Summer Revival | Beaufort County Now | ‘Mamma Mia!’ brings return of summer theatre to ECU

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    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Crystal Baity.

East Carolina's summer theatre program began in 1964. The program returns this summer after a decadelong hiatus. (Contributed photo)

    Summer theatre will return to East Carolina University June 22-26 when the School of Theatre and Dance presents the musical "Mamma Mia!" in McGinnis Theatre.

    ECU's Jayme Host is producing artistic director, Tommi Galaska is director and choreographer, and Jacob Kerzner is music director.

    Set on a fictitious Greek island, "Mamma Mia!" is a romantic comedy contrasting the dreams and aspirations of Donna, who grew up in the 1970s, and her daughter, Sophie. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie tries to find out who her father is among three men who have returned to the island for the celebration.

    "Through the story-telling songs of ABBA, we experience the story of women who want it all and girls who want happily ever after," Galaska said. "As an audience, we get sheer joy, filled with lots of love and human connection."

    Theatre and dance partnered with university advancement on a $30,000 fundraising campaign to produce summer theatre after a decadelong absence.

    "We're so excited to bring back summer theatre to the community that has embraced and enjoyed it, and to provide opportunities for professionals and emerging professionals who lost contracts during the pandemic to reinvigorate the industry within our communities," said Host, director of the School of Theatre and Dance.

    The cast of 21 people is a mix of recent graduates and students including two members of the Actors' Equity Association, one of whom is an ECU graduate in musical theatre and professional acting.

    "It gives our students an opportunity to work in a professional setting alongside faculty and thriving professional actors," Galaska said. "It also is a wonderful way to engage our community. I find that theatre is a wonderful way to bring people together."

    ECU alumni Emily Phoebus and Noah Joyner have returned to be part of the production after graduating in May. Phoebus is part of the ensemble, dance captain and assistant choreographer. Joyner is a stitcher and wardrobe crew chief. Both were in numerous ECU student productions.

    "Where 'Mamma Mia!' differs is that it is operating more as a professional theatre experience instead of an education theatre experience," Joyner said. "New skills are being learned and practiced still, but in this setting my schedule is free from classes and homework, and I get to work alongside other working professionals from the field I studied!"

    With rehearsals starting just last week, Phoebus said she has learned a lot in a short time.

    "We've all had to learn how to pick up and retain material very quickly due to it being such a short rehearsal process. It's also been very educational watching professionals come in and add so much personality and physicality to their characters because they've been such a great help in the creative process."

    The show is fun and light-hearted, Joyner and Phoebus said. "I hope audiences look at the stage, the actors, the lights and costumes and feel a sense of fun and happiness. Everyone will definitely be dancing and singing along in their seats," said Joyner, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in design and production and focus in costume design.

    Joyner is working in the costume shop during the day, sewing and doing alterations on costumes. He will be backstage running a crew whose job will be to make sure all the costumes get on and off stage without a hitch during the show.

    "I hope audiences are able to enjoy it as much as the cast has," said Phoebus, who graduated in May with an BFA in musical theatre. "It's been such a great experience and I am so grateful that I got to take part in the revival of summer theatre. It gives students, alumni and other performers an opportunity to perform in musicals that we typically wouldn't do as a school production."

    Galaska has choreographed more than 30 musicals at ECU including her first, "Ain't Misbehavin'" in 1999. She made her debut as a student in the ECU summer theatre production of "Robber Bridegroom," directed by Edgar Loessin in 1985.

    "Summer theatre is part of the history of the School of Theatre and Dance. It began back in the '60s," Galaska said.

    "Mamma Mia!" was written by Catherine Johnson with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. Showtimes will be 7:30 p.m. June 22-25 and 2 p.m. June 25-26. ECU is celebrating the 60th annual ECU/Loessin Playhouse Season.

    Visit the ECU advancement website if you would like to contribute to the summer theatre crowdfunding campaign.
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