I drove to Valdosta today. I’d planned this trip since late May, to see my friend perform in the Peach State Summer Stock Theater on the VSU campus. Tonight’s performance is Mama Mia!, and Kelly has the lead as Donna. It’s the 30th anniversary of this fine arts program, and she is getting some great reviews for her performances. Tonight, she has a 6pm call time, and we arrived in the POURING rain. We got lucky and were able to wait it out five minutes in the car. When it lightened up to a sprinkle we rushed in. She ushered me up front to the lobby area near the box office, and I sat contentedly with a book, settling in until the theater opened around 7pm. I was alone except for the 2-3 undergrads preparing to open the box office. The lobby held certain “college nostalgia” with aged hallways that exuded wisdom and creativity. As one or two patrons trickled in, the pre-show energy began to pick up.
Now, if I’m being honest, I’ve never taken a theater class in my life, nor choir. I didn’t grow up attending shows with my friends or my family. It just wasn’t part of my DNA. I was always afraid of performing, and I avoided it like the plague. My friend is not afraid to perform; she adores it. And the stage adores her too.
Even though I brought a book, I instead took a few pictures to post on Insta and listened to the undergraduate volunteers chatter with excitement at the box office. As the singers began warming up inside the closed theater, the four students began to move and mimic the choreography in tiny hand movements while quietly singing along. I only heard bits of their conversation, but words like “I wish I could have stayed for the show, I really wanted to sing along”, “This is my favorite of the three”, and “I can see Kelly’s soul when she sings “The Winner Takes it All” traveled down the lobby hallway.
Wait, what? See her soul? That sounds a bit transcendental. I think I’d know a slice of her soul before any of you would. I mean, I read all of her writing, and her family is here too. These are the people that know her best. I bet they’ve seen her soul, probably. Sweet undergrads, you barely know her; surely you can’t see what these people see, what I see in my friend’s creative heart...not yet, anyway.
Like I said, I don’t really know the musical theater world, and I certainly didn’t expect what I got. The energy of the cast was phenomenal. Every scene and every song was so well executed, and I didn’t have to wait very long before my sweet friend burst onto the set and sang her first number. I saw how much fun Kelly was having, she was skilled and playful and engaging. I. Could. Not. Take. My. Eyes. Off. Her. Finally the moment came for “The Winner Takes It All”.
There she was, singing her heart out and I saw the pain, rejection, disappointment, loneliness, and regret that “Donna” felt at that moment as she sang to “Sam”. It seemed an admission of mistakes and all the emotions that people do their best to bury, to hide from view. But it was raw, and pure and recognized by the deepest part of our hearts. Dare I say, even our souls?
So yes, those who were captivated by her song saw a glimpse of her soul tonight. I saw what those undergrads were talking about, and I realized that I was a fool to think otherwise. It reminded me of the scene in the film Rocketman when “Elton” sang for a huge crowd and everything started moving in slow motion. He began to float up in the air with the crowd of fans. He was having a moment of transcendence, and taking the audience along with him in a perfect lyrical moment.
We all floated along with Kelly in this moment too. Her voice filled the theater, left no ear untouched, left no shoulder untapped, and let us all feel the butterflies of emotion as we rode the rollercoaster that “Donna” was feeling. Thanks for the ride Kelly—it was sublime. Proud of you, girl.
Enjoy adult contemporary romance? You can look up more information about my friend and her writing career on her website: