For 20 years, Mamma Mia! has been unavailable to local theater companies. But the time has come for troupes like Grand Rapids Civic Theatre to bring the hit musical to the stage with showstopping tunes, creative sets and lots of talent.
Premiering in 1999, the Abba-based musical went on to become a successful movie in 2008, starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. Needless to say, the show has received tremendous praise over the years, even prompting a film sequel that premiered last year.
This month, Director Bruce Tinker is set to bring a unique and talented cast to the Civic stage to perform this wholehearted, fun musical.
“It’s just a real celebration,” Tinker said. “It’s meant to be entertainment, but there’s this incredible story.”
That story is led by Breighanna Minnema, who stars in the lead role as Sophie.
Sophie is a 20-year-old girl living in paradise on a Greek island with her mother, Donna, who runs a hotel. It’s the eve of Sophie’s wedding and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The only hitch: She doesn’t know who her father is. But after looking through her mom’s journals, she invites three possible suspects to the island. With beautiful and upbeat music, a young girl searches for her birth father, and a mother and daughter learn more about each other’s lives.
Minnema, who has been performing at Civic since she was nine years old, said she can relate to Sophie’s character.
“I’m actually a little bit older than Sophie is — I’m 25,” she said. “(But) I still don’t know exactly where I’m going in life. Being an actress living in New York, you never know what your next step is going to be. You never know what the next gig is going to be. So, I definitely can identify with Sophie with her confusion and her frustration of what the future holds.”
Their frustrations aren’t exactly the same — Minnema can’t specifically relate to the feeling of not knowing her father. But as an aspiring performer, she said she appreciates the challenge.
Minnema is from Grand Rapids and calls the Civic Theatre her home grounds. After performing in Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse at Civic when she was a child, she went on to perform in more children's shows and then joined a traveling troupe. She later got her degree in musical theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City.
This year, she’s adding Sophie to her list of roles of a lifetime. In 2013, she played Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at Civic Theatre, also directed by Tinker. More recently, she was living in New York City and spent a couple years performing on cruise lines. She’s back in West Michigan for the moment, but plans to return to the city to see where her career takes her.
For now, she said this show is full of fun music, storytelling and choreography. Minnema even hinted that “the show’s not over when the curtain falls,” so don’t jump out of your seat too quick.
“The audience is singing along the whole time,” she said. “Whether they know the words or not, they’ve heard the melodies before, so they’re more than encouraged to sing along, hum along. And another part of the energy of this show is, whether they’re onstage or off-stage, whoever’s not singing the solo is singing background vocals during (almost) every single song.”
Audience members and Mamma Mia! fans can expect an interactive, lighthearted and bursting-with-love performance staged with creativity. Tinker described the unique set.
“It’s two revolving units,” he described. “One side is the beach, with a cliff, looking at the rocky shores of Greece, and the other side is more of an interior Mediterranean, adobe building.”
The scenes go back and forth from inside to outside, all blending in between songs and dance numbers.
The show also sees many new performers to the Civic stage, which Minnema said is always welcome in the theater community.
“I think it’s absolutely essential to a community theater to have new members all the time,” she said. “And to be able to share the passion of theater, of dance, of music with new people, young or old, is such a gift that we don’t have a lot of in professional theater communities.”
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
30 N. Division Ave.,
Feb 22-Mar 17,
$39 general admission,