by Meredith M. Griffith
Bitterly cold March winds may be howling, but islanders can step inside Orcas Center and kick back under the blazing sunny skies of the Greek isles this month as our local theater talent presents the cult classic “Mamma Mia!” with typical Orcas Island elan.
“The play is far more balanced [than the movie] between Sophie’s life and Donna’s life,” shares director Doug Bechtel. “It’s actually two love stories unfolding in parallel, between Donna and Sam, Sophie and Skye, played by Sanjaya Malakar. Hailey Averna stars as mischievous young bride Sophie, who is on a clandestine quest to find her birth father – against the wishes of her mother Donna, played by Melinda Milligan.
“It’s a sweet story about how important our family is,” says Averna. “Among the light-hearted, fun songs, it’s really about family, and that’s something everyone can relate to.”
Bechtel aims for authenticity on every front, including staying true to the classic play script and the original songs by ABBA.
“I’m looking for realism on the stage,” he shared. “In the costumes, in the relationships of the characters with each other. … You’re sitting so close to the actors, you can see their faces, you can hear their actual singing voices, supported by the mics and speakers – adding to their voices, not replacing their voices.”
He adds, “I’m trying to make it as seamless as possible, not a lot of scene changes. It just unfolds from one scene to the next to the next.” He thinks the audience will enjoy “the sweetness of the story,” adding, “Everybody is going to be touched by the scenes, the relationships with Donna and the three potential fathers, the relationship of Sophie and Skye.”
Donna’s “all-time best pals” Tanya and Rosie, who once performed with her as the pop band “Donna and the Dynamos,” are played by Aaimee Johnson and Suzanne Gropper.
Sean Gill and Luke Bronn play Pepper and Eddie, trusty but bumbling bar staff at the Taverna.
A chorus of local dancers, choreographed by Tiffany Loney, rounds out the cast.
“The process has been really fun, getting to know the show on a more intimate level,” says Malakar, who sang on American Idol as a high school sophomore, and performed on the Off-Broadway Children’s Show in New York before transplanting to Orcas last May. “Doug has a great way of getting into the mind of each of the characters, working with each actor and developing backstory.” Malakar came to Orcas for work and got “sucked in” by the close-knit, supportive family of the theater community here.
“It’s fun when you have the opportunity to work with a group of people that are so comfortable and supportive,” he said. “Going up there and becoming vulnerable like you have to, to truly perform, having that core group behind you makes it a lot easier… you can see that group support, that love, that just resonates.”
Averna notes the tremendous growth she’s seen in the group of theater players this winter.
“Everybody in the cast has kind of evolved and made a lot of progress, “ she said. “It all forms together, how much work everyone has put in, where we’ve come from, where we’ve started – it’s pretty exciting.” It’s most definitely been a community effort, she says: “Sometimes I have to bring my kids, and everybody helps with them. We’re all volunteers, just trying to make something fun for the community.”
Adds Bechtel, “The cast is excited; when you have a rehearsal and it really goes well, it ups their game a notch. It’s a really fun dynamic. I think the show’s going to be extraordinary.”
“Mamma Mia!” will be presented in 11 shows over the course of three weekends, with a discounted opening night on Thursday, March 14, through the grand finale on March 30.
A 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24 “ferry matinee” welcomes folks from other islands, while the second and third Thursdays will be singalongs, with lyrics displayed on the walls so attendees can belt out “Mamma Mia” en masse. Tickets are $15-20 online at www.orcascenter.org.