October 10, 2019 | Todd Thomas
Collaborations of any kind are challenging. Each of these area theatres has their own resources, processes and cultures and you can imagine the kind of train wreck a huge production like this could have been. Managing Director of Pit & Balcony, Amy Spadafore, Director of Theatre Programs at Midland Center for the Arts, Dexter Brigham, and Operations Manager for Bay City Players, Kathy Pawlowski, were clearly the right people to produce this show.
As a member of the theatre community, I know it didn’t come together without a hitch or two, but the most impressive and promising outcome of the work these three put into it was that they did it. They committed from the beginning that they could, they pulled their respective teams together, and as a result, the region benefited greatly. From the regional cabaret preview of shows that kicked off at Bay City Players, to the large performances at Midland Center for the Arts and the more intimate performances at Pit & Balcony, cast, crew, designers and producers should take pride in a highly successful, collaborative, show.
This is a bit of a departure from a typical show review of Mamma Mia! as I wrote one of those after seeing opening night at Midland Center for the Arts and you can see that review by clicking here. I have now had the pleasure of seeing the collaboration between Bay City Players, Midland Center for the Arts and Pit & Balcony, both in the large setting of Midland’s auditorium and now on the smaller stage. The purpose of these final shows at Pit & Balcony was to engage youth in the wonder and magic of live theatre. From the student’s behavior during the show to the questions during the talk back at the end, there is no question they were engaged.
Set Coordinator Ken Duby and his crew at Pit & Balcony did an amazing recreation of the set designed by Evan Lewis. It was absolutely to scale to the Pit & Balcony stage. The lights, sound and costumes were beautiful in the more intimate setting as well. Director Tommy Wedge did a great job of working out the appropriate number of cast members for the smaller stage and, along with the Assistant Choreographer Kailtin Brunette, did a very nice job of re-spacing and re-staging where necessary.
Everything I said about the cast in my initial review is still true---they were all amazing, high-energy and committed. Granted, disco in the morning is a little like bourbon with breakfast, but this cast was fully engaged. Because the performance at Pit & Balcony was a morning performance, it was an opportunity for some understudies to take on principal roles and they did so in an impressive manner. Ryan Smith as Harry Bright was extraordinarily strong. Smith brought his own personality and nuance to the role of Bright in a way that was different than the earlier show, but just as interesting and fun. He also revealed a great musical talent and unbelievably, this was his first show ever.
The other cast member I want to reference was a lead on both stages. Holly Booth, as Donna Sheridan, was incredible. In one song in particular, “The Winner Takes it All,” I realized I was literally holding my breath listening. I then looked around at a theatre full of students of all ages. Not a soul was moving. It was as if we were all posing for a photo. I saw Booth in this role on opening night and was blown away. But for this audience she somehow was even stronger.
Collaboration can create outcomes that are greater than the sum of the parts. From the impact on the students at Pit & Balcony to the entertainment of the guests at Bay City Players and audience members at Midland Center for the Arts, it is clear that this regional production was well worth the effort. Congratulations to the hundreds of people involved in making this a success.