Retired Lawyer Writes Musical For His First Minnesota Fringe Show

During his long career as a lawyer, John Orenstein has regularly found a creative outlet by working on the Purim spiels at both Shir Tikvah and Beth El, as he and his wife are members of both. But now retired with more time on his hands, Orenstein is expanding his repertoire, creating the musical “Extreme Roadshow” for the upcoming Minnesota Fringe Festival.

The show is being performed at the Phoenix Theater (2605 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis) from Aug. 6-10. 

The idea stemmed from the deaths last year of two colleagues and Orenstein’s father.

“I started just thinking I really should do the things that I’ve always said I was going to do, and that I know I would love to do,” he said. “And one of them was writing a musical.”

The cast of the Minnesota Fringe show "Extreme Roadshow" rehearses at Shir Tikvah.

The cast of the Minnesota Fringe show “Extreme Roadshow” rehearses at Shir Tikvah.

He was watching “Antiques Roadshow” and thinking about the antique clocks that his father left him that the family didn’t really want.

“I said to [my wife] Debbie, ‘You know, someone should a musical about this,” he said. “Now is the time to not just walk away from ideas like this. So I started with the clocks and it just kind of went on from there and it became something with themes and a story. It just sort of happened.”

The show, like all Fringe performances, comes in at just under an hour. 

“Fringe was the perfect opportunity, because I could do a one-act musical without a lot of expectations about budget, set, and design,” he said. “Fringe makes it possible for a newbie like me to do something in a reasonable way.”

Writing comedic songs isn’t new for Orenstein. He and his wife started writing original songs for Purim spiels because he was tired of the typical parody songs. 

“Debbie and I also wrote comedy songs since about 1987,” he said. “We would get out a song every year or two, and perform in a comedy cabaret sort of venue.” 

They’ve performed at Lanesboro Arts in southeastern Minnesota at a “Prairie Home Companion”-type show called “Over The Back Fence,” where they’ve been repeatedly invited back to perform. But working with actors of the caliber that he is for this show is different.

“There are 10 songs – it’s a lot of music – and they sing it beautifully,” he said. “I haven’t really had that experience before.”

Music rehearsals started in late June, before moving into the staging and choreography.

“They pick the stuff up and retain the knowledge like I guess maybe my brain worked that way in my 20s but I can’t remember,” he said. “I’m really feeling very pleased. It’s hard as the writer to remember that it’s a collaborative effort. And so we’re at the stage now where the director (Barbara Wiener) is really in charge. I’m trying to leave the room more often.”