Emily Butson, center, sings the ABBA classic “Under Attack” during a rehearsal for “Mamma Mia!” at Portland Players. Butson plays Sophie Sheridan in the production, which opens on Nov. 23. (Abigail Worthing photo)

SOUTH PORTLAND – Entering the green room at Portland Players this week is like taking a step back into an explosion of color. Metallic jumpsuits have been affixed with bell-bottoms and sleeves and bright patterns are everywhere, all in preparation for its production of what will be the first Maine community theater production of “Mamma Mia!”

Sitting in the middle of the organized chaos is the leader of the show, Director Micheal Donovan. For Donovan, who is also vice president of artistic development and wardrobe committee for Portland Players in South Portland, the green room is a second home. With this production, Donovan will celebrate a personal milestone: his 35th directed production.
“Thirty-five shows in 15 years,” Donovan said.
When the rights for a new musical are released for public performances, companies wait in anticipation to be one of the first to receive the rights, as only a limited number are issued for performances. For most shows, it’s frenzied, but for cultural phenomenon “Mamma Mia!” the race was on to become the first community theater in Maine to perform it.
Fourteen minutes after the release of the rights, Vice President of Artistic Development Giselle Pauquette had secured permission to stage the show. The board decided to give “Mamma Mia!” the coveted holiday slot, opening Nov. 23 and running on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 9.
“Mamma Mia!” took the place of the originally announced “Big: The Musical,” based on the 1988 movie of the same title. While other Maine theaters will perform the show later in their respective seasons, Portland Players will be the first non-professional, community theater to perform the “Mamma Mia!”
“It may not be a holiday musical, but it’s fun for the whole family,” Donovan said. “People just want to have some fun and get away from the world, and that’s exactly what ‘Mamma Mia!’ offers. The music is amazing, and it’s a little family fun for the holidays.”
“Mamma Mia!” is a jukebox musical, meaning all songs come from one artist or band and in this case, featuring the music of Swedish disco band ABBA.
Written by Catherine Johnson and music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, “Mamma Mia!” takes place during the wedding of Sophie Sheridan’s in Greece. Sophie, unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, has invited her three potential fathers in a quest for someone to walk her down the aisle.
“Mamma Mia!” opened in West End in London in 1999, and then on Broadway at the Winter Garden in 2001. According to Musical Theater International, the production has been seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, and has premiered in more cities than any other production in history, spanning six continents and 50 cities. A film adaptation starring Meryl Streep as Donna was released in July 2008.
Joining Donovan in executing the production is Music Director Evan Cuddy and choreographer Victoria Perreault, navigating through the rewards and challenges of a production of this scale.
“It’s really a blast,” said Cuddy, who has worked with Portland Players since 2015. “But there are challenges to it. It’s rare to see a show that has an ensemble that sings basically the whole show, so it’s been a lot of music to learn for everyone.”
In this production, Donna is played by Rebecca Rinaldi, a familiar face at Portland Players, who takes on the role of the strong single mother with passion, singing familiar ballads such as “The Winner Takes It All” with a voice that soars through the theater.
“How can you not like ‘Mamma Mia!’? There’s nothing like it,” Rinaldi said.
During a rehearsal on Nov. 2, the cast of 27 worked their way through the beginning of act two, starting with nightmare sequence, “Under Attack,” that features Sophie, played by Emily Butson. The cast works through the kinks in the dance, whilst singing their respective parts. Butson’s Sophie, the primary character in the scene, is spun on a bed, lifted through the air and dangled off the stage.
This is Butson’s second show with Portland Players, having previously worked with Donovan on a production of “Hairspray” in 2015. She has only the highest praise for the director.
“There’s really no one like him in this area,” Butson said. “The beauty of working with Michael is that he’s incredibly collaborative and trusting, so it’s a lot of sharing ideas and working together to get the best outcome possible.”
The show will be held Nov. 23 to Dec. 9, and will run nine performances; Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale and can be purchased for $20 at portlandplayers.org.
Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at [email protected].

 

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