Art News

Frozen Dead Guy Days Is Back With Comedy Musical Call Me Ned

Call Me Ned has become a favorite event at Frozen Dead Guy Days.
Call Me Ned has become a favorite event at Frozen Dead Guy Days. Courtesy Patrice LeBlanc
Festivals are finally thawing out after two years in the pandemic deep freeze. And so Frozen Dead Guy Days will return to Nederland March 18 to March 20, bringing along the musical Call Me Ned, whose lead character is none other than the frozen dead guy himself.

The musical is a collaborative effort from husband-and-wife team Patrice LeBlanc and Ed Schoenradt. LeBlanc wrote the script and music after Schoenradt created the storyboard and lyrics. "It was 2018, and my husband and I had just moved to Central City," LeBlanc recalls. "We were getting involved with the theater community, and someone mentioned to us that it would be fun to write a little musical for the Frozen Dead Guy festival."

They started brainstorming ideas, and the comedic floodgates opened. "We came up with the great concept of what would happen if the frozen dead guy came back to life and appeared at the festival, but no one believed it was him because everyone is dressed like the frozen dead guy," LeBlanc says. "We wrote the musical in five days. ... It kind of just flowed out there, and it was so much fun to write."

Although she's a Colorado native, LeBlanc hadn't heard much about Frozen Dead Guy Days until she moved to the mountains. Nor did she know much about the festival's inspiration, an actual frozen dead guy.

In the early ’90s, Trygve Bauge put his deceased grandfather's frozen body on dry ice in Norway and traveled to San Leandro, California, where "Grandpa" Bredo Morstøl's body was held, cryogenically frozen, for three years. Bauge then transported the body to Nederland, where he built a home with his mother, Aud Morstøl. The mother-son duo hoped to open their own cryonics facility in the Colorado mountain town, and the pair must have been the Simone Biles of mental gymnasts, because they figured they would get a head start on the project in their own backyard.
click to enlarge In Call Me Ned, Grandpa Bredo finds himself alive during Frozen Dead Guy Days. - COURTESY PATRICE LEBLANC
In Call Me Ned, Grandpa Bredo finds himself alive during Frozen Dead Guy Days.
Courtesy Patrice LeBlanc

They placed Grandpa Bredo in a Tuff Shed in that backyard, where he stayed for years, even after Bauge was booted from the U.S. for overstaying his visa. Aud was eventually served with an eviction notice because the house had no plumbing or electricity, violating zoning codes. Panicked, she told a reporter that she feared that her father's body, as well as two others stored in the backyard, would thaw out. The reporter relayed Aud's fears to Nederland officials, who also panicked: The mayor, police officers, reporters and others immediately rushed to the property with flashlights and found the unbelievable tale to be true.

Although Aud was also deported, the town allowed Grandpa Bredo to stay — through a grandfather ordinance. Tuff Shed even built him a brand-new home (the two other bodies were returned to their relatives). In Grandpa Bredo's honor, town residents hosted a Frozen Dead Guy Days celebration in March 2002, and the event soon turned into an annual tradition. The frozen body of Grandpa Bredo remains in Nederland to this day; a caretaker checks on conditions once a month and keeps his container packed with dry ice.

In Call Me Ned, though, the caretaker forgets to lock the Tuff Shed door and Grandpa Bredo falls out. He ends up coming back to life at the height of Frozen Dead Guy Days, when many attendees dress up as Bredo. "So he's very confused, and he goes around trying to convince people that he's Grandpa Bredo, and people just say, 'Well, of course you are,' because everyone is dressed as him and thinks he's one of the characters," LeBlanc explains.

"Meanwhile, they discover the lock on the door is off and Grandpa Bredo is gone after the festival, so then they think he's been kidnapped," she continues. "Everybody's running around trying to find Grandpa Bredo, and he's like, 'I'm right here!'"

A frustrated Bredo finally gives up and simply tells people to call him Ned. After all the comedic confusion and stress, Bredo decides it's "better if he goes back to being dead," LeBlanc says. He returns to his shed, and the people of Nederland just figure that someone put him back.

The musical premiered at the fest in March 2019. "It got rave reviews; people loved it. It was a success, so we felt really good about that," LeBlanc says. But in March 2020, on the day of her troupe's final rehearsal, the festival was canceled as the state shut down for the pandemic, and in 2021 the festival was canceled again.

Now Call Me Ned will finally have a second run, on Saturday, March 19, at Nederland's Backdoor Theatre, after a preview show at the Elks Lodge in Central City on Friday, March 18. "A lot of the cast is from Central City, and the people in Central City just love the show," LeBlanc explains. The musical runs for 45 minutes in one act, with six musical numbers; most of the nine cast members have been performing them from the start.

"We had been involved in theater in the Denver community, but this was the first time we tried to do something in the mountains, and there weren't really a lot of actors, per se, in the mountains," LeBlanc recalls. "So when we put it out there that we were doing a musical, no one was that interested in doing it. In fact, a lot of them had not even acted in a play before. So we just started asking people, 'Hey, would you want to be in this musical?' We didn't do auditions. We didn't necessarily have to have any talent; they really just needed to want to be in it."

And the production has only gotten more hilarious as the actors have gotten more practice. "Out of that particular experience, we actually started an acting troupe that we call the Belvidere Players," LeBlanc says. The troupe promotes the future restoration of the Belvidere Theatre — a Central City venue that's even older than the Teller Opera House — and concentrates on producing plays inspired by historical events. But it's hard to conjure up an odder historical event than the Grandpa Bredo saga, or to imagine one more suited to Frozen Dead Guy Days.

"We contacted the organizers for this year and said we would love to do our musical again, and they said, 'This is wonderful.' We were welcomed back with open arms," LeBlanc reports. "When I contacted the cast and asked if anybody was up for doing the show this year, everybody said, 'Count me in!'"

And why not?  This is fun art, not fine art. "The fun thing about the show is the audience participation," she explains. "There are certain cues throughout the show where the audience is supposed to pipe in. For instance, any time we say 'Grandpa,' the audience goes, 'Grandpa who?' The more we do it, the funnier it gets. And any time they mention the Tuff Shed, you hear this magical chord, and everyone sings 'Tuff Shed' like a hallelujah moment. So the audience is a part of the show."

During the pandemic, LeBlanc and Schoenradt continued to work on shows and founded L&M Productions "to produce and publish our plays and musicals," LeBlanc says. "This was the first we did up in the mountains, but our big one we did was Prohibition, which we workshopped last year [in Boulder and Central City]."

But Call Me Ned remains a favorite. "It's just one of those communal, silly type of things that just goes along with the festival so well," she notes. "All the events at the festival are pretty crazy."

The festival's traditional events include coffin racing, frozen turkey bowling, live music (thirty bands are booked for this year), vendors, a polar plunge and a frozen T-shirt contest; LeBlanc's favorite is the parade. "But just walking around the festival is kind of a Twilight Zone type of experience," she concludes, "because everybody is a character."

Call Me Ned, 7 p.m. Friday, March 18,  Elks Lodge, 113 Main Street, Central City, and 11 a.m. Saturday, March 19, Backdoor Theatre, 740 Highway 72, Nederland; a $10 donation is suggested. Frozen Dead Guy Days runs March 18 through March 20 in and around Nederland; for more information, visit frozendeadguydays.com.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson