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PROGRESS: Okoboji Summer Theatre sees big changes for new season

April 27, 2019 GMT

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- The most visible changes at the Okoboji Summer Theatre this summer won’t be seen on the stage, but as patrons enter the lot surrounding the new Weaver Commons building, where the Frances Shloss Green Room sat for decades on the south side of the lot.

With about 4,800 square feet of space, Weaver Commons is the biggest single improvement in the theatre’s 62 year history with Stephens College of Columbia, Missouri.

OST executive director Ruth Ann Burke said the building was funded by a gift from Ann Thorne Weaver, the single largest gift to the theatre. Weaver Commons will include a much larger rehearsal space, as well as expanded kitchen and dining areas.

“We are so grateful to Anne for her support that enabled us to make these massive improvements.”

The Shloss Green room has been relocated into space vacated in the main theatre building,” Burke said.

Burke said CMBA architects and Quail Construction, both in Spencer, have worked together through the off season to build something that really works in a relatively small space.

“We expect to have a really happy cook, cast, and crews in new facilities come June -- along with the expanded rehearsal space,” she said.

Construction is planned to slow down after the first curtain goes up in June.

“Last summer saw the completion of tiny homes 14 and 15 for actors and staff. We’ll do more landscaping this year and next, with new sidewalks for safety. Then we need to decide what phase is next for the tiny homes. We need more than just the 15 to accommodate everyone,” Burke said.

While severe weather through the winter months slowed progress on Weaver Commons, a web cam is reporting daily progress to patrons on the OST website: OkobojiSummerTheatre.org

FOUR MUSICALS SET THIS YEAR

The 2019 OST season will be bigger than most in the recent past, as well, with nine productions instead of the usual eight. The season begins on June 11, and runs through the week of Aug. 6, with four musicals, along with one mystery, three comedies, and one classic play.

Now in his second year as artistic director, Stephen Brotebeck said he had more input into this year’s productions, as the 2018 season was largely in order before he was hired and brought in to the selection discussions with Dean Gail Humphries Mardirosian, Burke, director of production Michael Burke, and assistant artistic director Rob Doyen.

Brotebeck says this year’s plans in Okoboji build on the success of last year’s schedule. “In 2018 we featured familiar titles, classic shows and a and a few things the OST hadn’t done before,” he said.

“We heard some really great feedback about that selection, especially the entertainment value, and the quality of the performances. So we made a concerted effort to take a hard look at shows that were well-known, like the opening show, ‘Honky Tonk Angels,’ that has every great country song you could ever think of in it -- songs like “Rocky Top,” ”‘Fancy,’” “Stand by your man,” “Harper Valley PTA” and “Almost Persuaded.” Everyone will remember the songs even if they don’t recognize the titles.”

“The goal when we were talking on campus this year was to look at more recognizable titles and things we’d never done before -- or at least not in recent years. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder On The Orient Express,” a 1934 novel that became a movie 40 years later, is one we wanted to take on. It’s a new version by the same playwright who wrote “Lend Me a Tenor.”

Burke added that “Steel Magnolias,” “Mary Poppins,” and “Mamma Mia!” were all really popular and successful shows, too.

Brotebeck, said while the OST most often uses freelance directors for its productions, he will be directing “Murder on the Orient Express,” then, two weeks later, directing and choreographing “Mary Poppins,” which features the Sherman Brothers music from 1964.

Paul Finocchiaro, who directed last year’s closer, “Throughly Modern Millie,” is directing and choreographing “Honky Tonk Angels.” Katie Banville, a young director from California, will direct “Beehive -- The 60’s Musical.” And, Robin Levine, who was in the original Broadway production of “Mamma Mia!,” will be directing and choreographing the show here.”

On the simpler side of life, Brotebeck and Burke are also excited about the four Boji Bantam Children’s Theatre productions, that begin June 19, with “Treasure Island,” followed by “Red Riding Hood,” “Miss Electricity” and “The Ugly Duckling.”

Again, with a mix of contemporary and classic shows, Burke says the Bantam has been fun for kids of all ages.

“We have had tremendous success in the Bantam. We love to see the multiple generations -- parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles -- enjoying classic tales through the performing arts instead of on a smart phone.”

Burke also said that several area children will be sought to audition for roles as “No Neck Monsters,” in the July production of “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.” Another show also calls for a small dog, which Burke admits, may be more difficult to find.

Two shows have already been added to the summer schedule to accommodate anticipated high ticket sales for “Mamma Mia!” and “Mary Poppins,” with the expectation that both will enjoy high ticket sales. One of those shows comes On July 5, following a matinee performance the previous day so as not to conflict with the 4th of July fireworks over West Lake Okoboji.

“We often get bus groups for the added matinees,” Burke said. “We get everything from book clubs to Red Hat Ladies to mystery tours, where the participants have no idea where they’re headed. It’s always fun to see 50 people getting off the bus at a destination they didn’t expect.”

Contact Journal correspondent Russ Oechslin at: russ-scj@mindspring.com