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Passer rocking Duluth Playhouse stage

By Staff | Jan 29, 2017

Once an aspiring actor from Blue Earth Area High School, Garrett Passer, right, sings in the Duluth Playhouse’s ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ Photo by Nicole Modeen/The Duluth Playhouse

Now Blue Earth can say Garrett Passer got his acting and singing start on the Blue Earth Area School stage. Now Passer, 25, and a former BEA?student, is storming the stages of Duluth.

He recently played the role of Pharaoh during the winter production of the Duluth Playhouse’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” However, there is a bit of a Duluth twist on this classic musical.

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree with a vocal emphasis and a minor in theatre from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, Passer began singing in small ensemble groups around Duluth including chamber music and vocal jazz.

“I’ve always been the one to jump up and just dive into any kind of acting or even just performing in general,” says Passer. “I use this as a way to get to know more people like me who love this stuff as much as I do. I’ve met so many wonderful people by immersing myself in this culture everywhere I have been and that is so special to me.”

So how did Passer work his way up to the stages of the Duluth Playhouse? Pretty easily, actually.

Photo by Nicole Modeen/The Duluth Playhouse

“Duluth is really cool and actually, anyone can audition for any show as long as it’s age appropriate,” says Passer. “There is something for all ages.”

During Passer’s time at the U of M Duluth, he noticed the Duluth Playhouse putting on performances of other critically acclaimed musicals such as “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” “Les Miserables,” “Avenue Q,” “Rocky Horror” and many others.

“Because I was such an avid music major and involved in at least five ensembles at all times and then as much theatre at school as I could soak up, I never really got around to performing there during my first years in Duluth,” says Passer.

It was not until his last semester of college where he chanced upon being cast in “Guys &?Dolls.”

“They needed an extra high tenor to sing this fun Havana solo and then perform in the chorus where I got to be super obnoxious and play the piccolo the entire time,” he says. “It was so fun. My piano accompanist for voice lessons that particular semester happened to be the music director of ‘Joseph’ and let me in on the school. I did a quick audition and was cast, and I have been hooked since then.”

Photo by Nicole Modeen/The Duluth Playhouse

When Passer is not delivering his soulful songs on the stage, he works as the store manager of Ragstock in downtown Duluth. He lives there with his boyfriend, Drew, and their two cats, Bear and Gizmo.

The Duluth Playhouse is a nonprofit production group that thrives off of sponsorships for funding. It has been a staple in the Duluth community since 1914 and is one of the nation’s oldest community theaters. Over 40,000 people attend a Playhouse show each season, with visitors coming from across the world.

“The fact that these sponsors donate so much money to support the arts up here is incredible,” says Passer.

So, what’s the twist? Only three of the actors on the stage maintained the same character from start to finish. They were the narrator, Joseph and Jacob, the Father of Israel. Passer not only portrayed the part of Pharaoh, but he was also Judah for a good portion of the piece.

“Everyone else in the cast were multiple characters,” says Passer. “Michael Matthew Ferrel, who is absolutely amazing and a renowned director from Minneapolis, did not want to do the show unless he could put his own little unique twist on it.”

Passer says Ferrel had an idea to merge the old play with new by coming up with a concept where the theatre troupe morphed into specific characters when necessary in the telling of the show.

“He (Ferrel) is such a visual mastermind because he is an exceptional choreographer and specializes in making things appear seamless and easy that he would choreograph specific gestures and costume pieces into each different character,” says Passer of his experience in the play.

He describes one of his costume changes for the Pharaoh as a “really rad jacket and headpiece” that were specifically made for him. He says he felt like a rockstar.

The last thing that set this production apart from other renditions of “Joseph” was Passer’s particular role.

“Instead of doing the Pharaoh’s role in the style of Elvis, as usual, we went with a star that is a little bit more relevant at this time and portrayed him as Prince,” says Passer. “It was super cool.”

Passer says the best part about being cast as the Pharaoh was because of the reimagined Prince image, the production team and cast had to fully reimagine and orchestrate an entirely new number.

“I basically got to come in early one day and riff out some fun notes while my music director played some chords much like ‘when doves cry’ and filled in the rest of the blanks with the orchestra and chorus,” he says.

Though the opportunity to watch Passer in his “princely” role has passed, Passer’s next performance at the Playhouse is coming up on the main stage from April 20-May 7. It is called “La Cage aux Folles,” which is the stage version of the witty ’90s movie “The Bird Cage,” starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Passer has been cast as the sassy, gender-bending butler in the play.

As for Passer’s future, he says he’s going to be staying close to the Duluth area for a little longer.

“I have high hopes to perform in the Playhouse’s new space, which will be in the historic North Shore Theatre that is currently being completely renovated, remodeled and reimagined,” says Passer. “They have high hopes to stage the December 2017 show in the new space.”

From there, Passer plans on moving to a larger city like Minneapolis or Chicago, wherever opportunity arises.

“The sky is the limit … with acting, it is so fun to explore other boundaries of things that you never thought possible,” says Passer.

Passer says to those back in BEA who are hesitant to hit the stage “just go for it.”

“Give it a try, even if it’s just an audition or a conversation with a director,” he says. “There are so many other ways to be involved other than acting as well. From stage management to lights, scene design, costumes or even hair and makeup. It can be scary or intimidating, but I always tell myself before I go in, ‘Garrett, it’s like three minutes or less of their time, and they see at least 10 more people other than me. Make it work, honey.’

With adrenaline pumping and enthusiasm that knows no bounds, it is no wonder this local actor has become a star from the bottom of Minnesota to the top.