Live entertainment is returning on many fronts at the Iowa Great Lakes this summer.

The Okoboji Summer Theatre will be turning off the “ghost light” to bring six live performances to its stage for the summer season.

OST has been a regular feature at the Iowa Great Lakes for more than 60 years without ever missing a beat until COVID-19 canceled the entire season last year.

This season will feature three musicals and three comedies with “Grease” kicking off the season on July 6.

Although the entire season is planned, Stephens College in Columbia, MO, is waiting for signed contracts for two shows before announcing the complete lineup.

“But,” says executive director Ruth Ann Burke, “I can share that the big season closer will be the musical hit ‘Urinetown.’”

Ruth Ann also told me that the company will be operating at a limited capacity, requiring masks inside the theatre and shifting all patrons back two rows to leave the first two rows open for social distancing.

The theatre will be operating with a no contact box office this season and anticipates “sold-out” weekend performances and available seats during for the weekday performances.

“It is going to be a very different season for OST,” Burke says, “but we want to provide the strongest safety protocols possible so that our students, guests and patrons will all feel safe.”

It is anticipated the entire six-week schedule will be announced in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, at the beautiful new Arnolds Park Roof Garden Ballroom, the sounds will be big, bold and through the roof. The early performances are sure to bring back memories of the 1940s and ’50s when only the best big bands and entertainers stopped by the lakeside ballroom — established in 1923 — to entertain and delight dancers and fans from all over the area.

This year the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra will begin the season on Sunday night, June 13.

The fun will continue two weeks later when The Lettermen, performing their famous tunes full of teenage memories, take the stage on Sunday, June 27.

“Ricky Nelson Remembered” follows The Lettermen on Wednesday, July 7 — the only midweek show on the schedule — and the famous Glenn Miller Band returns to the Roof Garden on Sunday, July 18.

All performances are $25 in advance and $35 at the door.

OKOBOJI Magazine and the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji will be partnering again this summer to bring back the monthly speaker series. A 10-year tradition, the series had to be canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s programs, each 60-90 minutes in length, will open Thursday, May 20, with Jeff Vierkant and friends from Arnolds Park Amusement Park. The group will share details on how Arnolds Park survived a year of COVID, some bits of history, a few future plans and a story or two regarding operating the famous old Lady of the Lake.

On June 24, again the third Thursday of the month, Gary Kelly, author of the new graphic novel “Moon of the Snowblind: Spirit Lake” will be the featured speaker. With PowerPoint images and exciting narration, Kelly will share insight to his new book that provides both sides of the famous 1857 Spirit Lake massacre.

The Thursday, July 22, program will see the return of Jonathan Reed, author and local historian, to share his unique knowledge of the social and cultural history of the Iowa Great Lakes and, perhaps, some stories about the Pearson Lakes Art Center.

The 2021 season will wrap up on Thursday, Aug. 26, with a highly anticipated program that had to be canceled last year due to COVID. Lloyd B. Cunningham, a retired photojournalist who makes his summer home at Okoboji, will speak on his book “The Death Boat.”

All four presentations are free to the public and all will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Pearson Lakes Art Center.


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.