Thirteen was the magical number for Theatre Tillsonburg as they officially introduced the cast of Mamma Mia! last week.
It wasn’t the number of weeks remaining until the curtains open April 30 for an eight-show run at the Otter Valley Playhouse, north of Tillsonburg on Potters Road. It wasn’t the number of cast or crew.
It was the number of tickets remaining to be sold as of Sunday afternoon. Just over 24 hours later, on Monday, Feb. 24, it was announced that it had sold out.
In its introduction of Theatre Tillsonburg’s Mamma Mia cast on Thursday, Feb. 20, Larissa Sorensen as Donna and Merley Wheaton as Sam were noted as leads, with Breanna Kyle as Sophie and Barry Grass as Sky. It also stars Denise Haley as Rosie, Lana Townsend as Tanya, Rick Kyle as Harry, Lance MacKenzie as Bill, Lauryn Anderson as Lisa, Rebecca Moore as Ali, Ryan Peever as Pepper, and Hunter Hodgson as Eddie.
Also featured are Paul Buchner, Julie Buffett, Vicky Noels-Cornish, Braeden Fitzpatrick, Brent Vanhooren, Stephen Molnar and Beth Sandor.
The direction team for the show consists of director Tom Heeney, assistant director Susan Lowrie, music director Dianne Clark, choreographer Rebecca Moore and producer Paul Clark.
Show dates are April 30, May 1-3 and May 7-10.
Auditioning started in September, and they started working on music in October, along with some preliminary choreography.
“Then we went straight into just learning the songs,” said music director Dianne Clark. “A lot of the songs have five part harmonies in them. Some of the people had not learned to sing a harmony, so that’s what we worked on. You can hear that some of the female parts are very high.
“So once a week, for all of October, November, December, January… and in January, I started making them try do it without the books, because I needed them comfortable enough to have them here (in February), when they started to dance, they can’t have the books in front of them. They could just stand and sing and dance.
“There are 28 songs and everybody sings in all of it. That’s the part of this show that makes it different from any other musical, that yes we have some leads, but its supporting cast are equally as important as the leads. They may not have lines, but it’s their voices that we need to know for the songs.
“Out of the 28 songs, I would say there’s probably five songs – at the most – that people would not have heard. But everything else, people will know the songs and they’ll want to sing. We say ‘sure, they can sing.'”
Because the ABBA songs are so familiar, background music from Music Theatre International is in use. It’s music that ABBA recorded for the musicals. Occasionally a voice cuts in saying ‘rehearsal track only,’ but two weeks before they open the ‘final cut’ music will arrive by email.
They could have went with a live band, but to create the ABBA sound would have required space they did not have, meaning fewer audience seats. They opted for pre-recorded music.
“Everyone has become so comfortable having five months hearing this music, that as a music director I don’t have to point at them. They know where they need to come in.”
There are 22 cast members and the crew is currently 35 (not including front of house and ushers). The audience will be 150 each night.
“It’s a big group of people,” said Clark, who is in her fourth year running the theatre box office.
In that capacity, Clark recognizes how rare it is to sell out a show this early.
“Very rare, very rare. We’ve never had this happen.
“The big thing that we’ve heard over and over is that everybody knows ABBA, hearing the music, but also having the opportunity to see the movie, or the musical live, the big thing for a lot of people is that they fell in love with the characters. It resonates, this longing to belong to somebody, to be part of somebody. And there is a lot of funny lines. We have some great actors who have some great comedic sense. And they all have great voices.
“Everybody wants people come away saying ‘Wow, you should have seen this show.'”
It took nearly three years for Theatre Tillsonburg to get Mamma Mia! It cannot be produced simultaneously within a certain geographical area. The Grand in London did it recently, last year it was Sarnia and Chatham. Barrie just closed it.
“Everybody loves it, but it’s an expensive show,” said Clark.
The licensing fee is five times higher than a typical show, she said, and to help offset that cost Theatre Tillsonburg seeks sponsors.
“We’re still looking for sponsors for this show. One of the perks for sponsors is knowing that we have a sold out audience who is going to see their advertisement. The audience is going to see that they (sponsors) are supporting the theatre, that they are standing behind this place.”
About Theatre Tillsonburg
Theatre Tillsonburg, established over 30 years ago, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to producing the highest possible quality theatre entertainment for the community-at-large while at the same time providing both a training ground for children through summer camps as well as a showcase for the artistic and cultural community of Tillsonburg and area.