Centre Stage’s ‘Mamma Mia!’ brings Greece to Greenville

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Michele Colletti, Glenda ManWaring, and Cindy Mixon. Photo by Escobar Photography

“You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life…” Centre Stage will whisk the audience away to a Greek island paradise on select nights in March and April for an evening of song, dance, and laughter at “Mamma Mia!”

The widely known musical has captured the hearts of many people around the world with its quirky characters, lighthearted story, and ABBA’s timeless songs.

The story is set in Greece and begins with a young girl, Sophie, on the eve of her wedding day. Curious about the identity of her father, Sophie discovers three possibilities from the past of her mother, Donna. Naturally, Sophie does what any rational person would do — she invites all three men to her wedding. From there, the chaos ensues!

The tale of love, laughter, and friendship features ABBA’s hit songs, such as “Super Trouper,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Money, Money, Money,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez-Vous,” “SOS,” and the musical’s namesake, “Mamma Mia.”

The show stars Centre Stage executive artistic director Glenda ManWaring as Donna, the independent, hardworking mother who built and runs a taverna. Donna is at the center of the story with Sophie, and the two experience quite the roller coaster when these three men appear.

“I really identify with her quite well,” ManWaring says of her character, Donna. A mother of two daughters, ManWaring says those special mother-daughter moments in the show are easy to imitate and “very much at home to me.”

Working with Kaylee Gonzalez-Willis, who plays Sophie, also makes the mother-daughter relationship easier to portray, ManWaring says. Acting out that special bond came naturally for the two. “The cast makes [the show] extremely enjoyable,” she says.

For her role as Sophie, Gonzalez-Willis did a lot of character research and dug deep into Sophie’s upbringing, her relationships, and her decisions. “I do a complete detailed analysis of how that character would be,” she says of looking at the core of Sophie.

The high energy, bubbly personality, and optimism embodied by Sophie resonate with Gonzalez-Willis. “There’s a lot of things that are interesting [about Sophie], how much I was able to relate to her energy and her willingness to love and take everything with a happy heart,” she says.

To best portray Sophie and not adapt to other versions of the story, Gonzalez-Willis listened only to the original soundtrack and steered clear of watching the movie. “I want Sophie to be my own,” she says.

As a guest director who’s worked with Centre Stage for about 10 seasons now, John Fagan wanted to make “Mamma Mia!” unique and different, just as the cast is unique and different. At the first sit-down meeting with the cast, Fagan always says, “we have to make this show ours” and “the story has to be told our way.”

The entire cast has bought into the idea of owning the show — not copying other shows but still honoring parts of them. Fagan said he left the first rehearsal smiling, which doesn’t always happen for every show. “[They’re a] strong, talented cast bringing their A-game to this show,” he says.

ManWaring agrees. “The cast is wonderful and a joy to work with,” she says. The point of the whole show is for all involved to have a good time and enjoy “pure, unadulterated entertainment,” Fagan says.

And the music is sure to give the audience good vibes. The bouncy, fun ABBA songs elicit smiles, singing, and dancing from the audience. Gonzalez-Willis says the music resonates well with people of all ages. “This is music that won’t die and just keeps going on and has the ability to unite people,” she says.

The audience should come expecting an escape from the real world and an immersion into this Greek island vacation. Gonzalez-Willis says she wants the audience to become part of “Mamma Mia!” and leave feeling refreshed.


When: March 15-April 15 (no Sunday, April 1, performance), Thursday–Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m.
Where: Centre Stage, 501 River St.
Tickets: Center $35, gallery $30, side $25
Info: www.centrestage.org

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