BRAINERD — Dancing teeth and singing dentists, coming soon to a stage near you.
Well, in 2025, that is, if you’re in Brainerd.
Stage North Theatre Company is set to stage a musical comedy about Brainerd’s fight against state-mandated water fluoridation in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
Director Gary Hirsch and playwright Roger Nieboer are keen to explore the intense emotions behind the battle that would make it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m old enough to remember it quite well,” Nieboer said. “It was huge in Minnesota news.”
The news of Brainerd’s controversy made its way throughout the state, even over to the small city of Mora, where Neiboer graduated from high school in 1974.
“It was one of those things that was extremely divisive. It tore families apart and destroyed friendships. Neighbors wouldn’t speak to each other,” he said. “So with the whole vaccine/anti-vaxxer thing that has come up in the last few years, and the political divisiveness with that, I saw an interesting parallel there.”
He and Hirsch will explore that parallel in the spring of 2025, when their fluoride musical comes to the stage, thanks to a recent grant from the Five Wings Art Council. The two have worked together on several productions, including the 2018 staging of “Baby Face,” based on the story of legendary gangster Baby Face Nelson.
Nieboer will write the script and music for the pair’s latest endeavor into the world of fluoride, and Hirsch will direct the show.
Instead of naming actual players in the fluoride contest, they plan on creating more generic archetypes but with real world passions to bring the story to life.
“It became so important, and it grew to become such an obsession,” Nieboer said. “… And that, to me, is fascinating — not the issue per se, but it’s just how it grows to become the end-all thing in life.”
And what it says about life in America.
“We have a strong legacy in America of independence and, ‘I don’t want anybody telling me what to do. I don’t want the government telling me what to put in my body,’” Nieboer said. “And I admire that; I respect that. So it’s kind of balancing those two sides and exploring them and exploring the dynamic.”
Though dealing with real issues, Hirsch and Nieboer plan for the music to be a light-hearted comedy, even a parody of musicals that pokes fun at over-the-top productions in a fun way.
The show is in the very beginning stages, and more information about the cast and how to be a part of the production is yet to come.
The fluoride battle
After years of fighting, Brainerd lost the battle and began fluoridating its water in February 1980. The city still kept one non-fluoridated tap in operation at the wastewater treatment plant for those who wanted it, but that tap was shut off in August after the city’s water was contaminated with total coliform bacteria. It has not yet been turned back on, and its future is uncertain.
*Original full-text article online at: https://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/local/musical-fluoride-fight-production-coming-to-brainerd