It’s no understatement to say Anna Loehrke, director of the Port Polson Players’ production of “The Pin-Up Girls,” was born into the theater. The daughter of Players producers Neal and Karen Lewing took her first turn on stage as a 2 year old in a production of “Sleeping Beauty,” and hasn’t taken many detours since.
Her parents put her to work in fourth grade answering the phone in the box office, stapling programs and stamping postcards. By the time she was in high school, she was performing in shows and helping out with theater camps. Her friends “also got suckered in,” she says.
Although “for a hot second,” she imagined a career teaching or as a marine biologist, she earned a degree in theater from the University of Montana instead. Working in North Dakota, and itching to get back home, she retraced her parents’ footsteps. Inspired by their stories of touring together with Missoula Children’s Theatre, she applied for an actor’s job and hit the road as the company’s first offspring of touring actors.
She met her husband, Matt Loehrke, when he was teaching workshops as MCT’s education director. Although the couple moved to Ohio during the pandemic to be near Matt’s family, Anna still found her way back to Montana to stage the show she was poised to launch last summer.
“The Pin-Up Girls,” on stage at the Theatre on the Lake July 8-25, was supposed to open the Players’ 2020 season until COVID dimmed the lights for live performances across Montana, and indeed, much of the world.
Loehrke had assembled a talented cast of Missoula Community Theatre veterans and was well into rehearsals when the show was cancelled.
“When things started to open back up we reached out to the cast and asked, ‘are you interested?’” says Loehrke. Four out of five “were able to join us,” and the new recruit “who stepped in at the last second is right on track with everyone else.”
Billed as a “musical valentine to our veterans,” the new play was written by James Hindman and Jeffrey Lodin and is presented by special arrangement with Stage Rights. The Polson show marks its Montana premiere, and the first staging beyond the original cast’s production.
Courtney Quincy, Abigail Gilbert, Katie Velde and Joe Kellogg, with Denise Harmon at the piano, portray a trio of hometown pals (and a brother who fills in at the last minute) who perform as “The Pin-Up Girls.”
“They’re supposed to be friends on stage, and the audience is supposed to believe they enjoy spending time together,” says Loehrke. In this case, that’s all true. “The chemistry on stage, the way they interact and their energy is amazing.”
With tunes ranging from Gershwin to Beyoncé, the foursome sings a cavalcade of hits inspired by letters home from the troops, and encompassing conflicts from World War I through Afghanistan. From “Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” to “Abba-Dabba Honeymoon” and “Single Ladies,” the show offers a rollicking yet reverent salute to veterans from all branches of the military.
Loehrke notes that summer productions typically have fewer actors due to a tight rehearsal schedule (in this case, just four weeks). “We’re always on the lookout for small cast shows that have a good message, are fun and are something (other theater companies) don’t tend to do that often.” With just four actors and a pianist, “The Pin-Up Girls” fits the bill.
In addition to her acting credentials, Loehrke has directed several productions, including “Guys on Ice,” “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” “Almost Maine” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” She finds the process of bringing a script to life both challenging and rewarding.
“As a director and performer, I’ve been able to work with a wide variety of talent,” she says. “One of the coolest things is to watch the process of unbelievably talented people growing and developing their character and breathing life into the show.”
Her current crew is no exception. “It’s an honor be in the same room, let alone be on the same team with these guys,” she says.
Curtain time is 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, July 8-25. Tickets are $19 for adults, $18 for senior citizens and students, and $10 for veterans. Call 406-883-9212 or go to PortPolsonPlayers.com for more information or to make reservations.
– Kristi Niemeyer