Those of you who regularly read this column already know how much Connie and I enjoy live theatre.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of great live theatre here in N’West Iowa throughout the entire year. Most of our high schools produce at least one excellent production — a musical or a play — every fall.

Orange City, meanwhile, stages a great musical production as part of the Tulip Festival every May. This year, I am told, it will be Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Northwestern College and Dordt College each have exciting theatre departments and offer our area great traditional theatre as well as some exciting experimental productions.

And we cannot overlook Sheldon High School’s long-running, always-exciting summer theatre program. Founded by Jay Shelp, and nationally recognized, the multiweek series continues to be an annual crowd pleaser.

Add to those the long-running Off, Off Broadway dinner theatre productions in Ashton and community theatre companies such as those at Primghar and Rock Rapids and you see an even bigger picture.

Plus, Sioux City, at the Orpheum and Sioux Falls, SD, at the Washington Pavilion, have begun offering excellent Broadway productions on their stages. Just recently the Washington Pavilion hosted “Spamalot” to a most-appreciative audience.

I love and am thankful for all the various area live theatre but especially get enthused every January when, during the annual Iowa Great Lakes Winter Games, Okoboji Summer Theatre announces the coming summer’s schedule of nine plays and musicals.

Over the last 60-plus years OST has presented more than 550 plays to an audience of more than 1.5 million fans. Those professionally produced productions have included more than a thousand student actors from Stephens College in Columbia, MO, more than 500 members of the Stephens faculty and at least 2,000 guest artists. Those artists and the huge production team that supports them dedicate hours each day all summer to producing only the best of live theatre. That effort has, over the years, required more than 40,000 demanding hours of rehearsals.

In 1958, the theatre started with only nine Stephens students and 11 faculty members. Today it is recognized as one of the longest-running summer stock theatre programs in the country. Many of the youthful actors, stage crew and business management students have gone on to high-ranking positions on Broadway, in Hollywood or as managers and directors of leading community theatre programs.

This year, judging from the recently released production schedule, will be another outstanding season. Here is a list of the 2019 program selection:

  •  The season kick off June 11-16 with “The Honky Tonk Angels,” a wonderful follow-up to Patsy Cline’s “Always” that has wowed audiences at least two different years at OST. The new production from the same period is centered on three famous female performers and features hits such as “Stand By Your Man,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “9 to 5,” “I will Always Love You” and “Harper Valley PTA.”
  •  OST will offer an interesting and spellbinding new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” mystery June 18-23.
  • An all-female cast will take the stage June 25-30 for the comedy “Steel Magnolias.” The moving story of love and death, set in the deep South, is a fitting choice for a theatre that is a summer training ground for one America’s best-known women’s colleges.
  • OST will stage its second musical of the year, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s original “Mary Poppins” July 2-7.
  •  July 9-14 will see great theatre return to the boards with the year’s “classic” production, the mesmerizing “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
  •  Then comedy returns to OST July 16-21 with the production “Happily Ever After: A Wedding Comedy.”
  •  OST will present “Beehive: The ’60s Musical” July 23-28 for the third of four musicals again this year.
  •  Closing in on the end of the season, July 30-Aug. 4 will feature the year’s second comedy, “Living on Love.” This eighth show each season traditionally features a small but wonderfully talented cast so the majority of the acting company can prepare for the end-of-season musical.
  •  And what an ending it will be when Stephens students and professionals present the always-satisfying “Mamma Mia!”

So, as you can see, I’m not letting the cold weather and additional inches of new snow bother me. I’m thinking summer and the upcoming, fun-filled program in three months at Okoboji Summer Theatre. 


Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at pww@iowainformation.com.