by Toby Cooper
Special to the Sounder
Staging a high-energy musical bombshell like “Mamma Mia!” has been a long-standing dream of director Doug Bechtel and his friends at the Actor’s Theater. To do so for Orcas Island’s community theater-loving audiences would be an even greater thrill.
Last fall they saw their chance and successfully pitched the show to Orcas Center.
By any standard, Doug, together with assistant director Keith Light and logistics director Sarah Cooper, constitute a potent creative core. Doug, of course, has established his brand with countless memorable productions at The Grange, not to mention sold-out “Spamalot” last year at Orcas Center. As his reputation grows, attendance at his shows threatens to overwhelm the 230-seat center auditorium. With 11 performances planned over three March weekends, “Mamma Mia!” could shatter Orcas attendance records yet again.
“Mamma Mia!,” music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, will play March 14-30 at Orcas Center. Tickets are available at www.orcascenter.org.
A production like this looks deceptively simple to the uninitiated, but this project has been underway since October 2018, with dozens working seven days per week. The onstage cast numbers some 35, ably supported by another 50 volunteers behind the scenes.
“We probably plow 75 minutes of rehearsal and prep for every 60 seconds of final performance,” said Sarah. “Some of Doug’s friends, like Lynda Sanders (costumes and stage manager) have been doing this with him for 20 years.”
Motivation comes easy, though. Just close your eyes and chant, “OMG, opening night is another day closer …”
At rehearsals, the creative team works in efficient silence. Doug studies the action in front of him, missing nothing, scribbling furiously on a pad. Sarah tracks the script and calls out missed lines, while simultaneously trying to record important comments that drift her way from Doug. Keith, wearing trademark flip flops (in February — don’t ask), serves variously as musical director, iPad-band leader and, most of all, architect of the impeccable timing that makes or breaks musical theater.
Lynda studies the actors, mentally stitching fabric to suit the persona of each character. Choreographer Tiffany Loney, who carries responsibility for the visual impact and dynamic shifts of mood, soaks in the stage-wide spectacle, then zooms in on tiny details: “There’s a spin there … step, step, NOW TURN!”
Keith, though, steals the show. Like a time-warp Vaudeville-era one-man band, he sets the beat with one thumping foot, measures the progress on score sheets to the left, and taps the iPad on the right to bring the music up, down, louder, fainter, as required by Doug’s modified script.
This is “Mamma Mia!” By any standard, it is fun personified. Since its 1999 debut, the so-called jukebox musical has delighted audiences worldwide with its improbable-yet-believable storyline and infectious ABBA melodies. Its several incarnations have grossed an estimated $2 billion, thanks to 60 million ebullient sing-along fans who wore themselves silly dancing in the aisles.
After 14 years on Broadway alone, could anyone doubt the next stop would be Orcas Island?