Evergreen Playhouse Ready to Dance Into Summer

‘Mamma Mia!’: Canceled by COVID, ABBA Show Anchors 62nd Season


Director Emilie Brown said ending the Evergreen Playhouse’s 62nd season with “Mamma Mia!” feels like a great way to “dance into the summer.”

“Mamma Mia!” opens May 6 at the Centralia playhouse. It is the final piece canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago to finally get its chance on the stage.

“This show is just so fun and happy and I think we need a lot of that right now,” Brown said.

A 1999 jukebox musical set to the songs of ABBA, “Mamma Mia!” is perhaps best known for its 2008 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, just to name a few. It is the story of fiercely independent Greek island hotel owner Donna (portrayed by Michelle Koenen) who, with her fellow Donna and the Dynamo members Tanya (portrayed by Nicole Galyean) and Rosie (portrayed by Kathy Kluska), is preparing for the wedding of her daughter Sophie (portrayed by Sophie Bustetter) to Sky (portrayed by Steven Walker). Donna sees no use in marriage, so her daughter’s choice to get married has her worried.

“She is strong but completely flawed and that’s something we can all relate to,” Koenen said.

Sophie is hoping the nuptials will be a chance to also meet her real father and have him walk her down the aisle. She secretly invites three of Donna’s old flames, Sam (portrayed by Dan Overton), Harry (portrayed by Rich Garrett) and Bill (portrayed by Dave Marsh), all of whom believe themselves to be the real father.

“We have to keep reminding (Marsh) he’s not the real dad,” Garrett said with a smile at a recent rehearsal, where Marsh sported a navy T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Team Bill” on the front and “The Real Dad” on the back.

Marsh was chosen to portray Bill two years ago and has been waiting since then for the chance to be part of the trio of dads. Garrett was originally supposed to direct “Mamma Mia!” in 2020 but was asked this season to direct “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” instead, leaving him available to play Harry. And Overton auditioned and was cast this year and said he was excited to be able to work with two other seasoned actors to present these three characters. The trio say they have found working together fun and fairly easy.

“It’s amazing working with two other people who, when you make an offer on stage, it’s gets picked up by them,” Garrett said.

Overton said what drew a lot of people to audition for the show and what he thinks audience members will like best is definitely the music.

“I know ABBA. I grew up singing ABBA. I’ve had ABBA on my play list for the last 40 years,” Overton said. “And it’s just fun. We’re going to have fun. Who doesn’t like fun?”

A good number of the cast of “Mamma Mia!” have been waiting two years to take the stage. Bustetter was supposed to have her first role at the Evergreen Playhouse two years ago and now finally gets to bring Sophie to life.

“It’s really exciting,” Bustetter said. “It’s interesting, too, because a lot of us have not done theater in a couple years and it’s such a social, emotional and physical experience. It’s been a big learning curve getting back into it but it’s a lot of fun.”

It will also be Brown’s directorial debut at the playhouse. She has acted in several shows at the Centralia playhouse and studied theater and directing in college. Brown had applied to be a director at the Evergreen Playhouse and was pleased to be chosen from among the candidates this year. She said each season’s directors get to list their top three choices for shows and then the non-profit’s board chooses who directs which piece and “Mamma Mia!” was her first choice.

“It’s rooted in really strong relationships,” Brown said of what she loves about the show. “It’s fun and nostalgic and has a lot of great disco dancing. And within it all, it’s just a really sweet story.”

The Evergreen Playhouse has also chosen to keep COVID-19 protocols for cast and crew, as well as audiences, in place through the end of this season. That means everyone involved in the show tests weekly and wears a mask at all times. Audience members are still required to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask and sit socially distanced from other groups during shows. During performances, cast members will wear clear facial shield-type masks as other casts have done this season. Brown said it has given them a lot of chances to learn how to “act with their eyes.” But maintaining social distancing is still a challenge, especially presenting a love story with no kissing allowed.

Despite the challenges, cast members said they think the iconic show and its equally iconic music will likely draw in large audiences eager to have a fun time. Koenen said that actors and actresses often feed off the energy the crowd is giving them and truly appreciate when audience members react to the story, whether it’s laughing, gasping, or perhaps in this case, singing along.

“I think it draws in the crowd because they know the music and I think there’s going to be a lot of people wanting to join in,” Koenen said. “And when you can bring the audience into the story like that, it’s a great play.” 

If You Go

What: Rectangle Gallery, Hubbub and McMenamins present “Mamma Mia!”

When: May 6-22, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Pay-what-you-can artist benefit 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12

Where: Evergreen Playhouse, 226 West Center St., Centralia

Tickets: $18 adults and $15 students/seniors. Proof of vaccination and masks required for all attendees

Information: evergreenplayhouse.com


More Information

“Mamma Mia!” is the final show of the Evergreen Playhouse’s 62nd season. Season subscriptions and flex passes are now on sale for the 63rd season for $75 for adults and $60 for students and seniors. The 63rd season shows will be:

• Oct. 14-30, 2022 — “A Murder is Announced”

• Dec. 2-18, 2022 — “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”

• Feb. 3-19, 2023 — “The Diary of Anne Frank”

• March 17-April 2, 2023 — “Lend Me a Tenor”

• May 5-21, 2023 — “Tuck Everlasting”