Students, professionals and musicians all critical to show’s success
The hottest ticket in town is sold out.
The smash musical “Mamma Mia!” closes the 62nd season for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, but if you don’t already have your tickets, you are likely out of luck. And that’s too bad, because it’s a fabulous production.
Patrons of the Okoboji Summer Theatre have been anticipating “Mamma Mia!” for 52 weeks, which is an awfully long time to wait. Fortunately, the OST cast and crew deliver once again and had the crowd on their feet, even dancing in the aisles as the final chords were played on opening night.
Artistic director Stephen Brotebeck set the mood for the night when he delivered his welcome sporting a sparkly blue jumpsuit and platform heels. He introduced director/choreographer Robin Levine, getting her first OST credits with “Mamma Mia!”
The show is high-energy, colorful, well paced and filled with talented individuals.
Begin with Jennifer Hemphill in the role of Donna. Hemphill teases with a rich alto voice in her first song, then goes on to show a huge set of pipes in the remaining numbers. The emotion over her daughter’s upcoming wedding is genuine and touching, and you’ll enjoy the reactions when people from her past arrive. Hemphill adds a smattering of comedy to the show as well.
Natalie Irlmeier lands the role of daughter Sophie. This is Irlmeier’s fourth major musical role in the season, and justifiably so. Always rich, beautiful and pure, Irlmeier brings a youthful exuberance to this part, but also a level of professionalism you wouldn’t expect to see in a student performance. There’s a sparkle in her eye that matches the sparkle of the engagement ring on her finger.
Colleen O’Brien and Aubrey Hicks play Donna’s “Dynamo” sidekicks, Tanya and Rosie. These two have also been in multiple OST musicals this season and for good reason. You will hear big voices coming from each of them, but will also appreciate how differently they play their roles. From their first moment on stage you know these are going to be fun characters. Tanya grabs the attention of all the younger men working at the resort; Rosie sets her sites on someone her own age. A reluctant Donna is persuaded by the Dynamos to bring their nightclub act out of retirement. Awesome!
Timothy Weinert, Matthew Reddick and Dakota James Dutcher are Sam, Bill and Harry, Sophie’s three potential father. Each of the gentlemen shares a moment or two with Donna and Sophie. They are funny when they need to be, tender when they need to be, and connect with Donna each in their own way. The second act gives them more opportunities to show their talents.
Noah Vesey is Sophie’s fiancé, Sky. He is free-spirited, young and enthusiastic, but very likable. Sky and Sophie are nicely paired as a couple, though her vocals tend to dominate.
Blake Sauceda and Joseph Collins have fun with the roles of Pepper and Eddie, Donna’s employees. These guys are also Sky’s friends and add humor in their actions and bring lots of energy to the stage. Sauceda is a very athletic, talented dancer.
Fiona Bleu and Brooke Grno are Sophie’s friends and bridesmaids, Ali and Lisa. Here are two more fantastic voices, who also bring lots of energy to the dancing and choreography.
Completing the onstage cast are the female ensemble — Sydney Sutherland, Sofia Garcia, Lexi Borisenko and Zoë Rech. The male ensemble includes Braden Tanner, Ryan Koch, Tanner Dean and Ryan Lynch. The guys preparing for the bachelor party in wet suits, fins and goggles is a hoot.
Standing out on the production side of things is Cami Huebert, handling costumes. The Dynamos sport iridescent jumpsuits with not only bold colors, but sparkles, ruffles and fringe. There’s a dream scene where all the guys are in tuxedos and Sophie’s wedding gown is lovely.
Lighting designer Winston G. Limauge has a healthy-sized task with this show as well. Scrim lighting changes throughout and there are side lights, spot lights, disco lights and mood lights.
Sound designer is Benjamin Moore, who manages a cast filled with singers and all those headpiece mics. Set designer Brandon PT Davis once again creates a functional, simple set that sets a seaside vibe. A wooden dock and rope railing serve multiple purposes. Vertical columns with wavy patterns and frequently-changing lights help frame the show.
The offstage band includes Alan Patrick Kenny, Barb Fuelberth, Chris Oyler, Dalton Peterson and Greg Forney. This show also makes use of offstage vocalists — Julia Bailey, Megan Beilsmith, Shawnee Fierros Casas Richberger, Amanda Campbell and Lauren Peterson. The additional voices add depth and power to the chorus scenes, but also present a set of challenges for the musicians and onstage vocalists as they work to keep everything in time.
If you’re a fan of ABBA music, you’re going to hear many of those 1970s favorites during the show. “Honey, Honey,” “Rich Man’s World,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Dancing Queen,” “Chiquitita,” “S.O.S.,” “Does Your Mother Know?” “Winner Takes it All,” “I Have a Dream,” and of course, “Mamma Mia!” are all incorporated into the storyline.
The show ends with a theatre bursting with music and dance, and bubbles and disco lights bouncing off the ceiling.
What a way to wrap up a fabulous season.