- “Mama Mia” will be played at 8pm from Thursday to Sunday until August 1st.
- The productions will take place at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd.
- Call 505-599-1148 or visit fmtn.org for tickets.
FARMINGTON – Choreographer Sarah Harkness continues to use the word “cinematic” to describe the atmosphere around the production of “Mama Mia!”
If you spend more than a few minutes on the set, it’s not hard to see why.
Director Randy West went out of his way to help “Mama Mia!” transcend the usual boundaries of a staging. In fact, it feels more like a summer blockbuster movie, with West using the natural features of the amphitheater surroundings as much as possible.
But the director said his production had an edge that his competition in Hollywood didn’t.
“The difference between that and a summer movie is that the people (on stage) who are here feel the energy of the audience, and the audience feels the energy of the performers,” he said. “And the energy that is exchanged is in the air.”
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“It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “And it’s the perfect musical for us to come back.”
Maybe it’s the elaborate sets and environment, or maybe it’s the fact that most of the people associated with the production haven’t worked in front of a live audience since the start of the COVID pandemic. -19. But the cast and crew agree that the energy of this production is unlike anything many of them have ever experienced.
“The best part of this is that everyone you’re on stage with is as invested as you are (in making the production a success),” said Matt Aaron, veteran of the Four Corners Musical Theater Company, who plays Sam Carmichael. in production. “It’s not always like that. Sometimes you’re on stage with people you don’t really trust. It leads to the scary, nightmarish stories you hear about. But there is incredible energy here. “
A unique presentation
West knew from the moment he scheduled the show at the amphitheater that he wanted to do something special with the venue, and he thinks he accomplished it. Its goal was to capitalize on the natural environment to create a unique presentation of the show, a jukebox musical based on the songs of the ABBA group that has been extremely popular with regional and community theater companies since its inception 20 years ago. over 20 years.
West oversaw the construction of impressive sets, but he also found a way to incorporate the rustic backdrop of the amphitheater into the production. The large sandstone formations behind the sets have been lit by LED lighting, and West even has some of her cast members stepping down from the rocks at some point in the show to make their entrance.
In addition, a trench with running water has been dug in the vast earthen scene to represent a stream, while the rest of the ensemble includes a quay, a two-story building with a terrace, a fountain with running water, a bridge, a beach and a tavern on a turntable. West also hired a four-piece live band to perform ABBA’s music rather than relying on a recorded soundtrack.
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“I think we brought the whole show into Sandstone,” West said, looking around the set before submitting his cast and crew to one of his final rehearsals earlier this week.
“Mama Mia!” takes place on a small Greek island, and this Mediterranean setting went well with the amphitheater. But West acknowledged that some minor tweaks were needed.
“Just subtle reminders that we are not like a desert, we are like an island,” he said.
The boundaries of the amphitheater also presented some challenges. Harkness noted that the dirt stage descends towards the audience, requiring adjustment from his dancers, who are used to working on a flat, polished surface.
Fortunately, she said, the costume requirements for “Mama Mia!” – made up mostly of beach wear – allows actors to get away with wearing sneakers instead of dance shoes. But that didn’t stop the dancers from ending up with shoes full of sand every night at the end of rehearsals.
Harkness, who first worked with West when she was just 14, cited another significant physical difference. In the fall and spring she teaches at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., Located below sea level. The difference in altitude – and oxygen – between her home and here has been very noticeable, has she said, as she puts her dancers to the test.
“It’s a completely different beast,” she said with a smile.
Coupled with the summer heat in San Juan County, which has at times reached triple digits since rehearsals began, Harkness said his experience here was one to remember.
“It was exhausting,” she said. “But it’s been great to work so hard.”
Putting the gang together
Other cast members, especially members of the professional Four Corners Musical Theater Company, are more familiar with Farmington, having previously given a few shows here. But this is the company’s first production at the amphitheater, and that made it different for them.
Aaron is no stranger to outdoor summer theater work, having already spent two years working in this environment in North Carolina. His experience at Farmington was a comparative cake, he said, explaining that the characters in the North Carolina production were from Eastern Europe and were dressed in heavy woolen suits – not the kind of outfit that you want to wear in hot and humid conditions.
Aaron is excited to be back on stage, explaining that he spent the pandemic squatting in his New Jersey home wondering if he would ever be working again. When he got the call from West letting him know that the production of “Mama Mia!” was a go, he was ecstatic.
“I couldn’t pack my bags fast enough,” he said.
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Another veteran of the company is Nick Drivas, a New Yorker who stars as Sky on the show. He was fortunate to continue to find steady work during the pandemic, including portraying Fonzie in a musical production of “Happy Days” which traveled through Florida and Pennsylvania.
But he, too, was eager to return to Farmington and get back to work with the other regular members of the company – Aaron, Margaret Clair and Natalie Szczerba – who have been with the company since its inception in fall 2019.
“It’s good to bring the gang together,” he said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kelsey Beer – a recent Piedra Vista high school graduate who will be attending the University of New Mexico in the fall – is a Farmington resident who is making her Four Corners Musical Theater debut. Company. She plays Ali in the production and has long been a fan of the theatrical and film version of “Mama Mia!”
“I just enjoyed getting to know all the crazy talented people and getting to know people with the same interests as me,” she said of the experience.
Despite their youth, Drivas and Beer said they were exposed to the music of ABBA – a legendary Swedish pop group who peaked in popularity in the late 1970s – through their parents. The band’s music is a big part of why they love the show so much.
“I grew up on it,” Beer said, describing his mother’s dedication to the band. “That’s all I’m listening to now.”
“Mama Mia” will be played at 8 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday until August 1 at the Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. Tickets cost $ 12 and $ 15. Call 505-599-1148 or visit fmtn.org.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription.