Review: So much flavor to savor in History Center’s ‘I Am Betty’

“Know that Betty Crocker believes in you.”

Those words emerged from radios throughout America in the 1920s, offering support to women discouraged at the quality of their cooking and baking skills. With Betty Crocker’s helpful suggestions, often isolated homemakers came to feel part of an expansive community of women sharing similar experiences.

But Betty Crocker didn’t exist. She was a fictitious creation of the Minneapolis-based Washburn-Crosby Company, a flour miller that soon merged with competitors to form General Mills (after establishing a radio station, WCCO, partially in order to get this kitchen companion’s words on the air).

So how did a Minnesota-based company manage to make this imaginary character the second-most-popular woman in America next to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, according to a 1945 poll? The answer can be found in “I Am Betty,” a delightful new musical currently premiering at the History Theatre.

With a century’s worth of musical styles and a multitude of vividly drawn characters expertly executed by a talented nine-woman cast and a versatile four-piece band, “I Am Betty” is a tremendously entertaining whirlwind tour of American women’s changing roles over the course of Betty Crocker’s first 100 years, 1921 to 2021.

The ambitious vision of playwright Cristina Luzarraga has found its ideal match in the restless musical imagination of composer Denise Prosek, their creation crafted into a delicious theatrical concoction under the guidance of director Maija Garcia and choreographer Renee Guittar.

So can you really compress a century of history into a two-hour-and-45-minute musical, especially one with as broad a mission as conveying the evolution of an American woman’s role in households and society? Can you cram into one score almost every popular music style between ragtime and arena rock? And can this really be done with a cast of just nine women?

The answer is yes to all of the above. Key to the story not growing too unwieldy is that each act focuses chiefly upon the journey of one particular woman. In the first act, it’s Marjorie Child Husted, the promotion-savvy powerhouse who not only led the General Mills test kitchens, but made the Betty Crocker brand ubiquitous via national radio broadcasts, cookbooks and Hollywood advertising tie-ins.

Erin Capello makes Marjorie the consummate charismatic career woman, earning the respect of her team but having a hard time balancing Betty’s success with her own desire for love and marriage (kudos to Olivia Kemp as her convincing love interest). Capello not only nails the show’s best belter of a pop ballad (“Something More”), but is a key element in the period-perfect “boogie” numbers that celebrate new products, evoking acts from the Andrews Sisters to the Pointer Sisters.

In the second act, we follow Barbara Jo Davis, who grew up wanting to be Betty Crocker, had a 20-year career in the company’s test kitchens, and eventually became the matriarch of Ken Davis BBQ Sauce. (Their “Simmer and Wait” duet is a fun faux Marvin Gaye seduction ballad.) Lynnea Doublette brings engaging energy to this trailblazing African-American businesswoman, who raises some thought-provoking questions during an imagined debate with feminist Betty Friedan.

By evening’s end, you’ve not only learned a lot about the food business (and the sexism historically ingrained into it), but have experienced one of the most enjoyable original musicals to have hit a Twin Cities stage in the past several years.

‘I Am Betty’

When: Through Dec. 23

Where: History Theatre, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul

Tickets: $74-$15, available at 651-292-4323 or

Capsule: History Theatre has baked up something delicious for the holidays.

Rob Hubbard can be reached at

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