BBCHS’ ABBA extravaganza ‘gives you goosebumps’
The Bradley Bourbonnais Theatre Education Project is the first theater group in the area to produce the family-friendly ABBA extravaganza, “Mamma Mia!”
The Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School production, with showtimes tonight until Saturday, is directed by BBTEP’s artistic director David Morgan. The musical marks the beginning of the organization’s new season – but it almost didn’t happen.
“We were originally scheduled to do a different production in this time slot, but then the opportunity to do ‘Mamma Mia!’ came up, and we just couldn’t pass it up,” Morgan said.
The show is “perfect for the kids in our program,” said assistant director Dana Harris. “It was pure serendipity.”
“Many times in a community,” Morgan added, “it’s the community theaters that get the rights to perform shows first, and the high school programs follow. I know our students are so proud to be producing this kind of first-time theater and doing it in an incredibly professional way.”
Though Morgan admits there’s plenty of challenges when tackling large musicals in a high school auditorium, BBTEP is used to raising area standards. In 2017, they debuted Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” and the Broadway adaptation of “Cinderella.”
“Our students are ecstatic that their work drives the artistic theater conversation in Kankakee County instead of merely following it,” Morgan said.
Harris agrees the cast is outstanding. They faced some difficulty, she says, in trying to perform adult roles with more mature emotions and experiences than they might be used to, leading them to make “probably some of the hardest acting roles and decisions they’ve made.”
The cast, however, might not necessarily view the characters as challenges. Some view them more like opportunities.
“It’s so much fun to act like a 38-year-old cougar who is always up for a party,” said BBCHS senior Isabel Warmoth, cast as Tanya in the musical.
“I have had little acting experience, as this is my first lead role ever, [but] I have a blast playing her character,” she added. “I am most excited to be sharing the stage with my best friends and getting to be as glamorous as possible in all of my costumes.”
In contrast to Warmoth’s wild character, freshman Gianna Kohl says her character is “sweet, forgiving and understanding and very similar to an average young lady.”
Cast as Sophie in her first lead acting role, Kohl believes her and her character’s personalities are a pretty good match, though they obviously differ in ages, confirming Harris’ belief of the learning curve experienced by actors performing as a character whose age they have yet to personally encounter.
But the beauty of performing in a school, rather than at a separate theater organization, means the young actors are allowed to remain students.
“The best part about being an educational space,” Morgan said, “is we are run by educators and our students don’t just put on a show. They learn about acting, connecting to a character and finding the emotions in a scene.”
So even though Warmoth, Kohl and the rest of the cast may be playing as characters who are wiser or older than them, they view the situation as a learning experience, not a setback.
Many of the cast members are new to theater, so working on a professional production under the guidance of Morgan, Harris and the rest of the crew leads to a unique opportunity to learn while having fun and trying new roles.
Out of the eight leading roles in the musical, four of them are being played by first-time leads on the BBCHS stage, Morgan said.
“We find that mixing new talent with veteran talent allows everyone to excel and allows our shows to really shine.”
And shine, they do. Both Morgan and Harris attest to the talent and hard work of their cast.
“I would put the talents of our performers and the beauty of this show up against any cast in the state of Illinois,” Morgan said.
“You’re going to be blown away by the vocal talent,” he continued. “When [the cast members] sing the ABBA harmonies in this production, your mouths will drop.”
“When they break out into those iconic ABBA hits that everyone knows, it gives you goosebumps,” Harris added.
Clearly, the production of “Mamma Mia!” has been fun for all involved, and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Morgan said it has been a “truly enjoyable experience” directing the musical.
“There’s not a day that goes by where I cross the threshold into my theatre and I don’t think, ‘I am so lucky to be leading this program, and so lucky to be directing these incredible young people.’”
“This show has been so much fun to work on,” Harris agreed. “I have a feeling these ABBA songs will be stuck in my head forever!”
Showtimes for the extravaganza are 7 p.m. today, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, with an additional showing at 1 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and can be purchased at the door one hour before performances.