Here we go again! Theatre Ancaster’s upcoming MainStage production is Mamma Mia!; a “jukebox musical” based upon the hit songs of ABBA, the Swedish super-group, that dominated the top-forty charts back in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus were the songwriters behind the group and their first foray into stage musicals, Chess, co–written with Tim Rice in 1984, proved that their music works well in a theatrical setting. Their desire to work only in the theatre was one of several reasons why the band ABBA ultimately broke up.
The stage production’s script was written by Catherine Johnson, whose claim to fame before that was writing a play called Shang-a-Lang about the Bay City Rollers. It opened in the United Kingdom in April 1999 in a production directed by Phyllida Lloyd, with choreography by Anthony Van Laast. The original West End production is still running in London to this day.
The first North American production of Mamma Mia! opened in Toronto at the Royal Alexandria Theatre, and continued to run there for the next five years. With Canadians in the leading roles it then toured to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, before opening on Broadway, at the Wintergarden Theatre, a month after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, in the fall of 2001.
2008 brought us a film version of the play, which starred Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgård, Meryl Streep and Julie Walters. It proved so popular that a sequel came out last year, with most of the original cast returning, called Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!, as only a small fraction of ABBA’s hit songs were used in the first film. The soundtrack albums produced from the two films have gone multi–platinum.
An undeniable success then, Mamma Mia! has been staged in fifty countries with more than sixty–five million people having seen the show worldwide. Without question, we can see that this play is pure box office gold, and it is a “no brainer” to get it onto your theatre stage, as quickly as can arranged.
When the performance rights, for a popular and well proven hit musical finally became available it tends to get performed by many different groups in a hurry. Theatre Aquarius did the first local staging in April 2017, in a production directed by Ron Ulrich, who had to wait fifteen years for the opportunity. Priority is always given to professional companies before community theatres get a stab at it.
And now, in 2019, this musical, has had, or will have had, in a single calendar year, four local productions. Zamprogna Arts did a version last April, up at the Zoetic Theatre. It is currently running at the Rose Theatre in Brampton, and the BurlOak Theatre Group is currently auditioning for a production at the Oakville Centre, next April. So if you are a local actor wanting to be in a production of this musical the opportunity is there to get involved.
And what is the big reason why it is getting done so much? Well, there is obviously an audience that still wants to see it.
Theatre Ancaster’s production, of Mamma Mia!, which does not open for another week, has already sold more than three thousand tickets. From past Ancaster productions we can expect that this will be a larger and more ambitious staging, with a real budget to spend, and impressive production values. I note that Theatre Ancaster was formed in 1997, meaning that as a group, they are only a few years older then the play that they are performing this month.
The show is a female–centric musical. The pro–feminist story it tells is about women’s choices and how they perceive themselves as not being defined by men. The play’s main theme of single motherhood destroys the stereotype of a child being raised by both parents. Having Donna, her two best friends, and her daughter Sophie as the empowered central protagonists, it celebrates and values female friendship, and undermines the importance of fathers in women’s lives.
Ancaster’s version, is directed by the well organized, Nupi Gokhale, who has wanted to stage Mamma Mia! for many years now. She heads up an all female creative team that also includes, Deb Stevenson, (hairstyling), Roxana Waldes–Wice (props), Jenn Evans (vocal director), Tali Bar–Or (producer), Laura Bottrell (stage manager), and Allison Osterman (costumes). The disco inspired choreography is by Tina Rath who has done many shows before with Theatre Ancaster. The Dance Captain is Jen Cooper, who tells us that “the performers are from a wide variety of backgrounds”.
Director Gokhale’s enthusiasm is infectious, and she relates that “they have some of the best community performers in the area, many who are new to Theatre Ancaster and others who are returning, to the group, after many years”. Her cast includes Danielle Desjardins, as Sophie, who wants her dad to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, and Erin Bree Pierce, as her mother Donna, who was rather promiscuous back in the 1970s. The three former boyfriends, and putative fathers, are “Sam Carmichael” played by E. Jan Chithalen, Jim Broadley as “Harry Bright” and Michael Churm as “Bill Austen”.
We also meet Donna’s former band mates, and best friends for life, “Tanya” enacted by Kate Rodgers and “Rosie” played by Emily Boylea. Sophie’s fiancé “Sky” is performed by Mark Carreiro. All sorts of fun and shenanigans occur, as the multi–ethnic cast of more than thirty actors lead us through such familiar songs as “Honey, Honey”, “Thank You for the Music”, “Dancing Queen”, “Super Trouper”, and of course the title song “Mamma Mia!”.
So what audiences can expect in Ancaster is a fun-filled, uplifting night, a celebration of love, family and friendship. Just what we need in our dark world. An upbeat romantic, lighthearted show put together by an all female creative team.
I will confess that when I was ten years old I was a huge fan of this music, and wore out my eight–track cassette tape of their “greatest hits” album. To this day I still have a copy of the CD of ABBA: Gold kicking around, and I can sing the words to every single song that appears in this show from memory.
Sadly I may not get the chance to see this production as I fear it will sell out quickly. I should also mention, a warning from the producers, that there will be theatrical smoke/haze and flashing lights, so be prepared to be dazzled, in more ways then one, if you go. V
Presented by Theatre Ancaster,
Ancaster High School Auditorium
374 Jerseyville Road West, Ancaster,
November 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30 at 7:30 pm:
Matinees: November 17, 23, 24 at 2:00 pm
Tickets: 905-305-SHOW or online at TheatreAncaster.com