"Mama Mia!" Rehearsal

Cast members, including Kym Chambers Otto as "Tanya" and Bradley Johnson as "Pepper," take part in a rehearsal for The Rochester Civic Theatre Company's production of "Mama Mia!" Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Megan West has been commuting from her St. Paul home to Rochester for several weeks now as the guest director of "Mamma Mia," which opens Friday at Rochester Civic Theatre.

It's a big show, the season opener, and it's her debut at the Civic.

Feeling any pressure?

"Mama Mia!" Rehearsal

Jen Maren as "Donna" and Rick Van Ert as "Harry" take part in a rehearsal for The Rochester Civic Theatre Company's production of "Mama Mia!" Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

"Yes and no," West said. "'Mamma Mia' is such a beautiful play. It's accessible for so many people. I think it's really clever programming from the theater's point of view."

As in other recent shows at the Civic, "Mamma Mia" combines professional actors with local amateurs.

"I've been nothing but really happy with the professional talent from the Twin Cities and Milwaukee," West said. "That has been a contributing factor in how confident I am."

At the same time, she said, the local actors who arrived for auditions also turned out to be a talented group. That allowed West to meet her goal of placing the professionals and amateurs next to each other in key roles.

"Mama Mia!" Rehearsal

Cast members, including Amie LeClair as "Sophia," center, take part in a rehearsal for The Rochester Civic Theatre Company's production of "Mama Mia!" Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

West has been directing and producing plays in the Twin Cities for the past 13 years, including at the Guthrie, Park Square Theatre, Mixed Blood, and the History Theatre. This is her first time directing in Rochester.

"Mamma Mia," which comes with a built-in hit soundtrack in the form of the music of ABBA, had a 14-year run on Broadway, is still running in London, was the basis for a movie of the same name (and a sequel), and continues to entertain audiences with its mix of pop music and family drama.

"Mama Mia!" Rehearsal

Amie LeClair as "Sophia," left, and Jen Maren as "Donna" take part in a rehearsal for The Rochester Civic Theatre Company's production of "Mama Mia!" Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Songs include "Waterloo," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Dancing Queen," "SOS," "The Winner Takes it All," and...need we go on?

"I've been dancing in the aisles through every audition and rehearsal," West said.

Ordinarily, the songs can sound like thoroughly entertaining, but empty, pop confections. In the context of the story in the play, however, they take on more weight.

"There's a lot to hold onto and connect to," West said. For example, she said, "'Knowing Me, Knowing You' is such a beautiful heartbreaking song about loss."

Still, "Mamma Mia," even with its bittersweet moments, is intended to be a good time.

"It's about knowing who you are and what you want," West said. "I tell people this is a show about throwing a wedding."

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Life Reporter

Tom covers primarily arts and entertainment for the Post Bulletin and 507 Magazine. He also often writes feature stories about local history. He is a native of Milwaukee, WI, and enjoys reading and traveling.