Dancing Queens: ‘Mamma Mia!’ opens Theatre Aspen season
If You Go…
What: ‘Mamma Mia!’ presented by Theatre Aspen
When: Through Aug. 20; Previews June 24, 8 p.m. and June 25, 3 & 8 p.m.; Opening night June 28, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park
How much: $29-$100
Tickets: www.theatreaspen.org; 970-300-4474
If ever there’s been a time we’ve needed a disco-tinged dose of musical theater escapism, the tumultuous summer of 2016 and the all-consuming frenzy of the presidential election season is it. So Theatre Aspen is taking a chance on “Mamma Mia!” — the fizzy, ABBA-fueled, Broadway pop funfest that opens the company’s season this weekend.
The beloved show, which finished its 14-year-long Broadway run last year, strings together 20 ABBA earworm hits (and yes, of course, you know them all) over a wedding weekend of high family drama in the Greek Isles. The bride-to-be invites three men from her mom’s past, hoping to find out which is her father. Her mother, Donna, formerly the front-woman of the disco rock outfit Donna and the Dynamos, naturally, has her former bandmates at her side to meet them. Song-and-dance mayhem and merriment ensues.
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” said Anne Brummel, who plays Donna, in a recent conversation about the Aspen production with the women who play the Dynamos: the frequently married Tanya (Elise Kinnon) and the sassy, straight-talking Rosie (Margot Moreland). “It takes off at the start and never lets up.”
Brummel, who played Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway and on the national tour, recalled that the original “Mamma Mia!” Broadway run opened just weeks after the September 11 attack on Manhattan. In that dark time, the show’s energy and emotional immediacy provided some solace as audiences flocked to it (and notoriously danced in the aisles many nights).
“It came when the world needed some fun and needed to get people to watch something that’s a good time, that’s a fun story people relate to,” she said. “So I hope people walk away with some energy and a smile and have a great night out.”
But the actresses playing the Dynamos suggest that this intimate production might offer audiences more than a fluffy slice of disco escapism. With less than 200 seats — all within breathing distance of its thrust stage — the Hurst Theatre in Rio Grande Park emphasizes the heart of this musical about family relationships.
“A lot of people are going to go out with this heartwarming bond, because there is such great chemistry with the characters,” said Moreland, an award-winning south Florida-based actress. “I hope people walk out and say, ‘Oh, I have to call my mom or my daughter or my best friends.’”
The Dynamos found themselves weeping in rehearsals, they said. The sensitive touch of director Mark Martino, who also helmed the intimate epic “Les Miserables” at Theatre Aspen, the actresses said, has helped them infuse a tender humanity into what could otherwise be a silly jukebox show.
“I’ve worked with him before and I would sweep the stage to work with him again — I’d do anything,” Moreland said. “He’s such a great director and has such an understanding of performers and the ways people approach characters.”
Other than some close encounters with black bears and the challenge of singing at altitude (for which Kinnon trains by hiking Smuggler Mountain) the trio of actresses described the preparations for “Mamma Mia!” and working in the collaborative Theatre Aspen environment as an actor’s dream. Brummel and Moreland are here for the first time. But Kinnon, who along with playing a Dynamo serves as the show’s associate director, choreographer and dance captain, is here for her third summer season. She noted that three fellow cast members from the 2014 production of “The Full Monty” are back in Aspen for “Mamma Mia!” and that, when casting notices go out for Theatre Aspen shows, actors start buzzing.
“Theatre Aspen is really on the map now,” Kinnon said. ”People want to work here, they know about the theater, they know about (its executive artistic director) Paige Price, and they know how good the experience is.”
The cast of 20 — the largest Theatre Aspen has put on stage at the Hurst Theatre — also includes an original “Mamma Mia!” cast member in Mark Price. He played Donna’s bartender Pepper in the original Broadway cast and has now matured into the role of her old flame Harry.
Theatre Aspen is one of just a few North American theaters that’s gotten the rights to put on the first “Mamma Mia!” regional productions this year. Price said the show’s producers solicited the company about putting it on in the quaint tent theater here and offered it up last spring, months before “Mamma Mia!’ closed on Broadway.
“Our reputation has become that we do big shows in a little space,” she said. “So the rights-holders are curious about what we’re going to do with it.”
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