By Donna Fischer
It’s time for a little 1960s throwback in the way of an exuberant musical called, “Suds.” This comical soap opera will light up the Jane Bergstrom Fine Arts Educational Center at St. Mary Central in Neenah June 19th through the 21st. The musical comes your way thanks to the talent and hard work of American Soapbox Theatrical (AST), a new nonprofit theatre company based in the Fox Valley.
AST’s president is Crystal Vodopija. A lifelong fan of musical entertainment, Vodopija had performed in the musical a couple of years ago at the Riverside Theater in Neenah and says that the jukebox musical, which was created in the 1980s by Steve Gunderson, elicits a strong reaction from audiences. “It’s not a well known show, which is why we need to get the word out. When people come to it they love it, and they just want to come back again and again. We had so many repeat customers when we did it a couple of years ago. It’s a cast of four people and it’s nothing but tight harmony the whole way through. It’s a comedy so when we’re not singing we’re telling jokes. We’re either laughing or clapping along. I’ve never done this show and not had the audience just screaming and cheering and just wanting more, encores and everything. It’s the greatest show I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of.” Remarkably, “Suds” has music from 50 songs from the 1960s, including, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Johnny Angel,” “Shout” and more.
“This show is so important to me,” Vodopija says. “It was always my dream to be a performer. In high school I never got the opportunity to do it. I went to Neenah, and it was a big school with a lot of competition. I was really shy then, so I didn’t really get involved. I tried but it didn’t work out for me.”
Vodopija’s aspirations for the stage most likely developed earlier in childhood under the spell of a certain Magic Kingdom. “My family and I went to Disneyworld every summer for as long as I can remember. I’d always had a passion for singing, dancing, theater and the arts. That place is the best; nobody does it better. I wanted to be a part of that so badly. I’m an only child and my parents kind of made sure I got to do everything I ever wanted to do. I’m so grateful for that; they’re just amazing.”
At age 18, Vodopija auditioned in Florida and earned her passage into the world of Disney. “I got to do Jungle Cruise; I worked at the Haunted Mansion; I was Princess Aurora, who is Sleeping Beauty; and I got to dance in the parades. It was a great time.” An unfortunate setback came in the way of nodes on her vocal chords, which is not uncommon for singers. She moved back home to Neenah and took two years off from singing. “Those years were very sad because I couldn’t do what I loved to do. That was about five years ago, but I’m okay now. Yeah, no matter what Disney was still the greatest experience. I met my lifelong friends there; I met my husband there. It was the greatest thing I could have done.”
Vodopija adds another, more personal reason for choosing this musical for AST. “This show is the soundtrack of my parents’ lives, and they’ve played such a huge role in my life and this is their favorite show. My dad has cancer but he is in remission now. This show means so much to him and my mother, and I want them to see it as much as they can.”
No matter the genre, music can have mysterious effects on those who respond to it. Vodopija recounts one performance of “Suds” at Riverside in which an elderly woman in the front row couldn’t help but sing along with the songs from decades past. “It was so sweet. After the show her husband came up to us and said, ‘I just wanted to thank you. My wife suffers from severe Alzheimer’s and she remembers all of these words.’ It was a trip down memory lane for the two of them. It was the first thing in a long time that they were able to remember together and she remembered who he was because they had their first dance to one of the songs in the show. He was in tears and said, ‘thank you.’”
Though managing the choppy waters of the nonprofit world is a big challenge for Vodopija, she’s excited about new possibilities for AST. “We like to focus on smaller shows. It’s easier for us to control. We’re a small company and we don’t have the funding like other theater companies in the area. We’re going to do a Christmas revue show again. We are looking at doing “Nunsence II, the Second Coming.” I think if we can be successful with “Suds,” then we can try new things and bring new things to the area.”
Look for “Suds” at the Jane Berstrom Fine Arts Center in St. Mary Central in Neenah June 19 – 21. Shows are at 7pm, with an additional 2pm show on the 21st. Call 866-967-8167 or go to ASTsuds.info.