Triple Espresso - strong till the end

Triple Espresso cast
Triple Espresso cast
MPR Photo/ Toni Randolph

Triple Espresso hit the stage of the Music Box Theatre in Minneapolis for the first time in 1996. But Bob Stromberg, one of the show's three creators, was worried it wouldn't last.

"We were just hoping we could stay open for six weeks. Can we stay alive for six weeks? And here we are now 12 years later," he said.

Twelve years of laughs later. For the uninitiated, Triple Espresso is a story -- set in a coffee house -- about a comedy trio's quest for fame gone terribly wrong on national television. The trio gets its chance but then blows it. In the show it's clear the wounds have not healed.

The show is peppered with jokes, physical humor, music, magic and more jokes that keep the audience laughing from beginning to end.

The Music Box marque anouncing Triple Espresso
Music Box Theatre marquee
MPR/ Toni Randolph

Triple Espresso is the second-longest running performance in Twin Cities history -- only the 23-year run of "I Do, I Do" at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater was longer.

The Triple Espresso franchise has played around the world -- with 30 actors in 40 cities and six countries and sold an estimated $35 million worth of tickets. Still, Executive Producer Dennis Babcock says the reality of the economics also has a role. The San Diego show closed in February after 11 years, and, besides Minneapolis, Triple Espresso is now playing only in Atlanta.

"It makes it difficult to pay all the bills if you've only have income coming in from one source or two or one-and-a-half or something like that," he said.

The Triple Espresso Company does live on and has already booked shows in Milwaukee, Des Moines and Phoenix for later this year.

Part of the show's appeal is its wholesome, clean fun, according to Star Tribune theater critic Rohan Preston. He says Triple Espresso can entertain three generations without embarrassment.

"When you think of a comedy act, you don't think of it necessarily running for this long a period, but it becomes an outing, and becomes a kind of social experience where families can get together and unite around a show," he said.

Franz Hofmeister brought his two sons and a family friend to a recent performance.

"We've come here many times, brought all our kids when they turn 16. We love the show. It's great humor, It's clever, there's no swearing, you can bring any age to it," he said.

Monty Beyl
Monty Beyl has seen Triple Espresso twice.
MPR Photo/ Toni Randolph

Monty Beyl of Bloomington has also seen Triple Espresso before.

"It's just down to earth comedy as far as I'm concerned. Everyone can relate to what's going on on the stage. I think that's why we keep coming back. It's crazy," he said.

Triple Espresso was created by Bob Stromberg, Bill Arnold and Michael Pearce Donley -- after a meeting at a coffee shop. It's built around their particular skills -- physical humor, magic and song-writing, respectively. And now that the show is closing, Donley says there's going to be a big hole in his life.

"I'm 43 years old. I've done this show for 12 years. I can't think of anything I've done more times than Triple Espresso than basic bodily needs. And it's a crazy thing," he said.

"We were just hoping we could stay open for 6 weeks. Can we stay alive for six weeks? And here we are now 12 years later."

The closing is also bittersweet for Bob Stromberg.

"It's going to be sad to see the signs come down off the front of the building, but things change and life goes on so we move on to other things," he said.

And with a straight face Bill Arnold says those other things include his "dream job."

"I was just doing this until I could get a job as a waiter. So, I finally landed a job," he said.

Stromberg doesn't miss a beat when he congratulates Arnold on his new gig. Then he adds, "We've been anxious for him to leave so this is good news for us," as the cast chuckles.

Triple Espresso was held over for two weeks because of popular demand. But the last show is April 27th and some of the performances are already sold out.

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