Mamma Mia time - major musical nears opening show

Days before the debut of the Flin Flon Community Choir’s production of Mamma Mia, the cast and crew behind the show are hard at work ensuring each detail is pitch perfect.

The rehearsals are intense, done at full show speed and volume. The actors are dressed mostly in street clothes, but don’t be fooled. They’ve come to work.

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Every single aspect of the show – from the singing, dance steps and blocking down to the nails used to build the sets – has been honed to perfection. For the choir and everyone else involved, attempting excellence still resides in the details.

Last week, the group were working on transitions, the art of getting people and scenery in and out of the stage space seamlessly. Actors go smoothly from dancing and singing to grabbing a table or chair and walking away in time, taking the scene from a Greek patio to an open plaza. If accomplished correctly, the crowd won’t notice. If they’re wrong, it’s a major distraction.

Director Ann Hodges knows what she’s looking for. Part field general, part fine artist, Hodges moves the actors around the space like pieces on a chess board. Every piece of scenery and every whirling actor within the frame has to be exactly where Hodges needs them to be.

“The director has to have an overall vision for the show, which includes the character’s interpretations, what the set looks like, then collaborating with all the different departments. You collaborate with the actors, you collaborate with the set designers, you collaborate with the lighting designer, the music director, and you put all the pieces together,” she said.

Hodges is a familiar face in Manitoba theatre circles, having directed shows with the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Saskatoon’s Persephone theatre company and others. She’s helmed Mamma Mia productions at Winnipeg’s Rainbow Stage and was the hidden hand behind the Flin Flon Community Choir’s production of Les Misérables back in 2015.

It was those two experiences that made Hodges a perfect fit.

“I love Mamma Mia. I have the experience with the show. I know the show very, very well. I had such a good time when I was here last time working on Les Mis that it was an easy decision to make,” she said.

“There are some cast members who were in both productions, as well as band and crew. There’s a lot of familiar faces coming back, as well as some new people too, which has been fantastic.”

One of those cast members is Anna Harrison, who takes on the role of Sophie Sheridan, the young woman whose wedding sparks off the events of the musical. Harrison, a music teacher in the Flin Flon School Division, has been involved with the choir’s previous two musicals before Mamma Mia, but has not had as prominent a role as she has in the new show.

“I love Sophie’s youthful optimism. She is such a bright and energetic character. It has been fun tapping back into that late-teen/early-20s energy where your friends are your family and it feels like anything is possible. I am a bright and cheery person by nature and I work with kids all the time so it wasn’t a far stretch for me to find that youthful energy,” she said.

Almost all of the 13 cast members, 23 ensemble players, 28 choir singers, seven musicians, four backing vocalists and countless production staff are from the Flin Flon area. However, some key members of the group have had to come to the north for the show.

Hodges came from Winnipeg and will return there following the production, while choreographer Janelle Hucault, originally from the Flin Flon area, is now based out of Montreal. Hucault was able to hold practices via Skype, keeping an eye on the dancers despite the distance.

Only one member of the cast is new to the region – actor Seth Johnson, who plays the role of Sky, the husband-to-be for Harrison’s Sophie. An actor by profession and a protege and former student of Hodges, Johnson had just wrapped up a production of Mamma Mia at Regina’s Globe Theatre when he received an email from the director.

“As soon as I got back to Toronto, three days later, I got an email from Ann. She said, ‘Hey, I have a proposition for you. I’m doing Mamma Mia in Manitoba in this community called Flin Flon.’ I just paused for a moment, looked it up on Google Maps and away we went,” he said.

“I thought why not go and see a new part of the country. I already knew the show, so it hasn’t been too hard of a process to jump back into it.”

The new faces have already been impressed by the work ethic and talent of the local cast.

“When you’re casting a show, you don’t need five people to play each role. You need one person,” Hodges said.

“Sure, if I was casting Mamma Mia in Toronto, I’d have maybe 10 people who could play the role of Donna or five people who could play Sophie. You only need one spectacular person. You’re going to find, when you see the show, that we have spectacular people in every single role in this.”

“They go and they work 40-to-60-hour weeks and they then take their time to come in, at night, and put on these performances,” Johnson said. “They dedicate themselves to learning all the choreo, all the blocking – it’s a hard process. It’s not easy. It’s physical. Mentally, you need to be stimulated to know where you need to be, what you’re doing, what moment in the show we’re at.

“Everybody is working their asses off and putting in so much time. The band is coming in too. People are coming in after hours and on Easter weekend, dancing and stuff, going through the choreo. It’s a very dedicated group of people.”

Meanwhile, the concept of the fully realized show finally being seen is a good one for Harrison.

“When all the pieces come together and everyone is invested in the moment, there is a sense of flow that is deeply gratifying as an artist,” she said.

“I would definitely be open to doing something like this again. I’ve loved every minute.”

The show will hit the floor of the RH Channing Auditorium for four nights, running on May 9-12.

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