Currently onstage at the Fulton Theatre is Mamma Mia! and this particular production is a fun-filled, energetic show that will have you dancing on your feet by the end of the show. If you have never seen this show or if you have seen it a dozen times the production at the Fulton is unlike anything you have seen before. It includes a dynamic cast, songs everyone knows and loves and provides a gleeful night of theatre.
I had the chance to speak with a few member of the cast: Katie Bates (Sophie), Jeffrey Coon (Sam), Fran Prisco (Bill) and Chuck Ragsdale (Harry). They spoke with me about the show, what audiences can expect from the show as well as their thoughts on the set design and their costumes.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about this production of Mamma Mia!?
Katie Bates: This is actually my first Mamma Mia! – I have never been in the show and I have never seen the show. I came into this production not really knowing a lot about the show. I knew the storyline, but that is all I really knew. This production of Mamma Mia! at the Fulton is unlike any other production of Mamma Mia! that has ever been done. Our production has a lot more heart than a lot of other productions and it has a lot more dancing.
Jeffrey Coon: We took the show seriously from day one. This is a show that is easy to write off as just an Abba jukebox musical. If you want to be reductive it is that. However, if you give the show some credit and assume that the people who created this show were not just Abba fans, but that they were smart show people. If you look at the show from that perspective it allows you to see more of the complexity that is actually there. I am not suggesting that this is a night of serious theatre, but there is a lot more intelligence, love and talent that went into the construction of the show than anyone gives it credit for.
Fran Prisco: Among the cast we talk a lot about how the more that we do the show, the more we realize how much thought was put into Mamma Mia!. You realize how much thought went into the creation of this show and we try to concentrate on that through our director.
Chuck Ragsdale: From day one Marc Robin, our director, set out to focus on the story and honoring the connections these characters have to each other’s lives. Many times he used the term “Shakespearian” in rehearsal. Audiences will see that in our storytelling, in the physical production of the show and in the way it has been staged on our set. The set is very specific to our production. Personally, I have seen a lot of productions of Mamma Mia! and this particular production at the Fulton takes a departure from that sterile Grecian blue and stark white stucco that is usually associated with Mamma Mia!. There is a lot of warmth and a lot of depth and the focus is on the connections these people have with each other’s lives. You do not always see that in Mamma Mia! and sometimes the relationships between the characters are overlooked in other productions.
Kelli: Could you talk a little about the departure from the blue and white set that is usually associated with Mamma Mia!?
Chuck: In our first day of talking about the design and look of the show Marc said I want the set to look like what it looks like on the other side of this island. He wanted the audience to see lush greens, florals, bright and vibrant things for their eyes to rest on as opposed to the standard set that tends to be a sterile look. He wanted the set to be vibrant.
Jeffrey: I think the thought behind that was both to make the show have a different look from other productions of Mamma Mia! and even more so to evoke the idea of a Shakespearean type show. Yes, Marc wanted it to represent a Greek island sort of like The Tempest, but he also wanted to show influences of Romeo and Juliet with the balconies. There is also the feel of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It being lost in the Forest of Arden. The idea of the set was to diversify the look of past productions of Mamma Mia!, and also evoke a little bit of Verona and places you have seen before in Shakespeare. The set ties into the classical references that exist in the show by the way the set is constructed.
Chuck: Also, we all still get the payoff with a disco mega mix. The set makes great use of the Fulton’s size especially the height of the stage. It makes such a great impact as you walk into the theatre and see this magnificent set.
Kelli: Why should audiences come out to the Fulton to see this production?
Katie: I think a lot of people have a very cliché expectation of what they expect with Mamma Mia!. I think a lot of times theatres put on this show because it is an easy sell. People love Mamma Mia!, so they will go out to see this show. We could stand up there, do a basic dance and sing an Abba song and people would still go crazy. However, that is not what we are doing on the stage of the Fulton. We are doing this show for so many other reasons and that is what people are taking away from this show. This is not just another production of Mamma Mia! - we are bringing more depth to the characters, the set is different and we have incorporated things in this show that are unique to this production at the Fulton Theatre. We are making this show our own version of the story.
Chuck: I think this production has surprised a lot of us especially those of us who have not done the show before. I knew I would have fun in this production and I could not wait to do the show because I love working at the Fulton. I have worked with many of the people involved with the show before. However, I did not expect to be having this much fun doing this show and it had been a very pleasant surprise. I honestly look forward to walking through the stage door every night. Plus getting to walk out of the theatre after performing the Megamix is a great end to my day.
Fran: Honestly, I am shocked how much I am loving the show and cannot believe how much fun I am having doing this show. This show is so much more than I expected it to be and I think audiences will see that too.
Chuck: I think there is something Marc really got right in the way he cast the show. I have worked with Marc a lot and he tends to have a very good eye and a personality gage and he hit casting this show on the head.
Jeffrey: People should come to the Fulton because I guarantee this is the best night people will have in the theatre. It is an iron clad guarantee that if you come and see this you will have a good time.
Chuck: Part of the joy for me in coming back to the Fulton is people firmly support this theatre. There is such a strong sense of community here. People in Lancaster know that they are coming to the Fulton Theatre to see Mamma Mia! and they know it will be fantastic. I think this show is in the perfect slot, the last show of the season and the season goes out with a bang.
Kelli: Is there a moment in the show that you really enjoy above all else?
Chuck: Mine is the entrance of the dads in the Megamix. It is the best build up and release for us. It is so awesome.
Fran: Personally, I like the first entrance of the dads in the beginning of the show. It shows that we have developed a friendship on the boat ride over to the island. Playing with Jeffrey and Chuck is a treat and I have a lot of fun in that first scene with them.
Jeffrey: My favorite is “Winner Takes it All.” I will say this, Christine Sherrill is a force of nature. All I basically have to do is stand there and receive the first two-thirds of the song. It is magnificent because it is different every night and her performance is always glorious. She has this ability to make the song truthful and relevant each night and to watch her perform this song is a true pleasure.
Katie: My favorite parts are the parts of the show that I was initially most nervous about. Typically I play the comedic best friend roles and I am most comfortable with the comedic songs. Although, in this show I have these big and emotional scenes. My favorite of these emotional scenes is when I bring the wedding dress into Christine’s bedroom. Every night is so organic and some nights we laugh in this scene and sometimes we cry. We do not go onstage and do the same thing every night. Every show is different.
Kelli: Mamma Mia! premiered in 1999, when most of the audience had experienced the ABBA era. How does it speak to younger folks who may not even know about ABBA?
Fran: Most of the audience members are singing along to every song. I see a lot of kids in the audience who know most of the songs in the show.
Jeffrey: I think a lot of that is because of this musical. Mamma Mia! has had such a pop culture life between its Broadway run and more importantly the films. Now that kids have seen it, they know it and they comment on the show and the music.
Chuck: Take the popularity of the Broadway show and the movie and then think about the songs and how structurally they were written. These are fantastic songs. There are fantastic lyrics and musically the structure of the songs show that Abba was ahead of their time.
Katie: A lot of jukebox musicals have the storybook through line and then the songs in the show are music audiences are familiar with because it is by an artist or group they know. However, a lot of the time the music does not really further the plot. During Mamma Mia! I sometimes forget I am singing an Abba song because the music really does work its way into the story and furthers the plot.
Kelli: There are some elaborate costumes in the show. Which costume is your favorite? Tell me about your finale costume and what you like most about it.
Fran: I get to wear what I typically wear in real life in the beginning two scenes, shorts and a shirt and it is very comfortable. In regards to my Megamix costume, it is nice to be a rhinestone cowboy.
Chuck: Through most of the show I get to dress like me. Harry is buttoned up and put together, which is how I usually dress. My favorite costume is in act two and it is shorts and a pink linen shirt. I love it because I am wearing shorts and a very comfortable shirt in a show. Usually in a show I am wearing lots of costumes that are heavily ornate and have a lot of detail. My Megamix costume is straight up Peter Allen. It is like a costume from Boy from Oz from top to bottom and I cannot get enough of this costume.
Jeffrey: I think my favorite is also my opening costume, jeans and a button down shirt. It is how I normally dress every day. In regards to my Megamix costume I did not think I would be so comfortable in it. I thought I would be shy wearing it because I am not someone who likes to show skin, but that costume is fun as hell.
Katie: All my costumes are also things I would wear in my everyday life because they are comfortable with the exception of the wedding dress. I get to wear pajamas at the beginning of act two.
Kelli: Why, in your opinion is a regional theatre like the Fulton important to Lancaster?
Jeffrey: I think it is important to any community to have a theatre of this caliber because of what it does for the entire community. There is no arguing that there are so many people in the community that ardently support this institution. It is really life affirming to see how many people in Lancaster support this theatre. There are people that have been coming to the Fulton for over twenty years and they see every single show and the investment people make taking time to come out and support live theatre lifts the entire community. The impact that the Fulton has on Lancaster is amazing with people making a night out at the theatre an event. They go out to eat at the local restaurants beforehand, some people travel a distance and stay at hotels and all this helps support and sustain local businesses to create a thriving community. All this advancement happening to downtown Lancaster is akin to what the Arden Theatre did in Old City in Philadelphia twenty-five years ago. It is amazing to see something similar happening here in Lancaster. It is important to remember that Art is not just about the Art it is also about economic impact and I think everybody forgets that.
Fran: There is a commercial that plays in Philly promoting Lancaster County. In that commercial it shows everything you can do from seeing the farms and the shopping, and the Fulton Theatre is prominent in that commercial. It shows that the Arts are alive and well in Lancaster. Also, last year Lancaster was named one of the top ten places to visit in the United States.
Chuck: My time working at the Fulton is usually separated by a couple of years. From the first time I have worked at the Fulton until now I am reminded about how cool this city is and so much is happening here. Lancaster City has gotten cooler each time I have come back to the Fulton to work. I do not mean that in a gentrification way, I mean that in a thriving, small city way where everyone is supporting everyone else. It is not just about the show sponsor, it is about the foundation of what is happening in Lancaster City and the Fulton Theatre just happens to be a really big jewel in that crown. It is incredible to be a part of something like this and walk down the street and have people approach you to say wonderful things about the show. That is something rare and I value that.
Mamma Mia! runs at the Fulton Theatre through July 28, 2019. For more information and tickets please visit www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425.
Photos courtesy of the Fulton Theatre.
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for Theatre Sensation. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram