On Friday, the Racine Theater Guild (RTG) opened “Mamma Mia!”, their closest season and the biggest production since COVID brought the world – and the Guild – to a standstill. Under the direction of Doug Instenes, musical direction by Greg Berg and choreography by Mary Leigh Sturino, this show is a delightful bohemian adventure with ABBA as the musical backdrop.
Two years of preparation
This production carries a variety of meanings for those involved, from a sense of community to fulfilling the dream role; but overall, the word that prevails on almost everyone’s tongue is “finally”. From 2020 to now, there’s been a definite struggle between the cast and crew to keep hope alive and keep the musical feel fresh.
Elisabeth Sparks and Andrew Dorst, who play Sophie and Sky respectively, spoke to Racine County Eye on Zoom just hours before opening night. Of the two-year journey, Dorst said, “As it’s been almost three years since I’ve been able to do a production, (it’s) almost like a learning process to get back into the whole flow. of this one. all over again, and almost like relearning how to be in a show.
How the pandemic has changed production
Sparks and Dorst further expressed the price COVID has taken on the production.
Waiting was the hardest part, Sparks said. She explained that it didn’t seem like it had taken that long, but each time the rehearsals tried to start over, the truth about how much time had passed made the process longer and longer.
Dorst mentioned that there are “definitely a lot more precautions around (rehearsals), especially with some cases on the rise, being more mindful of wearing masks when we can, staying sanitized, staying healthy.” Still, he found a silver lining to the situation: “I feel like it’s given us all a greater commitment to the show we’re doing. It also made us feel much more invested in the whole process,” he said. “I feel like it gives us a lot more meaning, to finally be able to put on this show.”
A cast of veterans and newbies
For some in the cast, including Dorst, “Mamma Mia!” is just another feather in their RTG caps. For others, it’s the very first time they’ve been on the Guild stage.
Dorst explained how each show offers something unique that can fuel them as actors. He said that being part of RTG, like many other veteran cast members, has for so long evolved him as a performer and that each new show and director brings different perspectives on acting.
Sparks, who falls into the latter category, said: “It was really a surprise that I was offered something from the start… I think it was a family member who sent me the information on hearing. So I auditioned; I wasn’t really expecting much, so (I was) very surprised and very excited when they reached out and offered the role of Sophie. She later remarked that playing Sophie “is a dream”.
The importance of ABBA
Singing iconic ABBA numbers is a personal production highlight for Sparks and Dorst. They said it was a way for them to connect not only with the audience, but also with their inner ABBA fan.
“I feel like it all comes down to the music for me,” Dorst said. “As the songs are right, I mean there’s no bad song in the show. I love the whole soundtrack. It’s really fun to get the chance to sing it and make it part.
Four weekends ahead
RTG begins each show with live opening remarks from various people important to the production. Instenes, artistic director of RTG, was given this task for “Mamma Mia!” Friday. He expressed his gratitude that the show was finally able to perform and metaphorically crossed his fingers that the musical would fill its four-week schedule.
Four weekends is longer than other RTG musicals, but each performer has their own strategy and idea of how not to develop burnout or get bored on stage.
“With the songs and the interaction between the different characters, there were new discoveries every time I was in every scene,” Sparks said. “With the audience, it’s even more of a game-changer: there are people who love the songs, there are a lot of people who know the movie, there are people who don’t know either and just think (attending a musical is) a fun thing to do and do. So depending on who’s coming each night, it’s going to be a little bit different, and that I’m really excited for.
The atmosphere of the opening night
Friday’s performance was played to an almost sold-out audience – very few seats were empty. The crowd’s energy was cautiously optimistic, as if no one could believe things were nearly “back to normal.”
This has been reinforced by the Guild’s mask policy: they are strongly recommended, but not required. For this reason, and in an effort to return to normal, concessions have also been sold.
The pandemic still remains a threat, especially now that Wisconsin DHS recently recommended the return of indoor masking as positive cases are on the rise in Racine and Kenosha. However, RTG has not implemented any new COVID protocols since March.
How, when and where to see the show
“Mom Mia!” runs every weekend from now until June 12.
To see the show, tickets can be purchased on the RTG website or by contacting the box office at 262-633-4218 Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. or 90 minutes before curtain time.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $15 for students (21 and under). On Value Nights (May 29, June 2, 5, and 9), prices are reduced to $17 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students.
The Racine Theater Guild is located at 2519 Northwestern Ave. at Root.
“Mom Mia!” is sponsored by Rasmussen Diamonds.
‘Mamma Mia!’ synopsis
“On a Greek island paradise, Sophie is getting ready to marry her fiancé, Sky. To make her wedding day perfect, Sophie hopes and dreams that her father walks her down the aisle. The only problem? She doesn’t know not who he is! After uncovering the secrets of her mother’s past, Sophie invites three men who could all be her father to the wedding. Intertwined with the timeless songs of ABBA, the hit musical is a celebration of love. , laughter, family and friendship.
Provided by Racine Theater Guild
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