Peach State Summer Theatre (PSST) is a professional summer stock theatre located on the lovely University campus in Valdosta, GA. Each summer, some 60 talents gather for ten-weeks to rehearse, build and present three musicals in repertoire. Valdosta State University has produced professional summer musical theatre since 1990.
Just two hours from Jacksonville, Valdosta is a thriving community with much to offer. If three musicals in a weekend aren’t your cup of tea, take in a theme park, golf course, museums, historic areas, or just relax in the lovely surroundings.
For their 30th season, which includes Mamma Mia!, Little Women, and Crazy for You in this season’s repertory, PSST has assembled a very talented group, all of whom have obviously put in a tremendous amount of work. Because several appear in multiple roles, I’d like to take a moment for a few shout outs. First, the up-and-comers – the ones to watch for in the future: Haley Aguero – You’ll fall for her in Mamma Mia!, and you’ll want to slap her silly in Little Women. Jeremy Reasoner – You’ll love him in Little Women and hate him in Crazy For You. Then the veterans, which has to go to the Dynamo three: Kelly Fletcher – Three very different roles with very different personalities executed to a “T” in each of the shows. Kirby Mason – Only in Mamma Mia!, but mamma mia, what a comedic talent! Anne Marie Snyder – I think they tried to fit her in most everywhere they could change her costume fast enough. A triple-threat, you’ll laugh at her in Mamma Mia! and Little Women and be amazed in all three shows.
The PSST season runs through July 21st, 2019. For more information and tickets go to: www.valdosta.edu/colleges/arts/communication-arts/psst/
Season 30 opened with the musical Mamma Mia! based on the songs of ABBA. Active from 1972 to 1982, the Swedish group topped the charts time and again in Europe, North/South America and Australia. Following Mamma Mia!’s 1999 premiere in London’s West End, their album ABBA Gold topped the United Kingdom charts again.
British producer Judy Craymer conceived the musical when the song “The Winner Takes It All” suggested to her the theatrical potential of the group’s songwriters, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. Prior to Broadway, Mamma Mia! opened in Toronto, where it played for five years. It opened on Broadway October, 2001 and played 5,773 performances. It has been produced in more than 50 countries on all 6 continents. As of October, 2017, Mamma Mia! is the ninth longest-running Broadway show and the longest-running jukebox musical (a musical based on a compilation of popular musical works) in Broadway history.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better cast on tour. Sophie will tug at your heart from the top of the show. Donna is amazing, and her besties are comedic phenomena. All three fathers, Sky and the rest of the cast are great for their roles.
Kudos to the directing team. The vocals/harmonies are spot on, and it’s hard not to sing along if you know the words. The set is a beautiful stationary taverna with one wall that slides open for a bed to form the illusionary “bedroom”. The scenes along the seashore and skyline are done quite effectively with projection backgrounds.
I have to call out choreographer Sarah Wildes Arnett. Her comedic choreography had the audience in stitches. When the boys came out in flippers to abduct Sky for the stag party, we were dying of laughter! Another number was Rosie flirting with Bill. I could call out other numbers, but everyone needs to go see for themselves.
Donna Sheridan (Kelly Fletcher) owns the Taverna on the small island in Greece where she has raised 20-year-old Sophie (Haley Aguero) on her own. In a few days Sophie is getting married. Sophie’s dream wedding includes her father walking her down the aisle – except she doesn’t know who he is. When best friends Lisa (Kaitlyn Batchelor) and Ali (Emma Safon) arrive, Sophie confides that she read her mother’s old diary, and found three possible men, all of whom she invited to her wedding by signing her mother’s name.
Next to arrive are Donna’s best friends: Tanya (Anne Marie Snyder) – rich, divorced three times – and Rosie (Kirbi Mason) – unwed, carefree, and writes cookbooks. The trio used to comprise the girl group, “Donna and the Dynamos”. Later that day, Sophie’s three possible fathers arrive: Sam Carmichael (Jim Ballard) – an American architect, Harry Bright (Olin Davidson) – a British banker, and Bill Austin (Joe Mason) – an American.
Convinced she would know her father the moment she saw him, when that doesn’t happen, Sophie is unsure of what to do. When she tries to tell her fiancé, Sky (Jace LeGarde), he responds by telling her he will be the only man she ever needs.
At her hen party Sophie pulls Sam, Bill, and Harry aside to get to know each one. By the end of the party, each has decided he is Sophie’s father and has agreed to walk her down the aisle. Sophie leaves the party, dazed and not wanting to turn any of them down.
Sophie has a nightmare involving the fathers fighting for the right to walk her down the aisle. When she wakes upset, Donna assumes she wants to cancel the wedding and offers to handle everything. Offended, Sophie vows that her children will know who their father is. As Sophie storms off, Sam tries to tell Donna that he has two sons who act the same way, but Donna won’t listen. Their affair ended badly, and she had told him she never wanted to see him again. But it seems Sam was the man Donna cared for the most, and both wishes they could go back in time.
As Donna helps Sophie dress, they reconcile, and Sophie asks her mother to walk her down the aisle. Before the priest can start the ceremony, Donna blurts out that Sophie’s father is present – but that even she doesn’t know which one is Sophie’s father. Everyone involved agrees that biology doesn’t matter, as Sophie has come to love all three and they are all happy to share one-third of her.
Sophie stops the wedding; she and Sky agree it’s not the right time. The night ends with everyone seeing Sophie and Sky off on a round-the-world tour. Of course I’m leaving out pieces of the story in case you haven’t seen it!
Rounding out the cast are the two tavern employees, Eddie (Geoffrey Reynolds) and Pepper (Christian Hatcher), the priest (Dylan Van Slyke), as well as a large ensemble: Axel Barry, Kaitlyn Batchelor, Olivia Bell, Rachel Gubow, Christian Hatcher, Savannah Kern, Amani Logan, Meredith Mehegan, Becca Mighell, Chas Pridgen, Jeremy Reasoner, Geoffrey Reynolds, James Rowell IV, Emma Safon, Christian Shupe, Loren Stone, Dylan Van Slyke, Bekah Ward, Brad Weatherford.
The second musical in Peach State Summer Theatre’s 30th season rotation is Little Women, book by Allan Knee, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, and music by Jason Howland. Based on Louisa May Alcott‘s 1869 semi-autobiographical novel, Alcott’s themes of coming of age and the importance of honesty, hard work, true love, home and family are interwoven against the background of the Civil War.
A musical dramedy, it features the smallest of the three casts in rotation. It is overall very good, with my favorite portrayals being Amy (Haley Aguero), Beth (Emma Safon), Laurie (Jeremy Reasoner), and Aunt March (Anne Marie Snyder). There is quite a bit of humor peppered throughout this piece. Perhaps the funniest moments are the enactments as Jo tells her stories to Mrs. Kirk and the Professor. These are done by doubling cast members: Rodrigo (Jeremy Reasoner), Clarissa (Rachel Gubow), Braxton (Geoffrey Reynolds), Rodrigo II (Emma Safon), Hag (Kelly Fletcher), Knight (Olin Davidson), Troll (Haley Aguero).
The set is minimalist and made the transitions quick and easy. However, most backdrops are handled by projection, and in this instance I found it distracting, as a number of times the lighting on sections of cast (like the reenactments) relied solely on the projection, and I found it difficult to see cast members adequately. The costumes are incredible.
At Mrs. Kirk’s (Rachel Gubow) Boarding House, Josephine (Jo) March (Megan Wheeler) is again rejected by a publisher. Her friend, Professor Bhaer (Jim Ballard), tells her she can do better than her blood and guts saga. She lashes out, but he has stated his opinion – as she has hers – so he leaves. Jo begins to think that maybe “better” was when she at home in Concord, Massachusetts.
It is three years earlier. Jo tells her sisters, Amy (Haley Aguero), Beth (Emma Safon), and Meg (Rachel Gubow), that she is submitting a show and convinces them that the play will make for the best Christmas ever. Jo decides to get them a tree from the neighbor’s yard, which brings old Mr. Lawrence (Olin Davidson) and his grandson, Laurie (Jeremy Reasoner), to the house. Marmee (Kelly Fletcher), their mother, is appalled at Jo’s transgression.
The girls’ wealthy Aunt March (Anne Marie Snyder) wants Jo to become a model lady of society, casually inviting Jo to accompany her to Europe. Jo begs to go, but Aunt March makes it contingent upon Jo changing.
Invited to a Ball, Meg and Jo are making finishing touches when Meg balks, because she doesn’t know what to say when asked to dance. Amy, who desperately wants to be part of society life, tries to go with them, but Jo stops her. Amy spitefully burns Jo’s manuscript in the fireplace. At the ball, Laurie’s tutor, Mr. John Brooke (Geoffrey Reynolds), asks Meg to dance. The two are smitten at first sight. Laurie persistently asks Jo to dance, trying to make an impression. Mr. Brooke eventually asks Meg for her hand in marriage, and she accepts.
Hearing their father has fallen ill, Jo cuts off her hair to pay for Marmee to go to Washington. Aunt March, watching over the girls, starts molding Amy into her society lady. Laurie proposes to Jo, but Jo tells him she will never marry.
Forward three years to the Boarding House. Jo bounces in to tell Mrs. Kirk and the Professor she made her first sale as an author. But the news is soon tempered by a telegram that Beth has scarlet fever, prompting Jo to return home. In arguably the soberest scene of the show, Beth says goodbye to Jo. She is not afraid to move on because she is loved by everyone, especially Jo. Beth dies soon after.
Amy and Laurie return from Europe and eventually tell Jo of their pending marriage. Jo reminisces that her family and friends are amazing individuals. This prompts her to write Little Women. The day of Laurie and Amy’s wedding, Professor Bhaer surprises Jo with his visit to Concord. He proposes, and Jo accepts. The Professor tells Jo that he sent her manuscript to the Weekly Volcano Press, and they agreed to publish it.
CRAZY FOR YOU
The final musical in PSST’s 30th season rotation is Crazy for You, a romantic comedy, book by Ken Ludwig, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and music by George Gershwin. Largely based on the Gershwin team’s 1930 musical, Girl Crazy, it incorporates songs from several other productions as well. Crazy for You won the 1992 Tony Award.
If you like music/dance, this show’s for you! High energy from the start, about the only chance you’ll have to catch your breath is the initial arrival in Deadrock. The production value of this show is the best of the three, with an incredible set, great staging and choreography, and an ensemble that sells the show. Everything from bar room brawls to a number reminiscent of the Ziegfeld Follies, there is tight tapping, dancing, singing, and direction, and I left simultaneously exhausted and exuberant!
Olin Davidson, who plays the lead, has a marathon role with a split personality in which he was wonderful. Megan Wheeler taps, sings, and sasses her way into the audience in the second-most challenging role. I can’t keep calling out individuals, because this was personalities galore.
Backstage at the Zangler Theater, Tess (Anne Marie Snyder) is dodging the advances of the married Bela Zangler (Ian Andersen). Bobby Child (Olin Davidson), the rich son of a banking family, is auditions for Mr. Zangler, at which he fails miserably.
Outside, Irene (Rachel Gubow), Bobby’s fiancée of five years accosts him, then his mother (Kelly Fletcher) demands he take over her piece of the banking business. The women give him a choice of marrying Irene or going to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a rundown theater.
In Deadrock, the cowboys have obviously seen better days. Everett Baker (Joe Mason) has a letter warning of the foreclosure on his Gaiety Theater. His daughter, Polly (Megan Wheeler), the only woman in town, vows to get even with Bobby Child if she meets him. Meanwhile, saloon proprietor Lank Hawkins (Jeremy Reasoner), tries to convince Everett to sell him the theater before the bank takes it, but Everett refuses to sell.
Bobby falls for Polly at first sight. He’s in a bind: Foreclose on the theater or lose the girl of his dreams. He decides to put on a show to pay off the mortgage. Polly agrees – until she finds out who he is. Bobby decides to put on the show anyway, but disguised as Mr. Zangler.
With Tess as co-conspirator, Follies Girls from The Zangler Theater arrive in Deadrock to help with the show, livening the sleepy town. The problem is the cowboys are terrible dancers. In one number, (“Slap That Bass”), Bobby changes all that. Just when things are looking up, Irene arrives, threatening to expose Bobby’s impersonation of Zangler, with whom Polly has fallen in love.
It’s opening night, and all hopes are dashed when the only people to show are British tourists, Eugene and Patricia Fodor (Dylan Van Slyke, Becca Mighell). The disappointment, though, turns into the realization that the show has galvanized the town.
Having professed his love, Bobby is about to convince Polly that he is “Zangler” when the real Zangler stumbles into the saloon looking for Tess. He finds Tess, but refuses to produce the show, so Tess storms off. Zangler bemoans his fate, when Bobby, dressed like Zangler, topples in. The next morning, Polly finds the two Zanglers.
Bobby wants to give the show another try, while Polly is against the idea. Bobby returns to New York, telling Polly he’ll always remember her. Meanwhile, Zangler decides to put on the show. He had planned to cast Bobby as the lead, but Bobby has already gone.
Six weeks later, Bobby still thinks of Deadrock as he works in his mother’s bank. For his birthday, Mrs. Child gives him the Zangler theater. Bobby realizes that his love for Polly is worth more and leaves with Mrs. Child for Deadrock. However, Polly, having realized she loves Bobby, decides to leave for New York to look for him. He arrives in Deadrock just after Polly leaves.
So Bobby goes after Polly. Everett notices Mrs. Child and falls in love with her, while she falls for him. Polly misses her train, so the townspeople concoct a plan to reunite Polly and Bobby.
Rounding out the cast are: Savannah Kern, Haley Aguero, Loren Stone, Axel Barry, Dylan Van Slyke, Jace LeGarde, Geoffrey Reynolds, Christian Shupe, Olivia Bell, Bekah Ward, James Rowell IV, Chas Pridgen, Amani Logan, Meredith Mehegan, Brad Weatherford, Emma Safon, Christian Hatcher, Kaitlyn Batchelor.