There aren’t many broadway musicals based largely on a single song by a 1970s band. But that very musical - which also became two movies - will be the next production of Tallahassee’s Young Actors’ Theatre.
The 1970s spawned some very innovative and serious pop music. From progressive bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer, as well as ground-breaking singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. And then there were these guys: (clip of "Take a Chance on Me")
The Swedish quartet “Abba” spawned scads of hits in the 1970s. Including this one: (clip of "Mama Mia")
“Mama Mia” was released as a song in 1975. In 1999, it inspired a Broadway musical of the same name. Although Tina Williams, the founder and guiding light of Tallahassee’s Young Actors Theatre, wasn’t totally satisfied with that production.
"I remember when I first saw it on Broadway I felt that sometimes the entrances of the songs were so abrupt that it threw you a little bit and it didn't seem like it had as much of a feeling or sense to it," Williams recalled. "And I'm the kind of person who always feels like you have to have motivation."
Williams did want to stage it at Young Actors’. She finally found a version that seemed to fit the bill.
"I had recently seen a production of it in the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre and I was very entertained by how they flowed the music a little bit better. So we have tried to do that in our production. And while you know all the fun numbers in it - songs like Lynn sings 'The Winner Takes it All' - that says a lot! So we're trying to perk up the drama part of it and see how these characters are real."
“MamaMia” requires some double casting; characters who appear as their older and younger selves and thus require two sets of actors. So Williams tapped six Young Actors’ alums. She already mentioned one of them:
"(I'm) Lynn Danello Held and I'm back doing a guest artist at Young Actors'."
Not only did Danello Held come back to Tallahassee from her present home in Indiana, she brought her daughter with her to portray herself in the flashback scenes.
"It is kind of weird to see my daughter over there and I have to take care of her and see she has lunch and all that, so it's weird!" she laughed.
But what’s not weird, say both Williams and Danello Held, is having so many former performance pals together again. They say that class reunion spirit lends a special joy and energy to the ensemble both on and off the stage.
"All of the alums who are doing the show we're all acting like we did when we at YAT (Young Actors Theatre)," laughed Danello Held. "They're going back to their teenage days," interjected Williams, "looking for ways to hang out after rehearsal." "It's like no time has gone by," concluded Danello Held.
Not all of the alums are cast members. Williams said one came back to help guide the local production.
"David Reeser who graduated in 1998 from Young Actors' he is coming in to overview what we're doing because he was in a national production of 'Mamma Mia' and he was very familiar with it. So when we decided we were going to do the show we called David and asked if he could come and help us and he was very excited about directing and so forth."
Still it’s the music that is so much of the show’s appeal. The Young Actors’ production will provide the music through a unique combination of recorded and live performance.
It will be an Abba-intensive event! “Mamma Mia” is the Young Actors Theatre on Glenview Drive. Nine performances between Friday, June 21st and Sunday, June 30th.
(Here's late-breaking news: a tenth performance is now set for the afternoon of Saturday, June 29 at 2:00 p.m.)