Unusual items like water bottles and hairdryers are used as microphones, from left, by Tonya (Erin Ormond), Donna (Stephanie Roth) and Rosie (Jenni Burke) to belt out a few tunes during the Chemainus Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia! (Photo by Don Bodger)

ABBA hits grace Mamma Mia! for a joyous occasion

Plenty of buzz heading into musical production at the Chemainus Theatre

Mamma Mia! is the mother of all musicals these days and begins the longest run of any Chemainus Theatre Festival production in history Friday, May 24 with the first of 100 performances.

It’s also destined to be the theatre’s all-time best seller, as the buzz about this show continues to build in advance of the opening.

Michelle Vogelgesang, the theatre’s marketing and sales director, said the show was almost 50 per cent sold as of last week. Blocks of tickets were suddenly being purchased, as people made sure to secure preferred dates between now and the finale on Aug. 31.

“Lots of excitement,” said Vogelgesang. “I think tickets will go fast.”

“I do feel like I’m stepping into a show that has already inherent energy about it,” said hometown Chemainus actress Erin Ormond, who plays the role of Tonya.

“People really identify with these characters. I feel like we’re creating something exciting. It felt like a party. Everybody’s so joyous and happy – ready to go and ready to work.”

Rehearsals started on April 29 and it’s been a fast track to the opening for the cast and the behind-the-scenes crew.

The award-winning story of Mamma Mia! is magnified by the songs of ABBA, composed by former members of the band, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

Mamma Mia! tells the story of Donna (Stephanie Roth), an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on a beautiful Greek island. She is about to let go of spirited daughter Sophie, whom she’s raised alone.

For Sophie’s (Alex Gullason) wedding, Donna has invited two lifelong best girlfriends – practical and no-nonsense Rosie (Jenni Burke) and wealthy, multi-divorcee Tonya (Ormond) – from her one-time backup band, Donna and the Dynamos.

Sophie has secretly invited three guests of her own. On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, she brings back three men from Donna’s past to the Mediterranean paradise they visited 20 years earlier.

New love blooms and old romances rekindled over the course of 24 chaotic and magical hours on a lush island full of possibilities. The show is packed with the magic of ABBA’s many well-known hit songs that don’t need any introduction such as Super Trouper; Dancing Queen; Knowing Me, Knowing You; Take a Chance on Me; Money, Money, Money; The Winner Takes It All; and SOS.

Ormond said it’s her first time working with Burke, but she’s seen her on stage before. The three women have found instant chemistry in their roles.

“I knew stepping in, these are some fantastic women I’m going to be working with,” said Ormond.

Despite her abundant stage experience, Ormond said it’s been at least 20 years since she’s done a singing role.

“This is huge,” she indicated. “To come and do a summer musical of this scale is a huge gift.

“The talent, I’m in awe as I hear them sing and dance and how they put it together.”

Ormond gives huge kudos to the stage, lighting, costume and directing personnel for their work on the production.

ABBA music is one element that strikes a chord for Ormond with her dad, who’s deceased, from their past.

“I would sit and listen to the records over and over,” she conceded. “My dad’s favourite song was Fernando. Being part of the show has another whole layer for me. That was one of my connections with my dad.

“The other part about the music, I find, it’s deceivingly simple. There’s this infused sense of joy every time we start singing the songs.”

Getting everybody moving and having a good time is what it’s all about.

“Stephanie said by the time you start doing the show, everybody’s in a good mood,” added Ormond.

Playing Tonya has been enlightening in so many ways.

“For me, it’s very real the relationship between the women,” Ormond explained. “They’re all in different places in their lives.”

For her character, “she’s finding herself again. I think that connection with her youth reminds her of that part of herself, strong and free.”

It’s going to be an extremely busy several months for Ormond. She steps right into the production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, running Sept. 13-Oct. 5, overlapping rehearsal time while Mamma Mia! is still on stage.

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