Here we go again: Stowe Theatre Guild’s third show of the summer is “Mamma Mia!” — the story of Sophie Sheridan, a young woman planning her wedding who sets off to find her biological father.
Her mother, Donna, runs a tavern on a fictional Greek island, and Sophie has narrowed down her dad-search to three men. Unbeknownst to Donna, she invites all three to the wedding.
Hilarity and confusion ensue, driven along by the show’s ABBA-derived discography.
Director Owen Leavey, who grew up in Stowe, says it’s been a blast to produce.
“It’s a show that is clearly focused on the music because the music is so iconic,” Leavey said.
He had applied to direct “Godspell,” which the Guild staged earlier this year, but instead was asked to direct “Mamma Mia!” He was delighted.
“When you have a show that is so focused on the iconic music and you’re just trying to find the story around it, it can be quite difficult,” he said. “We really, really analyzed and focused on the text. I worked with my actors to really find all of the little bits and details in the script that not a lot of people notice when they traditionally do the show, like little pieces of story and little pieces of information that help it flow together a little more seamlessly.”
Noelle Nilo, 26, of Essex Junction plays Sophie, who “has proven to be pretty complex, which has been interesting and really exciting. When you think about ‘Mamma Mia!’ you think it’s going to be fun and lighthearted,” and while Sophie the bride embodies those things, she’s also on the cusp of learning who she is.
“Who can’t relate to that, right?” Nilo asked. “You’re lucky if you’re someone who has been able to figure things out. I think I’ve been able to put a lot of the doubt that I’ve gone through in my life, figuring out what you’re going to be doing,” into her portrayal of Sophie.
“She’s right at that vital point in life where she’s trying to figure out what she really wants in life, and I think that everybody who is past that age has experienced that,” Leavey said. “Young people can connect because people who haven’t hit that spot yet know that it’s coming. That moment of, ‘Who am I and what do I want to do with my life?’”
To Leavey, who’s 22, it’s quite personal.
“The time that I’ve been working on this show has been my transition out of that period, and I’ve been finding who I am truly where I want to focus my energy in life,” he said.
Telling the story
Nilo said she’s had fun working with her three potential stage dads. She especially loves performing ABBA’s hit “Thank You for the Music” with the three of them.
Roya Millard, 39, of Montpelier plays Bill Austin, one of Sophie’s potential fathers.
“He’s a really interesting role for me because he comes across initially as this sort of never-grown-up frat boy sort of adventurer,” Millard said. “He’s a writer, he lives out of a backpack, he never settles down and then he’s confronted with this really big thing that he might be a dad, and he takes it really seriously.
“The way that Owen and I have talked about it, it really hits Bill very hard. He doesn’t blow it off,” Millard said.
Millard is transgender, and while he knows he’ll never be a biological father, it was an interesting perspective for him to explore.
“Being an actor, you bring yourself to every role you play … I still have the life experiences of something I did on a whim coming back later with serious repercussions, having those experiences of coming back and saying, ‘Oh wow, this thing that I did, I’m now facing years later,’” Millard said. “I have a director who looked at me and didn’t see a trans man, who looked at me and saw an actor who is a storyteller.”
Leavey is grateful to other theater companies, including Lyric Theatre and Lamoille County Players, that allowed Stowe Theatre Guild to use props and sets after a fire in March destroyed the building where the Guild stored its equipment.