Opera House Players unite over shared passion for the theater
By Audrey Posten
For the next two weekends, the Elkader Opera House Players will once again grace the stage, as the group presents the musical “Copacabana,” featuring music by Barry Manilow.
The group, which formed in 1966, has been a large part of some locals’ lives for many years. McGregor chiropractor Craig Strutt performed in his first Opera House Players (OHP) show in 1972 when he was a junior in high school. He became involved on a consistent basis in 1993 and has either performed or directed ever since. “Copacabana,” which he will direct, marks his 47th show.
Craig’s daughter, Cheri Moser, first got a part in 1990—when she was just a third grader—performing in Annie. Over the years, she met many lifelong friends, as well as her husband, Jonathon Moser. Jonathon, who will play the lead in “Copacabana,” is a veteran himself, having performed since he was just six years old.
The couple has three children and Cheri said the opera house is already one of their favorite places to be.
“Both my husband and I are excited to have three generations of Opera House Players,” she said.
“Copacabana” will mark Joeann Tesar’s fourth OHP production.
“My original ambition was to be an actress,” said Joeann, who is from Wauzeka, Wis. “Having such an elegant theater to perform in makes my dream come true in a grand style.”
A shared love for the theater is what often brings performers back, whether it is to act, direct, sing, dance, play in the band or design costumes or sets.
“That mutual love and respect for music and the stage is what we all have in common,” Jonathon said.
“When everyone shares a passion and common goal, relationships strengthen and support each other,” Joeann added. “The arts create positive communities for people.”
While band member Ric Benzing, who is from Monona, enjoys playing on the 110-year-old opera house’s Schimmel grand piano, he said it is also fun to work with people who want to do their best.
Their best is pretty good. Despite the group’s amateur status, Joeann said people will be surprised at the high level of talent.
“I’ve heard so many people walk into the opera house for the first time and say, ‘Wow, I had no idea this was even here!” Cheri added. “Then they’ll attend a show and be even more surprised at the talent. We have people driving 40 minutes each night, one way, just to get to Elkader for rehearsals. I think that says a lot. We’re all volunteers, we don’t get paid, but we love being a part of these quality shows.”
The cast has been rehearsing since June, but Craig said work on the production began roughly one year ago, with the selection of the play. Since it is a group effort, Craig said members first read through a number of plays and musicals until settling on something the whole group likes. Then they try to see a live performance. Craig said the original plan was to see “Copacabana” in Chicago. However, that did not work out, so eight players traveled to Missouri to watch a high school perform the musical.
Once the selection process was complete, Craig said people worked on blocking out the set, costume designers were lined up and the orchestra leader started working on parts. Try outs were also held.
After the parts were filled, people began learning the music. Once the song was down, the group moved on to dancing, then learned individual parts.
“We wanted that in their heads before people got going on their individual parts,” Craig explained.
All in all, Craig said this performance includes about 40 rehearsals. “Copacabana” is a bigger production than the group usually does. Craig said a regular musical would probably consist of 30 rehearsals, while a play would be 20. Either way, he said, the time commitment is not as daunting as it seems.
“We were very much focused on certain groups so that people would get nights off,” he said.
Craig said performing is something anyone can get involved with to any degree they desire.
“Our cast members run from six years old to people in their 80s,” he said. “Unlike so many other hobbies, theater is something you can enjoy your entire life—on stage or sitting in the seats.”
For those in their seats, Cheri—who is one of the choreographers—said “Copacabana” will be bigger than anything the OPH has done in recent years.
“‘Copacabana’ has a dozen dance numbers in it,” she said. “The show has so many different types of music in it that there is something for everyone—big group numbers, a foxtrot, a tango, jazz, tap.”
At one of the rehearsals, Joeann said her friend’s two-year-old son was more content to play in the aisles rather than watch the rehearsal.
“He knows me and said ‘hello,’ but ignored my practice onstage until he noticed the very large fruit hat I had on for my song and dance,” she said. “Captivated by my new look, he stopped playing and walked, almost hypnotized, and said, ‘Oh, she’s beautiful.’ Even the youngest can appreciate the fun this show provides.”
“Copacabana” can be seen at the Elkader Opera House on Sept. 26 and 29 at 2 p.m., as well as on Sept. 27-28 and Oct. 3-5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Moser Pharmacy or by calling (563) 873-2378 or at www.OperaHousePlayers.com.