 years.

They were 19 when they met in the mid-1980s and began collaborating in a Minneapolis band. For a decade they toured the country as members of Trip Shakespeare. Later Munson was part of the trio Semisonic, and he also established the jazz trio The New Standards, which has performed at the Sheldon.

Wilson and Munson became the duo The Twilight Hours in 2007, but they were soon nudged to expand the band. In 2016 that group released "Black Beauty."

After years of performing together, Munson said, "You come to reflect on what it is you have made with your work, and where you are in your career."

When they were working on "Black Beauty," he added, they were inspired to try something new after seeing Chris Larson's creative take on an opera. Larson, a set designer and currently a Guggenheim Fellow, created multiple stages on which various scenes from the opera unfolded.

Working in collaboration, they developed that concept for a record release party with "floating" stages on which the musicians played and actors presented vignettes.

Building further on that idea, they came up with a show that involves those elements but in a production with a storyline instead of isolated scenes.

The story revolves around two musicians — one who is toward the end of his career and one who is a fresh new artist. The older character is trying to figure out how to make a living at music; the younger is trying to figure out how to make his dreams come true, Munson said.

"Jerome of the Snake" is a symbolic image used in the play; it's also the name of the band the young singer wants to form.

Munson and Wilson will be joined by Dave Salmela on keyboards, Steve Roehm on guitar and Jacques Wait on lead guitar. Acting out scenes will be Dane Stauffer, John Catron and Lillian Noonan.

Drawing from their own body of music led to an interesting realization. "The themes were all there in the songs," most of which were written by Wilson, he explained.

"The way it works," Munson said, is that the actors do a scene, then the musicians perform "a song that lends perspective. ... These two strands weave in and out, the lyrical and the dramatic."

Munson also promised a "visually interesting" stage with shadow play and "things that are there but you never actually see."

Creating and revising the show for the stage has required a huge effort. However, he said, "This was worth it. We made a thing that's truly interesting and makes poetical sense."

The band is looking forward to giving the show its third performance in Red Wing. "The Sheldon is one of my favorite places to perform," Munson said.

They also anticipate an interesting morning at Red Wing High School, where The Twilight Hour will do outreach with band and music students.

"It's important that kids see artists that are working," Munson said. Since art is different from other jobs in society, their visit will let young people "see artists up close and realize maybe there's a pathway for them in the creative arts. They can live their dream, their creativity — and make a living out of it."

Tickets to "Jerome of the Snake" are $20 or Kids Play Free, which means a child under 14 will get in free with a paid adult admission. Visit the box office, call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.

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