Many people can claim to know what the musical “Mamma Mia!” is about, but Karen Leifheit declares it’s more than men and women dancing and singing on a Greek island.
“It’s a good story of family, love and even forgiveness,” said the Ottawa resident, who is directing the Community Players of Streator (also known as Engle Lane) musical that will open this weekend.
Leifheit’s belief about family fits well in “Mamma Mia!” One of the musical’s main characters — Donna Sheridan, portrayed by Mendota’s Adrienne Van Horn — is Leifheit’s daughter.
“It’s interesting. My mom is directing me and I have a daughter who is near Sophie’s age,” Van Horn said in reference to Donna’s daughter in the play. Sophie is played by Streator’s Eden Bruhns.
Brian Steep, of Ottawa, has been in numerous Engle Lane shows, but auditioned for “Mamma Mia!” in memory of his late mother, Patricia.
”My mother was a big Abba fan. She would play Abba in the background while cleaning house,” he said.
Abba is the frothy Swedish quartet that recorded tons of pop music hits in the 1970s, and those songs form the basis of “Mamma Mia!,” in which Sophie tries to find the identity of her father so he can give her away on her wedding day.
Donna has never revealed who the father is, so the daughter invites three possible dads to a fictional Greek island, where mother and daughter live. One of them is Austin (Steep); the others are Harry (Ottawa’s Nik Frig) and Sam (Bob Philip, of Peru).
“We say ‘hi’ to Donna, and then we’re frozen. She does her little (song) while being shocked all three of these old lovers show up on this Greek island before her daughter is going to be married,” Philip said.
Romance involving the men and some of Donna’s old friends also arises, and the question of who will walk Sophie down the aisle isn’t revealed until the end. The hits of Abba make up the musical soundtrack of “Mamma Mia!”
“The music is contagious, more than I ever thought,” Philip said.
Engle Lane has never staged “Mamma Mia!,” but it’s recently been produced at Ottawa High School, Illinois Valley Community College, Peoria Players, Sterling High School and Stage Coach Players in DeKalb.
The musical has been a hit on Broadway and made into two major movies. It could be hard to find people not familiar with “Mamma Mia!,” but Leifheit said the show is fresh even for people who are familiar with the product.
“Many of the songs will be very familiar. Even if you weren’t around when Abba was at the height of its popularity, you would’ve heard some of the music because it’s so timeless,” she said.
Engle Lane’s chance at presenting “Mamma Mia!” comes as a surprise to Frig.
“I never thought this would actually happen in our lifetimes. Shows such as ‘Mamma Mia!’ tour all the time. You don’t expect to perform it in community theater,” he said.
“Mamma Mia!” actors such as 18-year-old Bruhns, a recent Streator High School graduate, became familiar with the play’s songs before she heard them on the radio.
“I listen to them all the time in the car. Everything is familiar, and the audience will be singing along,” said Bruhns, who will attend the University of Illinois this fall.
Bruhns and Van Horn knew nearly all the songs, having frequently listened to “Mamma Mia!” songs before auditioning. Working together also has been enjoyable.
"It’s awesome,” Van Horn said of Bruhns. “We have a pretty good relationship and support each other. I feel like I’m singing to someone I care about rather than just someone onstage.”
“Mamma Mia!” is the first full-length play Leifheit has directed.
“It’s both challenging and rewarding. The hands-on directing part is thrilling. The planning, preparation and work — I have a great deal of respect for the people who have directed me,” she explained.
Abba’s songs were dominated by the vocals of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The group’s songs were written by Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Lyngstad.
“It holds more of a draw for female audiences, but I have a lot of male friends who love Abba. But it’s fun, and who doesn’t like to have some fun?” Leifheit said.
Additional “Mamma Mia!” cast members include: Streator residents Ethan Darrow, Angie Goluba, Gabe Molina and Carsyn Stipp; Bryce Burress and Patricia “PJ” Olsen, both of Ottawa; Katie Varland, of Marseilles; and Noah Welch, of Flanagan.
Ensemble cast members include: Karen Austin, Ben DuMais, Katelyn Flanigan, Rheagan Goluba, Kim Kmetz, Madyson Kmetz, Brianna Monaghan, Audrey Neuman, MaryAnn Neuman, Cora Schultz and Sadie Treest, all of Streator; Jennifer Kirkman, of Grand Ridge; and Keegan Olsen, of Ottawa.
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Abba songs in “Mamma Mia!” include: “I Have Dream,” “Honey Honey,” “Money Money Money,” “Thank You for the Music,” "Mamma Mia,” “Chiquitita,” “Dancing Queen,” “Lay Your Love All Over Me,” “Super Trouper,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” “The Name of the Game,” “Voulez Vous,” “Under Attack,” “One of Us,” “S.O.S.,” “Does Your Mother Know?” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Our Last Summer,” “Slipping Through My Fingers,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “I Do, I Do, I Do,” and “I Have A Dream”
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What: “Mamma Mia!,” a Community Players of Streator musical comedy.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, July 14; 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 15, through Saturday, July 20.
Where: William C. Schiffbauer Center for the Performing Arts at Engle Lane, 1012 Columbus Road, Streator.
How: Ticket information is available by calling 815-672-3584 or at englelane.org.