By Doris Welle
A toast by Ruth Ann Burke and Bob Kirschbaum opened the anniversary celebration of Stephens College’s 60 years of owning and operating the Okoboji Summer Theatre (OST).
Burke is the executive director of OST. She was joined on stage for the toast by Pearson Lakes Art Center CEO Kirschbaum. PLAC and OST occupy adjoining properties on Highway 71 on the northern boundaries of the town of Okoboji and have worked side by side for decades.
The art center’s Lauridsen Performing Arts Theatre stage was the perfect setting for a night of nostalgic music that the nearly capacity crowd enjoyed from beginning to end.
Burke brought along with her our perennial performing favorite Rob Doyen and three highly-talented Stephens students who will play or have already performed on the OST stage for us during the summer.
Sicily Mathenia, Delainey Phillips and Morgan Walker not only can sing extremely well but can dance and act with the best of them.
Tom Andes was the musical director for the evening. Andes played a solo to open the second act. It was his arrangement of “I’ve Got Rhythm” and it showcases how amazingly talented he is on the piano. Joining him on stage to provide musical accompaniment for the four performers were local musicians Tim Schumaker on bass guitar and Greg Forney on drums. The three could play anywhere, with anyone, and be outstanding.
Doyen, whether in a solo or a number with one or more of the girls, was in his element. His rich voice is a delight to hear. He also gave us some very interesting historical facts about the songs we heard in the first act. While the composers were familiar to us, most of us had not heard the songs as they were from not as often performed Broadway musicals. It was Broadway History 101 and he taught us well.
Individually Mathenia, Phillips and Walker were top notch in their solo endeavors. But I really liked them best when they were dancing and singing together. Their harmony was right on and they complimented each other well.
As Phillips was singing “I am one of the girls whose one of the boys,” we could envision Liza Minnelli for whom the song was written.
Phillips’ use of facial expression and body language made the entire number extra special. Loud cheers as well as massive applause greeted her at the conclusion of the number. She also did a super interpretation of a Fanny Brice song from the Ziegfield Follies.
Mathenia’s performance of a sad love song “Unusual Way” brought a lump to my throat while her duet ending with Doyen was a real tear jerker.
Morgan gave us a very compelling number in “You Have Your Daddy’s Hands.” Bravo Morgan!
During intermission the four performers changed into black and came back to do for us some of those wonderful big band era Broadway songs. We enjoyed “The Way You Look Tonight,” “All of Me” and “Sunny Side of the Street,” among many others.
A comical rendition of “High Hopes” was followed by a great Doyen/Phillips duet of “Love and Marriage.”
Morgan’s “Old Black Magic” and Mathenia’s “Its All Right With Me” were among the audience’s favorites.
All four combined for “Dream” and the harmony was enchanting. I think it was my favorite of the night but, in all honesty, that is a tough call.
The evening concluded with the quartet of singers giving us a rousing rendition of “That’s Life” that sent us home with music in our hearts and longing for OST to begin its special 60th anniversary summer season. Burke says the box office will open on June 5 and from the looks of this year’s lineup (check the OST website), it will be a spectacular season.
I had a chance to visit with Michael Burke (production director for OST) and Herbert Moore (lighting and sound) before the show. I thank all of them for making the trip from the campus in Columbia, Missouri to help us send winter into the history books and welcome spring with open arms. The OST summer stock season will soon be here!