The Grand Duke Cast

The Principals

Michael Burton  –  Ludwig

This is Michael’s third show with the GSVLOC after playing the role of Bunthorne in the company’s 2012 production of Patience and Leonard Meryl in last year’s The Yeomen of the Guard.  Having finished his undergraduate studies almost three years ago, he finally is getting a vague idea of what he wants to be when he grows up.  In addition to singing in operas, he spends his time writing and arranging music, doing crossword puzzles, and wrangling pop singers.


Sarah Wind Richens  –  Julia Jellicoe

Sarah has been performing with the GSVLOC since 2004.  Her past roles include Lady Psyche in Princess Ida, Yum-Yum in The Mikado, Princess Nekaya in Utopia, Limited, and Patience in Patience.  She has also performed with the GSVLOC and the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra at the Lake Harriet Bandshell as Rose Maybud in Ruddigore, Peep-Bo in The Mikado, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore.  Sarah is very excited to play the role of Julia in this production, because for the first time ever in her forty years of life, she will not be playing an ingénue.  This also marks Sarah’s first production since becoming a mother, and she would like to sincerely thank her husband for functioning as a single dad while she cavorts with a bunch of theater people.


Scott Benson  –  The Grand Duke Rudolph

Twenty-four years ago, Scott auditioned to be in Patience with the GSVLOC because they rehearsed near his house.  Little did he know then that he would still be working with Joe Andrews and this wonderful company all these years later.  Twenty-three year ago, Scott appeared as Rudolf in the GSVLOC’s first production of The Grand Duke.  This was, however, of no help in learning his lines for the show this time around.  By day, Scott is a lawyer… when he is not practicing politics.  Scott served on the Minneapolis City Council from 2002 until 2009.  Hopefully, his constituents appreciated his service more than the residents of Pfennig Halbfennig, although he certainly was “so liberal” and “so highly ornamental” in both positions.


Deb Haas  –  The Baroness Von Krakenfeldt

Cast as a pirate (and understudy to Ruth) in The Pirates of Penzance at the tender age of twelve (her voice was lower than most of the males her age), Deb Haas was bitten by the G&S bug too early to deny its siren song.  With “cat-like tread” she sought opportunities to express her inner battle-axe and was rewarded with the role of Katisha in the Saint Olaf College production of The Mikado.  The die was cast and Deb spent the following years pursuing her noble ambition, portraying spinsterish longing and desperation on stages from Oxford University, England, to Minneapolis, to Houston, Texas and back to Minnesota.  This is her second consecutive show with the GSVLOC (you’ll also find her in cast photos from ’93-’96) and her first time swilling champagne on stage.  One need not even mention the sausage rolls …


Donald Barbee  –  Ernest Dummkopf

Donald is delighted to be given the opportunity to dip once more into the G&S canon, though this time perhaps as fodder; the chance to “play dead” may come only once in a lifetime.  Besides, having previously played a Footman, a Yeoman, a Chancellor, a Pirate and a Poet, an offer to ascend to a Ducal throne is worth such indignities of Gilbertian politics.  Donald has previously enjoyed singing with the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Opera chorus, and currently, with the First Unitarian Society.


Berit Bassinger  –  Lisa

This is Berit’s first show with the GSVLOC, but not her first whack at Gilbert and Sullivan, having had a great time playing Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, from which she graduated in 2013.  Berit is elated to be a part of this lovely and talented group of G&S-aholics.  Aside from singing and acting, Berit’s favorite pastime is writing about herself in third person.  Wow! What a talented, beautiful, and humble young lady.


Waldyn Benbenek  –  The Prince of Monte Carlo

Waldyn has been doing this for a really long time.  His children believe he came ashore with the Pilgrims singing patter songs.  In fact, he did spend much of his youth memorizing Gilbert and Sullivan, though his parents refer to those as the “lost years,” and his siblings refuse to talk about it.  He managed to suppress his tendency to “patter-chorus” during his younger theatrical life.  Upon arriving in the Twin Cities during the second half of the 20th century, he discerned the signals of an underground subculture with operetta tendencies.  They met secretly in a Kenwood basement to form the GSVLOC.  Over the decades, Waldyn has served the company in many capacities, and played in many roles, mostly scoundrels and father figures.  He has also appeared around town with many fly-by-night companies in several questionable venues.  His secret identity is mild mannered computer programmer and husband of Dr. Mary Mescher Benbenek with whom he gets to dance on stage this year.  They have three children who went though a traumatic period when they learned that to “sing choruses in public” is not normal.


Bethany Jackson  –  The Princess of Monte Carlo

Bethany – avid lover of family, friends, and singing – is excited to be making her post-college debut, after graduating from Northwestern College in December, with a major in vocal performance and a minor in theatre.  (The school is technically the University of Northwestern now, but she refuses to call it that, out of stubbornness.)  This is her first legitimate stab at Gilbert and Sullivan, although it should be known that she played Mabel in the baby version of The Pirates of Penzance in Eigth grade (smack dab in the middle of her very substantial awkward stage).  Her favorite role has been Daisy Hilton in Side Show, her favorite book is A Tale of Two Cities, and her favorite thing is following God through this crazy adventure of a life.


Tom Berg  –  The Notary

By day, Tom teaches constitutional law and intellectual property law as a professor and former dean at the University of Saint Thomas School of Law.  Like many other lawyers over the decades, he has an affinity for the absurdly logical mind of the failed barrister W.S. Gilbert.  Tom’s thirst for attention has been unquenched by performing in front of students in the classroom, and he joined the GSVLOC in 2008, appearing since then in several full productions and summer concerts, including turns as Pish Tush in The Mikado and the Boatswain in H.M.S. Pinafore.  He is married to Maureen Kane Berg, who he met in the cast of a student musical comedy production in law school.  He and Maureen co-directed an all-lawyer musical comedy troupe, the Public Offenders, in Chicago; he co-composed the music for Maureen’s musical comedy, Got It Made, which has had two successful Twin Cities runs; and they are at work on another musical.  Their other major collaborative productions are two sons, Brendan and Aidan.


Aaron Rolloff  –  A Costumier

Prior to The Grand Duke, Aaron performed with the GSVLOC in the most recent productions of Patience and The Mikado. He has been in many shows with Bloomington Civic Theatre, including Kiss Me, Kate, Fiorello!, Crazy for You, Damn Yankees and Cabaret.  Aaron plays tuba with the Mark A. David Brass Quintet and recently returned from a concert tour of Brazil with the Saint Paul-based Grand Symphonic Winds.  When he’s not conspiring against Dukes he writes about recent court decisions for Thomson Reuters.  He also likes to sing with his wife, Peggy, and son, Tom.


Jonathan Flory  –  A Herald

The singer from Saint Paul downtown,
      from his condominium high rise
Has come here to rain down on you
      his exquisite tenor sighs.
He teaches code in town,
      professionals young advise,
That singer from Saint Paul downtown
      and his exquisite tenor sighs.

In addition to dabbling in alternate lyrics writing on occasion, Jonathan enjoys performing on the stage in whatever fashion the directors will take him, be that singing, acting, or violining.  Sometimes he also makes up new words to make sure a list of talents all end in “ing”. Jonathan’s first performance upon arriving in the Twin Cities was with this troupe in Ruddigore.  Two of his favorite shows include performing with Table Salt Productions’ original musical, Vampires! Horror! and playing Wally in 1940’s Radio Hour with the Chameleon Theater Circle.  Now that the word count limit for this mini bio has been reached, please enjoy the show.


Beth Gusenius  –  Bertha

This is Beth’s first performance with the GSVLOC, though she has been performing in musical theatre since childhood. Past roles have included Tzeitel in Fiddler On The Roof, Rose Alvarez in Bye Bye Birdie, Cinderella in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and her G&S debut as Ruth in The Pirates Of Penzance.  Beth has also performed with the Minnesota Chorale and University of Minnesota Opera Theatre, and currently serves as the alto section leader at Chapel Hills United Church Of Christ in Edina.  In addition to her experiences as a classical singer, Beth enjoys releasing her inner rock star at various Minneapolis karaoke spots. Her go-to song list includes such diverse artists as Elton John, The Pretenders, Queen, Madonna, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Prince, and Guns N Roses.  She is the reigning champion of Trivia Mafia’s “Unfairaoke.”


Lauren Tompkins  –  Elsa

Lauren is new to the GSVLOC as well as the Twin Cities having relocated here following a brief stint in restaurant management after graduate studies at the University of Iowa.  She has enjoyed getting to know the performing community here though while music directing with Saint Anthony Community Theatre (Singin’ in the Rain) and Morris Park Players (Guys and Dolls) in 2013.  A classically trained singer, Lauren enjoys coaching and performing music of all types-especially rocking out some mean ‘80s karaoke. Favorite roles in musical theatre and opera include Meg Brockie (Brigadoon), Gertie Cummings (Oklahoma), Ronnette (Little Shop of Horrors), Pitti-Sing (The Mikado) and Lady Billows (Albert Herring).  She would also like to thank Joe for finally letting her wear a dirndl! PROST!


Nikki Allen-Rau  –  Gretchen

Nikki is thrilled to be involved in her first GSVLOC production!  Unbeknownst to her, Nikki was reciting Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado in high school as a diction exercise before every show – “To sit in solemn silence on a dull dark dock …” (Her drama teacher would be so proud!) Nikki is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Vocal Performance and Communication Studies and currently works for a law firm in Saint Louis Park.  Nikki has been blessed to team up with Chaska Valley Family Theater and has performed in several productions including White Christmas, The Music Man, It’s a Wonderful Life, and All Hands on Deck.  She has also performed with the University of Minnesota Jazz Band as well as at sporting events for the University, The Minnesota Twins, and The Timberwolves. Nikki is thankful to God, her loving family, and her husband (and high school sweetheart), Matt. “It’s love that makes the world go round!” You said it Gilbert!


Elizabeth Ashantiva  –  Martha

This is soprano Elizabeth’s first G&S show with the GSVLOC, and she’s delighted to be a part of such a vocally talented and funny group of actors.  Originally from Saint Cloud, she just moved back to Minnesota after a long hiatus in Idaho and a short stint in New York City.  She’s sung more than a dozen opera roles, including Nanetta in Falstaff, Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore, Susannah in Susannah, and Frasquita in Carmen.  When she’s not singing operetta, you can find her doling out (well-intentioned) career advice to students at the Minnesota School of Business.


Corissa Leonard  –  Olga

Corissa is delighted to be performing in her first show with the GSVLOC. A native of Wisconsin, this is her third G&S show, with her most recent appearance as a coy school girl in Skylark Opera and Mu Performing Arts collaborated production of The Mikado and as Pitti-Sing at the Twin Cities Opera Guild. She has performed with Minnesota Opera, Houston Grand Opera, as well as The Kenwood Symphony Orchestra of Minneapolis as a winner of the KSO twelfth annual Masters Concerto and Aria Competition. She recently sang with The East Metro Symphony Orchestra under conductor Elizabeth Prielozny Barnes. Other favorite roles include Susanna, Despina, Zerbinetta, Nella, and Barbarina. Corissa studied and performed with The Lyric Opera Studio of Weimar, in Germany for three summers and holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from DePaul University and received her Master of Music in Vocal Performance and Opera Studies from Rice University. Currently, she is on the faculty at The K&S Conservatory of Music in Woodbury and enjoys performing opera, classical and musical theatre around the Twin Cities. She spends any “spare time” wedding planning with her fiancé, Carl, and they have no kind of reluctance to show to embark on their married careers this September in Milwaukee!


The Chorus

Joe Allen

Joe is a recent graduate of Hamline University, where he majored in Theatre Arts, Philosophy and pursued an Education licensure.  A frequent non-equity performer in the Twin Cities, Joe has recently: written music for and performed Shakespeare for Six Elements and Cromulent; danced at the Southern with Collide Theatrical; Fringed it up in a debut play from Grays Players; and worked for the Minnesota Opera as a supernumerary since the start of their fiftieth season.  As an ardent enthusiast of mind, metaphysics, aesthetics, and video games – he strives to be a jack-of-all-performance-trades.  In his fleeting spare time he works for Orion Associates as an Administrative Assistant, and dreams of sleep.


Mary Mescher Benbenek

Mary has been in the GSLVOC, well, for a long time.  Even though The Grand Duke is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s more obscure operettas, this is the third time Mary has performed the operetta with this company.  She is also one of the original creators and carriers of the GSVLOC chicken which made its debut in the first production of this show.  (See if you can spot it).  She is married to company member, Waldyn Benbenek with whom she actually gets to dance in this show.


Eric Brandhorst

Eric is excited to be joining the GSLVOC for this production of The Grand Duke.  Since moving to the Twin Cities in 2012, he has had the opportunity to collaborate on some wonderful projects: A New Brain (Eat Street Players), Singin’ in the Rain (Bloomington Civic Theatre), The Mikado (Mu/Skylark), Reefer Madness (MMT), Cabaret (Lyric Arts).  In addition, other favorite shows include: Cabaret, The Secret Garden, The Music Man, Urinetown, Le Nozze di Figaro, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Das Dreimäderlhaus, Phyllis und Thirsis, and Die Zauberflöte.  In addition, he has participated in music festivals, cabarets, and workshop performances in both the United States and abroad.  He holds a Bacholor of Music in Vocal Performance from Monmouth College and a Master of Music in Opera Performance from Arizona State University.


Jim Brooks

Jim has had the pleasure and privilege of performing with the GSVLOC chorus for the past twenty-one years.  This is his second time through The Grand Duke and he has performed in all of the G&S collaborations, except Trial by Jury (it is just too short for a spring show).  When not doing G&S, Jim is the director of the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers and choreographs dances and calls for Contra Dances.  He also teaches mathematics and many other things at Concordia University – Saint Paul.  Jim’s wife Judy and daughter Julia have been faithful followers of GSVLOC.  They tolerate Jim’s intense rehearsal schedule in the early spring, but always bring friends and acquaintances to enjoy the shows.


Maia Carnicom

Maia does not like writing biographies.  If she did, however, she’d probably say she is delighted to be in this, her first Gilbert and Sullivan operetta!  She’d also likely mention that, in the past, she’s been involved with the Hutchinson Theatre Company in her childhood home of Hutchinson, Minnesota. There she was in such shows as Bye, Bye Birdie, Gilligan’s Island: the Musical, and Fiddler on the Roof.  Lastly, she would definitely talk about the things she likes to do in her free time, which includes playing video games, drawing pictures, and listening to her husband make up ridiculous songs about everyday life.  Enjoy the show!


Will Dierenfield

This is Will’s first show with the GSVLOC, and his first Gilbert and Sullivan show.  In fact, it is his first big-people real adult types show ever!  He sang in choir and acapella at Macalester College, graduating in 2013, but has not appeared in a show for four years, so is excited to incorporate facial expressions and body motion with singing once more.  Will joined the GSVLOC to meet people who use words like “jackanape” in casual conversation, and has been delighted at the warm and enjoyable ambiance the cast exudes.  When not tripping over lyrics in rehearsal, Will loves to play soccer, read, write poetry (badly), and volunteer at an elementary school.


Clyde Gerber

Clyde is delighted to be performing in his second show with the GSVLOC, having performed in 2012’s Patience.  He performs regularly with the Metropolitan Men’s Choir.  Clyde has appeared in the University of Minnesota Opera Theatre’s productions of Elmer Gantry and Falstaff and is a student in Thaxter Cunio’s voice studio at the MacPhail School of Music. He has two sons, Adam and Russell, of whom he is extremely proud.  When not performing, Clyde enjoys the well-shaped reasoning of his wife, Nancy, and the companionship of their dog, Guthrie.


Mary Gregory

Mary has been performing with the GSLVOC half of her life! … and yet this is her first time performing the thoroughly charming The Grand Duke.  Many of Gilbert’s lyrics have intrigued her over the years, with their cunning word plays and antic rhyming.  She was delighted to hear the plans for a Dr. Seuss theme for this year’s production!  What an appropriate scheme!  The chorus must sing rapid patters throughout the whole show.  To give you an idea of the complexity of that, please read and try to repeat the following Dr. Seuss quotes from Mary’s favorite Dr. Seuss books, Fox in Sox … “When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles … they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle.” … and The Cat in the Hat …”I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.”  Mary hopes that you enjoy this show, and that, even though it has been a long, cold, icy winter….your laughter will warm you to your toes!


Stephen Hage

Stephen is thrilled to be appearing in his third production of The Grand Duke … believing that he, and a small number of his GSVLOC friends, are very likely the first actors in history to do so!  Whether that’s the case or not, Stephen is confident that he is the first actor ever to play the pivotal role of the supernumerary, Viscount Mentone, in three different productions of The Grand Duke!  (Okay, okay … it’s only two lines … but there are no small parts, only small actors!)  As it happens, Stephen actually performs regularly as a supernumerary with Minnesota Opera, including last season’s productions of Nabucco and Turandot, and this season’s production of Manon Lescaut, in which he appeared as a French Soldier who beat up the lovely and talented Kelly Kaduce, and Macbeth, in which he played a servant, soldier, refuge, zombie and Duncan, the doomed King of Scotland!  As for his lifelong passion for Gilbert and Sullivan … it began in the eighth grade, when Stephen played Sir Joseph Porter in a middle school production of H.M.S. Pinafore and it has carried him through the years to this staging of The Grand Duke, which is his thirty-third appearance in a G&S production … but then, who’s counting!  Stephen dedicates this, and all that he does, to his delightful daughters, Lyndsay, Madeleine and Maya … to his sweet son, Liam … and to his lovely and loving wife, Lara.


Shawn Holt

This is Shawn’s eighth show with the GSVLOC.  She is very sorry that she doesn’t have anything funny or clever to say, but she does enjoy cooking, crocheting and knitting when not performing on stage.  Shawn lives in Shoreview with her husband Phil, daughter Amanda and cat Shadow, and is looking forward to spring if it ever comes.  She hopes you enjoy the show.


Julia Knoll

Julia is thrilled to be performing again with the GSVLOC.  Her love of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas was born while singing patter songs with her father on long road trips. Previous roles with GSVLOC include chorus member in The Yeomen of the Guard, Lady Angela in Patience, Ruth in Ruddigore, and singing the part of Pitti-Sing in the summer concert performance of The Mikado.  Julia has performed in various other musical theater productions with Morris Park Players, Chameleon Theatre, and the Northfield Arts Guild. When she isn’t “exhibiting her fairy form” on stage, she works in the department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.


Holly MacDonald

As a long time company member, this is Holly’s third time performing The Grand Duke and she has finally figured out the plot!  Despite the fact that she is “not new to the part” the alternative lyrics have been a challenge to learn, but despite the challenges, this show remains a personal favorite with the silly story line and lovely music.


Charlotte Morrison

Charlotte has been with the GSVLOC since its second rehearsal – ever!  During her tenure as a member of the chorus, she has given birth to a child, raised four children (all now married), and become a grandparent (six and counting!).  She has served on the Company’s Board and now has the dubious honour of managing the box office (now you know whom to blame!).  Charlotte’s original introduction to G&S was in high school as a member of the jury in Trial by Jury.  She has performed with the GSVLOC in all of the operettas written by Gilbert and Sullivan.  During the off-season, she enjoys singing with the Saint Mark’s Cathedral Choral Society and is gradually working her way through the list of “One Thousand Places to See Before You Die.”


John Orbison

This is John’s eighth stage production with the GSVLOC, beginning with Princess Ida in 2006.  Since the mid 90’s, he has also sung in most of the summer shows at Lake Harriet. All of which, of course, make him a relatively new member of this august company.  He is blessed to be the husband of GSVLOC alto Holly MacDonald, brother of GSVLOC rehearsal accompanist Jean Van Heel (his original GSVLOC connection), and father of Tom and Ann, veteran audience members, and is grateful for their support.  And it should be obvious that he is blessed to be performing with his wonderful and talented GSVLOC friends, old and new!


Eric Pasternack

In real life, Eric is a peripatetic petrophysicist.  Nobody knows what a petrophysicist is, so he does other more recognizable things for fun, such as singing the second tenor part in the GSVLOC chorus and doing whatever the director tells him to do on stage.  Eric’s first G&S experience was in 1963 as Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard.  Despite that auspicious start, he stayed off the stage for thirty years before joining the chorus of the (late) Texas Gilbert and Sullivan Company from 1994 to 1998.  He joined the GSVLOC in 2000 after moving to the great state of Minnesota.  (Note for the curious: a petrophysicist evaluates data from oil and gas wells in order to determine how much oil and gas is really down there.  Most petrophysicists live in places like Texas, Russia, the UK, and the Middle East.  Eric is the only one he knows of in Minnesota.  If only we could find some oil and gas here, he wouldn’t have to be so peripatetic).


Richard Rames

Richard enjoys “singing choruses in public” and has appeared in the chorus of every performance of the GSVLOC at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center since the first production of Patience in 1980 (he’ll reach the 400 performance mark sometime this run).  He also sings regularly in other groups, including the Saint Mark’s Cathedral Choral Society and the Heinrich Schütz Winetasting Homeschool, as well as singing along with his player piano.  This is his third production of The Grand Duke.


Rhea Sullivan

Rhea, no know relation to Sir Arthur Sullivan, actually married into the Sullivan name over a quarter century ago. She found a Sullivan in the GSVLOC (Steve) in 1982 and snapped him up as quickly as possible (1984).  She and Steve have two children with the surname of Sullivan, one a G&S-ophile (Brianna May – Assistant Stage Manager for this production) and one a G&S-ophobe (Jack Frederick – who is named for Jack Point and Frederic, but who stays as far away from the stage as possible).  This marks Rhea’s thirty-second year with the company and her third production of The Grand Duke.


Tamara Titsworth

Tamara is thrilled to be performing in her first GSVLOC production and (believe it or not) her first ever G&S show! After studying Theatre Arts and Music at Concordia College Moorhead, she moved to the big city to join the Twin Cities theatre community.  She has been lucky enough to work with: Skylark Opera, Minnesota Opera, Freshwater Theatre, Savage Umbrella, Urban Samurai and Loudmouth Collective. She has held any temp job you can imagine and is in the process of starting up her own children’s party entertainment company, which (fingers crossed) will launch this coming summer!  Tamara wants to thank the GSVLOC for the warm welcome into their delightful and talented family.


Felix Aguilar Tomlinson

The Grand Duke will be Felix’s inaugural G&S performance and he couldn’t be more pleased with his experience!  Though this is his first show with the GSVLOC, he’s been somewhat of a regular “ghoest” in the Howard Conn performance space this year, having participated in Youth Performance Company’s And Then They Came for Me as an actor and Junie B. Jones as light board operator.  He will be returning to the space in May as Rueben in YPC’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.


Holly Windle

Actor, writer, former arts administrator and member of the Northwodes chapter of The [P.G.] Wodehouse Society, Holly happily supplied a few song lyrics for the new operetta-company setting used in this production of The Grand Duke. Current writing projects include more entries for the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form and a memoir of a 96-year-old Minneapolis pediatrician.  Her 2008 biography of Iraq’s foremost classical pianist, Baghdad Barcarolle, may be obtained from Amazon or from a box in her attic.  Performing with the GSVLOC provides a fine contrast to – as well as inspiration for – Holly’s acting work in crisis intervention training for the Barbara Schneider Foundation where she portrays people with mental illness. She has performed recently with Theatre Terra Firma, Gadfly, and Eat Street Players, and sporadically attends the Guthrie’s Actors Workout.  She is looking forward to participation in a new web series, Adventures in WilliamWorld, about an imaginary Minnesota Shakespeare-themed faire.