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Corn off the Cob 20 to take Memorial Auditorium stage on Saturday

The duo of Ole (Kieth Olson, left) and Sven (Rich Besel) practice a comedic sketch Tuesday afternoon in Besel’s Worthington Middle School classroom. (RYAN McGAUGHEY/DAILY GLOBE)

By Jane Turpin Moore, Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — As area farmers begin eyeing their fields in anticipation of harvest, area performers are sharpening their skills for the 20th annual Corn off the Cob variety show, scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the historic Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center (MAPAC).

“We had many requests for matinees, so that explains the shift in our schedule this year from two evening shows,” said Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh, MAPAC manager.

While homegrown entertainers continue to be the heart of the Corn off the Cob event, which is the season opener for MAPAC, an eight-member band of regional musicians will be a new feature this weekend.

“I heard a rehearsal of the Opry All-Star Band, which will be part of this year’s performance, and they blew my socks off,” attested Vosburgh. “They’re a really tight band and play a whole range of instruments — guitars, piano, keyboard, banjo, harmonica, fiddles, dobro — and their instrumentation and orchestration is excellent.”

“Opry at the Auditorium” is the 2013 Corn off the Cob theme, and with a country focus, it’s not surprising that Minnie Pearl (in the form of Justine Wettschreck of Avoca) will serve as the mistress of ceremonies.

“It will be a little bit of a new format, with some new performers, but anyone who likes country music — and even those who don’t — will be wowed by this show,” Vosburgh said. 

Music of country stars ranging from contemporary to classic will spill from the stage, with songs of Emmy Lou Harris, Merle Haggard, Tanya Tucker, Linda Ronstadt, Anne Murray, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson all in the mix.

“Our vocalists include Shelly Gieselman, Bruce Dysthe, Rick Nelson, Mel Kimblad, Judy Johnson, Macey Newhouse and Billye Jane Kruse,” listed Vosburgh.

Of course, traditional Corn off the Cob humor can also be expected, and Vosburgh notes the show wouldn’t be the same without a few appearances by Ole and Sven, as personified by the comic duo of Kieth Olson and Rich Besel.

Have Olson and Besel been part of Worthington’s Corn off the Cob for 20 years?

“It’s quite possible, but we old farts don’t really know — we just kind of do it,” said Besel, a sixth-grade teacher at Worthington Middle School who, being a nearly full-blooded German, is something of a Scandinavian impostor.

“Now when we ‘ooh’ and ‘aaaaahhh,’ it’s often for real, because it’s getting harder to memorize everything,” Besel said with a laugh.

Added Olson, a retired sixth-grade teacher and a Norwegian through-and-through: “Arlen Foss initiated the Sven and Ole routine and would always write a skeleton script to get things going. I just felt a loyalty to what he was doing and a need to be a part of it.”

The two educators put on their best blank faces and “dumb Norwegian” personas to get the Corn off the Cob audiences chuckling at their missing-the-point humor.

“Rich is kind of the squirrely Norwegian, and I’m more of the stoic, straight guy,” revealed Olson, who admits to drawing on his Scandinavian ancestors and former neighbors in his native town of Hanska for much of the character and accent he portrays on stage.

“Some people there still talk with a slight Norwegian brogue, even guys I grew up with, and my grandfather and father-in-law, for sure, never could get the ‘th’ in words, so it was always ‘dis’ and ‘dat,’” said Olson. “I’ve built off of that.”

Besel confesses the duo recycles some of their Sven and Ole jokes, while adapting their material to the show’s current theme.

“It’s just really fun to be ‘someone else’ and go out and act kind of stupid,” said Besel. “There are things I say as ‘Sven’ that I wouldn’t say as ‘Rich.’

“For this show, they want us to talk about the new technology, like GPS’s, and that will stretch us from the ‘Old Country.’”

Olson and Besel like being involved with Corn off the Cob as Sven and Ole because of the enjoyment such shows bring to the audiences in attendance, and because Corn off the Cob serves as an important fundraiser for Friends of the Auditorium.

“It’s fun to be a part of this community that has so much talent with singers, dancers and joke-tellers,” expressed Besel. “And working with Kieth — well, there’s nothing better than working with a good friend and being able to catch up on each other’s lives and activities.”

Added Olson, “Corn off the Cob is always a good show, and it’s a positive cultural thing for the community.”

Vosburgh is even more upbeat.

“This is going to be a spectacular show,” she said.

Corn off the Cob 20 takes place at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 13th St., Worthington. Tickets are available in advance at the MAPAC box office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and a slight discount applies to tickets purchased by 1 p.m. Friday. Tickets are also available at the door one hour prior to each show. Tickets are also now on sale for other season shows at MAPAC. For more information, call 376-9101 or visit www.friendsoftheauditorium.com.

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