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Music and laughter in store at Jasper's

Auntie Kreamsaugen (Darlene Rolle) and her "boyfriend," Jack Sand, add humor to Jasper's line-up of northwoods summertime entertainment. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)1 / 2
Daniel Brekke, 14, a self-taught fiddler, has been on the stage since the theater's inception. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)2 / 2

Four generations of Johnsons and friends will set toes tappin', fingers snappin' and tickle funny bones again this summer, Jasper's Theater now open for its sixth season.

"Those were the days..." is this year's theme for the show. The audience is taken back to the black and white television era to revisit Mr. Ed, the Flintstones, the Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith and, of course, Archie Bunker.

Add the music for which the family is renowned - classic country, gospel, old- time waltzes, swing and, yes, yodeling - some magic and hee haw humor and the entertainment repertoire is complete.

"We want to see Park Rapids thrive in the hospitality industry," Kathie Johnson Brekke, theater director, explained.

"Theaters make the Park Rapids area," she said, citing the Woodtick in Akeley (where the family performed in its first season), Northern Light Opera and Long Lake Theater.

"We want to be part of this community and support the arts," said the adjunct professor of music at Concordia College. "We feel gifted as a family. We've been blessed with talent."

Brekke credits her grandparents, Silas and Katie Hilde, with instilling the love of music.

And the late Dee Johnson earns family accolades for inspiring them to share their musical talents.

"We're here to use our God-given gifts," she told her children.

When Dee Johnson was diagnosed with cancer, approximately seven years ago, "she wanted to see the family together," Brekke said of her mother.

Doctors gave Dee a dire prognosis, just days to live.

But the show, providing inspiration, proved the doctors wrong.

"I want to live," she told her children, including daughter Lynette Johnson Guida, Jasper's owner and producer.

Dee would live to enjoy the show's first season. "She's an inspiration to us all," Brekke said, " part of every song."

And, as a further tribute, humor is integral to the mix. Wry, eclectic wit was Dee Johnson's signature.

"This is a ministry for people needing laughter," Brekke said. "Laughter is the best medicine."

"It takes a village to do this," Dee Johnson had counseled and the family adheres to this bit of advice. Many of the ideas for the show emerge from the family sitting around a campfire. Rehearsals, come winter, are held via Skype.

The Jasper's cast includes four generations of the family, including Auntie Kreamsaugen (Darlene Rolle, Dee's sister), siblings, spouses and kids, as well as friends.

"We feel we've been successful in our mission," Brekke said, noting last season was a turning point in attendance. "And we're looking forward to a great season.

"There is no greater way to honor her than to pass down the heritage of music," Brekke said of her late mother. "We create probably the most unique show this side of Branson. It's magic, music, comedy and the fastest yodeler ever."

Jasper's Theater is located one mile east of Park Rapids on Highway 34. Show times are 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 7 p.m. Saturdays. The season runs through Saturday, Aug. 21, with a 3 p.m. season finale.