Ojai ACT mounts their production of Mamma Mia!
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through July 14
Where: Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S Montgomery St, Ojai
Information: OjaiACT.org or (805) 640-8797.
You can’t blame the floodgates opening when hit musical “Mamma Mia” left Broadway and the West End, and the rights became readily available and affordable. A jukebox musical of Abba hits, it has had several productions in the 18 months just in the tri-county area alone, include high school productions. Somewhere right now in the world, somebody is singing along to “Waterloo” or maybe “Dancing Queen” or, hey, even “Does Your Mother Know.”
PCPA produced it last year. This year its Ojai ACT’s turn and like all things Ojai, that means plenty of community spirit. The show opens tonight and runs through July 14, and tickets are selling fast.
“It’s funny, we’re not really in competition for the same audience,” says director Tracey Williams Sutton of the number of productions happening (including Moorpark and Simi Valley, coming soon). “It depends if somebody they know is in the show. But we’ve also learned how much of an impact social media has on all these things.” These days, the actors themselves act as self-publicists.
For the last 12 years, Sutton has directed Ojai’s summer musical, except for last year’s “Man of La Mancha,” where she performed. She’s also the drama director at Thacher School, but was an actor first years ago. “It helps you relate to the performer as a director, and you can ask appropriate questions…You can see yourself in the actor.”
“Mamma Mia” tells the story of 20-year-old Sophie (Nichole Riffenburgh), who is set to be married in the Greek Isles, and wants to invite her father to the wedding…if only she knows who that was. Based on her mom Donna’s diary from the time—the mom here played by Asunta Fleming—she has three candidates and so invites all of them: the American Sam (Shayne Bourbon), the British Harry (Nigel Chisholm), and the writer Bill (Smitty West). Add to the guest list Donna’s friends who used to all be in a singing group together (Anna Kotula and Dianne Miller), and Sophie’s friends Ali (Kisea Katikka) and Lisa (Shannon David), and you have the making of a fun, bubbly, and crowded-in-the-best-way musical.
Asunta Fleming starred in “Kiss Me Kate” years ago—Williams’ first OjaiACT musical—and now they are having a reunion of sorts. Bourbon and Miller are both in bands. On the other hand, many of the cast are new to OjaiACT.
If you’ve only seen the movie version of the musical, you might be delighted to find the musical has twice as many tunes (Hollywood saved half of the songs for the inevitable sequel).
“This show has taken me by surprise because there is so much singing and so many songs,” Williams says. “The connecting sings are really short and it is a little nutty. But I’m going with the concept that this is a rock opera.”
Williams has made a change from other productions and moved the ensemble, that usually sings in the wings, and brought them out more. They stand on the set, on stairs, and even in the aisles “like a Greek chorus” (naturally) and support the cast.
Strange as it might sound, Williams runs into people who don’t like Abba and think they might not like the musical—they tend, by the way, to be men.
“Look it’s not Leonard Bernstein, it’s not a typical musical,” she says. “But if you’re not tapping your feet or singing along, I don’t know what to say.”