Couple with long ties to Chanhassen Dinner Theatre coming to town for fundraiser

Published 9:20 am Monday, October 16, 2023

Theater enthusiasts and members of the public alike are invited to attend a fundraiser Oct. 23 at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center featuring a couple with more than 40 years of experience at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre.

Michael Brindisi, co-owner and longtime artistic director at Chanhassen, who has over 100 productions to his credit, and his wife, Michelle Barber Brindisi, who has appeared in over 70 productions, will be interviewed on stage by former Albert Lea High School vocal teacher Diane Heaney and longtime Albert Lea Community Theatre director and actor Glen Parsons.

Cost to attend is $10 for a seat, and students will get in free. All proceeds go to support an educational scholarship through the Albert Lea chapter of the American Association of University Women.

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Parsons said Brindisi, originally from Pennsylvania, came to Albert Lea to attend Lea College and directed the first show at Lea College, and he went on to serve as artistic director for Albert Lea Community Theatre for several years.

Barber Brindisi grew up in the Twin Cities and comes from a long line of musicians and performers. She met Brindisi at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, where she was acting and singing.

Rosalie Truax, who worked backstage with Albert Lea Community Theatre at the time, recalled when Brindisi came to town in 1966 with the first group of students to attend the college. He had attended a year of college previously.

“You couldn’t help but remember him the moment you met him,” Truax said.

He was immediately embraced by a number of families in Albert Lea and quickly got involved with Albert Lea Community Theatre.

She said the first time she saw him, Brindisi was doing a dramatic reading for AAUW, and she recalled his passion and enthusiasm.

The next spring, he did a show at the former Cap Emmons auditorium at the former Albert Lea High School, and after that the administration at Lea College said they would give him a full scholarship to college each year to do a variety show each year, she said.

“Even at that age — he was probably 19, maybe 20 — he was already so skilled. It wasn’t like he went to college and learned it,” Truax said. “As some of my theater friends say, he is absolutely a genius when it comes to staging a production.”

Working as stage manager at the time, she said she learned from him that there should never be a boring moment on stage.

After graduating in 1970, Brindisi went away for a while, directed a play at Chanhassen and has been connected there ever since.

Parsons recalled acting in Brindisi’s “Fiddler on the Roof” and talked about Brindisi’s enthusiasm for everything he does.

“It’s just so inspiring,” he said.

Truax said Brindisi also has a way to see the reflection into humanity with everything he does and every play he is a part of.

Barber Brindisi, who attended Children’s Theater Co. for her schooling, has been a part of different theaters and also was hostess for “Almanac” and “Nighttimes Variety.” In addition, for many years she has run the Chanhassen summer theater children’s program, Parson said.

The couple also started a professional summer theater in Albert Lea, which became known as Minnesota Festival Theatre. The theater ran for about 18 years.

Their only play together in Albert Lea was “Talley’s Folly,” a one-act play that depicts one night in the lives of two unlikely sweethearts. The two were the only people on stage for the play.

Truax said she expects the couple to talk about their journeys with theater during their visit in Albert Lea as well as provide insight into professional theater these days.

She noted the couple keeps Albert Lea in high regard as the place Brindisi got his start, and they still have many friends here.

“They’ve always kept it really special in their heart for Albert Lea,” Truax said.

Truax and Parsons said they hope students who are interested in theater will take advantage of the opportunity to be at the event.

The fundraiser is slated to begin at 3 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased ahead of time at the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau or at the theater the day of the event.