Mamma Mia! in Phoenicia

(Photo by Luz Castro Valencia)

“If you’re not in ‘Dancing Queen’, go upstairs and check out the dressing room,” director Tamara Cacchione tells her cast.

It’s the first night of tech week for the musical Mamma Mia! at the Phoenicia Playhouse. Two young people, Will Cornell and Keli Snyder, are adjusting the lights.

“Is eight all the way up? Pull eight down a little.”

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“Here’s the problem. That light is older than me.”

Wardrobe mistresses Marcia Panza and Linda Burkhardt watch as actors parade potential costumes under the stage lights. “That dress is too tight,” one of them decides.

“Here’s the hairbrush,” says stage manager Emma Hubbell, setting the prop on a small table.

“We’re missing the bottom to a yellow bikini,” someone calls out.

“Okay, let’s take it from the cue for ‘Chiquitita’,” Cacchione announces.

Actress Josie Grant says her first line, “I’m such a stupid little idiot,” and the rehearsal is underway.

Mamma Mia!, opening July 14, will run three weekends. The production unites local theater regulars, former professional actors, and stage newcomers, aged from 16 to 91, in an upbeat show set to the music of Swedish pop group ABBA. Phoenicia is hosting what may be the first community theater production of the long-running Broadway musical, the rights having been made available for the first time just a few months ago.

Director/choreographer Cacchione comes from a background of acting and directing Off-Off-Broadway and working as a sports entertainer, doing back handsprings on a football field and shooting t-shirts to the audience from a t-shirt gun. “That was fun,” she said. “It helped me learn to work with a large group in high-energy numbers.” Since moving upstate, she has directed for Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill. She is also a founding member of New Deal Creative Arts Center in Hyde Park, with the goal of making the arts accessible to people of all ages and abilities. On Monday, she arrived at the theater from Lincoln Center, where she had attended a workshop about arts for people on the autism spectrum.

When picking a show with Phoenicia Playhouse artistic director Michael Koegel, Cacchione was initially looking for a small-scale musical with a smallish cast. “When we found the rights to Mamma Mia! were available, the small musical idea went out the window,” said Cacchione. “As soon as I heard the soundtrack, I fell in love.”  

Some of the actors auditioned on the basis of the ABBA music, which features hit songs from the 1970s and early 80s, including “Dancing Queen”, “Take A Chance On Me”, “The Winner Takes It All”, “Lay All Your Love on Me”, and many more. The music is woven into the story of Donna (Josie Grant), a woman who has a series of wild flings and ends up pregnant, not knowing which of three men is the father of her child. When her daughter, Sophie (Caitlin Connelly), is about to marry, she finds her mother’s diary and secretly invites the three possible fathers (Joe Eriole, Rich Quinn, Gary Falk) to the wedding. A pair of old friends (Amy Scheibe, Ann Davies) console the panicked Donna as she tries to avoid confronting her past.

“Sophie’s trying to figure out who she is through knowing who her father is,” said Cacchione. “But as we know, it’s not about where you come from but who you are independently.” As a mother, the director is moved by the relationship between Josie and Sophie. “There’s a beautiful number with the two of them, ‘Slipping Through My Fingers,’ that makes me cry every time in rehearsal.”

Also in the cast are Austin Lightning Carrothers, Salem Corwin, Zoe Patschke, Sammy Corwin, Burr Hubbell, Jim Barden, Starla Bolle, Kailee Cornelison, Hannah Corwin, Kathleen Fitzsimmons, Angela Galindo, Aaron Hall, Gerri Ryan, and Patricia Seholm.

Phoenicia Playhouse presents Mamma Mia! from Saturday, July 14, through Sunday, July 29, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., with an additional matinee Saturday, July 21, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 for students and seniors. For reservations, visit https://phoeniciaplayhouse.com or call 845-688-2279. The playhouse is located at 10 Church Street, Phoenicia.

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