Jenae Van Gameren (Sophie), Charity Van Gameren (Donna), Steve Friesen (Sam Carmichael), Renée Beilby (Tanya), Dan Poulin (Bill Austin), Ethan Houlbrook (Sky), Lorrie Kowalski (Rosie) and Ernst Van Gameren (Harry Bright). (Judi Mori - Photo submitted)

Mamma Mia! makes North Okanagan debut in Vernon

Center Stage Performing Arts Academy’s Lights of Broadway will perform at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, May 9-11.

From true love to nuclear waste, some things just never die. The same could be said about the popularity of catchy pop tunes recorded by four Swedes. With songs that have spanned almost five decades, this group of super troupers still have their name in the game with the announcement that they are about to release two new singles 36 years since their last recording,

We’re talking about ABBA.

Local fans of the Swedish supergroup will soon be able to get out their best disco threads and boogie to hits such as Dancing Queen, SOS, Waterloo, The Winner Takes It All and others when Center Stage Performing Arts Academy’s Lights of Broadway will perform at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, May 9-11.

Based on some of ABBA’s greatest hits composed by band members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, Mamma Mia! was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson and made its theatrical premiere in London in 1999. It opened on Broadway two years later, where it became the longest running jukebox musical to ever hit the Broadway stage. Now performed around the world and made into a 2008 musical film starring Meryl Streep, with a sequel released just last year, the phenomenon continues.

“There’s something to say about ABBA’s music. We’re still not sick of singing it yet. It’s that music that you don’t get tired of. We’re still singing Dancing Queen really happily,” said Renée Bielby, who plays Tanya in the Center Stage production.

“I’ve been singing Dancing Queen since the fourth grade, which is why I believe this show is a cult classic,” said Charity Van Gameren, who plays the lead role of Donna and also serves as the show’s director. “We can’t think of a better show to put on for Mother’s Day weekend.”

While Mamma Mia! is told through ABBA’s music, the storyline really has nothing to do with the band or its history. Set in the 1990s on a Greek island, with the set built by Mark and Liza Judd, Mamma Mia! follows the story of hotel owner Donna as she prepares for her daughter Sophie’s (Jenae Van Gameren) upcoming nuptials to Sky (Ethan Houlbrook) with the help of her oldest friends, Tanya and Rosie (Lorrie Kowalski).

In the meantime, Sophie has plans of her own. She decides to invite three men —Harry Bright (Ernst Van Gameren), Bill Austin (Dan Poulin) and Sam Carmichael (Steve Friesen)— from her mother’s past to the wedding, as she suspects one of them is her father.

With more than 20 song-and-dance numbers, half of which involve the entire 34-member adult and young student cast, everyone has their work cut out for them and are working tirelessly with choreographer Cherise McInnis as well as acting coach/assistant director Sarah Mori Jones on getting the energetic pace just right. The end of the show features a solid two-thirds of just music from ABBA’s biggest hits and features cast members dancing while wearing platform heels, Spandex, and even flippers at one point.

“No one ever stops dancing, changing or singing. I don’t think any one of us will be in our change rooms the entire duration of the show,” said Jenae, who along with other Center Stage instructors is leading a cast of young students from kindergarten to Grade 4 in a pre-show disco performance, while Grade 5 to teen stars will join the cast for some of the Mamma Mia! ensemble numbers.

“It’s amazing how many of them know the music. It really has lived on,” said Charity.

Houlbrook agrees. As one of the youngest in the main cast, the 17-year-old triple threat, who starred as the Beast in Lights of Broadway’s production of Beauty and the Beast last year, says the tunes are incredibly catchy.

“I have been in a couple shows and with some of them, eventually the music gets a little bit tiring to be honest. But with this show, every time I hear the music, I’m like ‘yeah’ and you nod along to it and smile. It’s hard to just sit back and watch. Even when I’m not in the dances that are being practised, I still kind of want to groove to it,” he says.

And as this is a jukebox musical, audience members are not expected to sit still.

“It’s meant to allow the audience to feel free to interact, jump up and have fun, and sing and dance if they want to,” said Charity.

Mamma Mia! takes the stage for four performances at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre May 9, 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. and a matinee performance May 11 at 2 p.m.

Audience rating is PG for some coarse language and suggestive scenes. Tickets are $35 for adults and $32 for students and seniors, available at the Ticket Seller box office, 250-549-SHOW (7469) or at ticketseller.ca.

Related: ABBA fans in for an Armstrong treat

Related: Mamma Mia had Kelowna dancing in the aisles

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