Melrose–Pam Rue and Teresa Schad from Melrose and Sarah Meier from Sauk Centre sang Dancing Queen July 1 on the stage of the Marit Elliott Performing Arts Center in Melrose as cast and crew from Mamma Mia listened and watched before hitting the stage.  

It was 40 years ago when the Sauk River Players performed their first musical, Carousel, directed by Marit Elliott. 

“We started it, Cal Meyer, myself and Jackie O’Brien, because there were so many people who wanted to be in more than just school musicals. We thought it would be fun to do it with people from Albany, Sauk Centre and Melrose,” said Elliott.

Those first years’ productions were done at theatres in Sauk Centre and Melrose.

“We traded weekends and at times we traded years,” said Elliott.

All but one of the productions were musicals, with a few done numerous times, including The Sound of Music, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Wizard of Oz, and Fiddler on the Roof, but they’ve also done more current musicals like Cotton Patch Gospel, Secret Garden, Chicago and now Mamma Mia

Asked what her favorite musical is, Elliott quickly said Carousel, a production she was in in college and also the first musical done by the Sauk River Players in 1980. 

Elliott’s fondness for musicals dates back to her childhood growing up in Kerkhoven. 

“My brother was a singer and he’d come home on weekends and have to learn new songs from musicals every two weeks. That was in the ‘60s, when musicals became popular,” said Elliott.

Elliott was the lone director when the Sauk River Players began, but over time she “sucked” people in, she said.  

“Bonnie (Poepping) does set, Callie (Mayers) does the choreography, Andrew (Engel) does the music and Nancy (Jeske) does the costumes,” said Elliott.

Oodles of people from all three communities and beyond have been in productions, some coming back year after year. 

So why Mamma Mia this year?

“We tried to get the rights to do Mamma Mia a couple of years ago. It’s been on Broadway until two years ago,” she said. 

Rue leads the cast of 32. Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. July 16, 17, 18, 19 and 22; and at 2 p.m., July 21. She plays Donna, a hotel owner in the Greek islands, preparing for her daughter’s wedding with the help of two old friends, Tanya played by Theresa Schad and Rosie played by Sarah Meier. Meanwhile Sophie, the bride, played by Jadyn Wehlage, has a plan as she marries Sky, played by Ayden Berg. She secretly invites three men--Harry, played by Brandon Wehlage, Sam, played by Cameron Smith and Bill, played by Tom Satterlee--from her mother’s past, 20 years ago, hoping to meet her real father and have him escort her down the aisle on her big day. The antics to get to that point are sure to make audience members laugh.

For Rue, who was a theatre major in college, Mamma Mia is the third Sauk River Players production she has been in since moving back to the area. A graduate of Melrose High School, she was also in high school musicals, such as Grease, playing the lead Sandy.

Mamma Mia showcases the  music of the band ABBA, including familiar songs like Dancing Queen, Money, Money, Money; Super Trouper; Honey, Honey; Chiquitita; and Mamma Mia, which Rue loves.

But there was another reason she tried out for the musical. 

“There were parts in the show that were actually my age. I’ve played older people and younger people but never someone my age,” said Rue. 

She gets to wear what she called “cool, fun ‘70s era costumes,” thanks to costumer Nancy Jeske, who Rue called “amazing.” 

Rue’s favorite song is Slipping Through My Fingers

“I totally relate to that as a mom, how quickly your babies go from babies to adults. The time just literally slips through your fingers,” she said. 

Rue enjoys working with fellow cast members, the crew and the directors. 

“We have such good people who are all passionate,” about the production, she said. 

That includes the other two women she’s often on stage with—Schad and Meier, who portray her long-time friends. 

“I’ve known Theresa for a few years. We’ve been speech coaches together. And Sarah I just met, and we have really connected,” said Rue.

That’s evident each time the trio is on the stage together—which is a lot, sometimes wearing crazy costumes.  

Rue said there is a lesson to be learned from Mamma Mia, relayed on the t-shirts cast and crew members wear--“Nothing Promised and No Regrets.”

“The show talks about living the life you are meant to live. Along the way there are challenges, but you have to keep moving along and be happy with what you have, living life with no regrets,” Rue explained. 

Rue doesn’t regret the decision she made to be a part of this high-energy musical. In fact, every practice night, as 7 p.m. approaches Rue said she gets excited.

“When you love something it’s not work, it’s fun,” she said. 

Mamma Mia is all about friendships, laughter and love.