A lot of energy and some pretty great singing and dancing will be coming to the Geyer Performing Arts stage in Scottdale this weekend when the ABBA music inspired show kicks off tonight.
Director Shawn Conway said he jumped on the opportunity to direct the show the moment it was released.
“After the weighty themes and big responsibility of last year’s ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ I wanted something light and fun that people would love,” he said. “‘Mamma Mia’ fits that role perfectly, having spent fourteen years on Broadway, seven on the West End, and entertaining people all over the world.”
In the show, Sophie Sheridan is getting married soon and the main dream of the 20-year-old girl is to be led to the altar by her father.
But since she was brought up by only her mother Donna Sheridan, and she doesn’t know who her father is, this could prove to be more difficult than she might have imagined.
But a lucky find of her mom’s diary, which Donna had been writing in for nine-months before the birth of her daughter, narrows the possibilities down to three men.
Sophie decides to invite her mom’s three lovers during that time period (Sam, Bill and Harry) to her wedding.
Backed by the music of classic Swedish band ABBA, the show is widely known due to two recent movies at the box office and the show running on Broadway for over a decade.
But Conway said he thinks they’ve taken great care to tell this story in a different way that will keep it fresh for audiences familiar with the musical, movie, and sequel, including the choreography, which will come to life through the tutelage of Audrey-Gee.
“Our choreographer (Gee) has developed some great routines that pay homage not only to those telling of the material, but we also tip the cap to some other famous shows and movies such as ‘Rent,’ ‘Evita,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ and even ‘Jurassic Park,’” said Conway.
He added that he and Gee have worked together to make each number feel less like a dance recital set to ABBA tunes.
“We’re using those numbers to deepen and continue telling the story we’re all familiar with by now,” Conway said. “We have some talented young dancers who, through their art, portray the younger versions of our adult characters who show us what the lyrics and lines are telling us about their pasts. It’s a ballet-style presentation of Donna’s past inspired by the classic Greek tradition the setting evokes.”
Christopher Schaffer of New Stanton, who will take on the role of Bill, one of Donna’s former lovers, said that while he doesn’t have a ton of choreography to learn for his part, he is mesmerized by the work the dancers are putting in for the show.
“The dancers are showing an amazing amount of dedication to learning the inspirational choreography by Audrey Gee,” he said. “Her vision and teaching style makes is easy to learn the hardest dances.”
Schaffer added that the biggest challenge so far has been focusing in rehearsal.
“I find myself watching the show like an audience member on stage,” he said. “The dancers bring an addictive energy. I am truly humbled and love sharing the stage with this amazing talent.”
Conway said the main reason this show has been so successful on Broadway is because of the catchy music that fills this score. “We hope to do it justice and carry on that tradition,” he said.
Kelly Damico, who takes on the role of Donna, saw a professional production of the show a few years ago and knew she wanted to be part of it, but it’s Meryl Streep’s performance from the film that she’s trying to emulate for this show.
“Donna is hard-working, emotional, compassionate, independent, stubborn at times, and somewhat hard-headed,” said Damico. “I strongly relate to Donna in that she has to overcome some tough obstacles that will eventually lead her to where she is supposed to be in life.”
Performing with Robyn Brady (Rosie) and Amanda Anne Leight (Tanya) has been a highlight of the show for Damico.
“This is my first time working with these two talented women and I feel we have such strong chemistry amongst the three of us already on stage,” she said. “We are having such a great time bringing the Dynamos to life.”
Damico added that the music in the show is great, but it’s the people portraying the characters that will make the musical.
“Our director (Conway) also has such a unique vision and is taking a different spin on this show that will be different from the rest of the shows performing it near us,” she said. “The script doesn’t give the audience much insight on Donna’s past so Shawn is incorporating multiple flashbacks on stage during the entire show. Each of the Dynamos and three “Dads’” will have younger versions of them on stage. It’s really going to tie the show together on a much more understandable level for the audience.”
This will be the fifth show that Conway has directed at the Geyer Performing Arts Center for Actors and Artists of Fayette County (AAFC).
“During each of my productions I have tried to expand my outreach to bring in new talent,” he said. “We also are a truly community theater in that we come from all experience levels and try to learn how to be better performers and producers of theater.
“I am always looking for new challenges, new ideas, and new people to make AAFC productions a step above the last one you may have seen,” Conway added.
Schaffer said community theater means something different to everyone and has a special place in their hearts for different reasons.
“To me, community theater is a place I can come to have fun and be a part of this family, and we work together to share a great story with the audience,” he said. “After a decade of not doing theater, I was fortunate to come in to the roles of Sir Danvers in ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ Santa in ‘Christmas Story,’ Grampy in ‘Unconventional,’ a member of the ensemble in ‘Godspell’ and Herrick in ‘The Crucible’ (all at the Geyer).”
Besides Damico, Leight, Brady and Schaffer, other cast members include Gabby Takitch as Sophie, Emily White as Lisa, Rachel Moore as Ali, Mike Hamilla as Sam, Ben Wren as Harry, Michael Stanley as Sky, Mikey J Smith as Pepper and Will Dixon as Eddie.
“This is the first time I’ve worked side-by-side with Mike Hamilla and Robyn Brady who continually blow me away with their performances, and I am thrilled to work alongside Kelly Damico, Ben Wren and Amanda Leight again.”
Conway said that at the close of the show, “all I can hope for is that when people walk out of that building they are humming their favorite ABBA tune, saying that it looked like we all had fun putting on the show, and feeling like our performance earned the price of admission.”
The show is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 13-15 and 2:30 p.m. June 16. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or online at www.geyerpac.com. The theater is located at 111 Pittsburgh St., Scottdale.