Stage Door launches its first production

A dream of nearly 20 years will finally become a reality for Mary Jo Laupp when Stage Door Productions presents Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs For A New World” Jan. 25 and 26.

The performance will be the official launch of Stage Door, Fort Dodge’s newest musical theater company.

“This is the premier event,” said Laupp, managing director of the production. “To be managing director of something I have dreamed of for 20 years, to be literally days away from the first production it’s really a big thing.”

Laupp said she first thought of the idea of starting a group specializing in small cast musicals about 20 years ago, but it was a conversation over lunch last spring that got the ball rolling and brought the idea to life.

“I met last spring with Susan (Ahlers Lehman),” said Laupp. “She knew all the right people to get in touch with.”

Laupp has also been involved with Take Two Summer Theater, a children’s group, which Stage Door Productions will oversee.

‘We’re trying to find our niche,” she said. “Stage Door will take care of youth theater and smaller casts.”

Over the summer a board of directors was formed, and the group worked to attain the status of a nonprofit organization at the state level and is working to attain it at the federal level as well.

“Over the summer we became a corporation, and now we are taking our inaugural season and asking what will it look like,” said Ahlers Leman, who is also part of the “Songs For A New World” cast.

Stage door will offer a different avenue of community theater than what already exists in Fort Dodge, Laupp and Ahlers Leman said.

“We talked about what we wanted to be as a theater group,” Ahlers Leman said. “There is a rich tradition in Fort Dodge with Hawkeye Community Theater; they specialize in plays. Comedia Musica does one large musical production in the fall, but we wanted to have a different focus. There are a lot of small cast musicals out there we can do, and we wanted an opportunity to bring together talented people in town who maybe don’t want to commit the time it takes for a bigger show.”

“We’re going to specialize in the small cast,” said Laupp.

“It’s another way for us to add to the already existing musical opportunities this area has,” said Nate Gibson, a member of the cast. “Stage door will add another avenue for local talent to be showcased.”

“Songs For A New World” takes a new approach to musicals as there is no particular character or plot to the story. It takes everyday life situations and puts them to music, allowing the cast to portray several people experiencing an array of emotions.

“All of the songs are about a moment where there is a decision to be made, some are funny, some sad, some dramatic,” said Ahlers Leman. “The characters don’t have names and there is no plot. We hope that people will be able to connect with the situations presented and be able to say ‘I’ve felt like that.'”

“It all comes down to the fact that we all have these moments where we have to continue forward, where it means going forward in almost a whole new world,” said Laupp. “There are dreams of stardom, marriages about to fall apart, careers and then some. It touches all of those situations.”

Laupp said that while she has enjoyed the challenge of the music, Brown’s music is just hard,” she said. “And the fact that this musical is so different, there is no plot to follow to carry you through so you really have to find your character.”

“The piano part is one of the hardest I’ve played,” said Shelly Bottorff, president of Stage Door Production’s board of directors and pianist/music director for the performance. “But it has been great to be part of the launch and be involved in all aspects of it. It’s been a neat experience to see everyone get familiar with their roles.”

Gibson also enjoys the challenge of the music.

“On a personal level, this is some of the most difficult music I have ever had to sing,” he said. “But it’s actually painfully enjoyable.”

Cast member Ben Ahlers said he has liked the challenge of changing characters throughout the performance.

“It so different from any show I’ve done because I get a chance to change characters and apply what they are feeling,” he said.

Laupp said she considers it a privilege to finally see the performance and Stage Door Productions come to life.

“It’s huge,” she said. “I always had friends I would tell about this dream and they would say ‘Good luck, that’s cool.’ But to get to talk to someone and have them say, ‘Let’s do it’; it’s been so encouraging to share this dream with these people. And it all started over lunch.”