Director's ambitious choreo gives disco musical a leg up
Schaumburg choreographer Samantha Sieghart's name has appeared in playbills all over the 'burbs. You may have seen her dance moves in the regional premier of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Natural Talent Productions in St. Charles. She created movement for the Chicago premier of Helvetica at Death & Pretzels in the city. She is also a veteran stage actor and singer. But Sam's newest project is also her newest role: she is both choreographing and directing Mamma Mia! at Summer Place Theatre.
"From the engaging story line, to the upbeat music, to the big dance numbers, Mamma Mia! has my name all over it!" Sam says. Her choreography is known for being dramatic and fast-paced while using the dancer's full range of motion, making it simultaneously difficult for the actor to learn and highly satisfying for the audience to watch. Summer Place audiences got a taste of her style last summer in Footloose.
Released to community theatres everywhere just last year, Mamma Mia! has proven to be a popular choice for programming. It's a moving story about a young woman, Sophie, whose mother was once the lead singer of a girl group called "Donna and the Dynamos." Donna had relationships with three men before Sophie was born, and now that Sophie is about to get married, she invites the three exes to her picturesque island wedding in the hopes of learning which one is her dad. A bigger draw for audiences than this sweet story, though, is the ABBA music. Jukebox favorites like "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!," "Take a Chance on Me," and "Dancing Queen" are dropped into the plotline like funky little disco gemstones.
Although Summer Place is just one of many theatre companies producing Mamma Mia! this year, Samantha is sure that audiences will receive more than they bargained for. "Since I am a choreographer by trade," Sam says, "our production is more dance heavy than others, and has extremely difficult and upbeat choreography." She says she "can't give away too many secrets," but this Mamma Mia! "will be unlike the others you will see this year."
The nineteen-person cast, ranging in age from young adults like Sophie to almost-empty nesters like Donna, have come together to master this difficult choreography and convey the feeling of a tight-knit community and family. Casting the actors was the biggest challenge.
"Sophie and her friends need to have real chemistry, the Dynamos need to have real chemistry, Donna and the Dads need to have chemistry... the list goes on!" says Sam. "This is a show about relationships and family, and it was not easy to find the right actors for the job. But I can say, we definitely did find them!"
And while wrangling nineteen actors, teaching tough dance moves, and working with a team of music and tech directors to bring her vision to life might seem unwieldy for a first-time director, Sam is equal to the task.
"I think having full creative control and providing the full vision for the show led to a very streamlined, clear vision which ultimately makes the storyline clearer to the audience. Everything makes sense."
Despite Mamma Mia! turning twenty this year, its popularity shows no signs of waning. Summer Place's production boasts talent and dance moves that can usually only be seen at the professional level, and with tickets starting at $20 for adults, this toe-tapping and heart-warming show is an incredible value. But Samantha's wish for the audience has nothing to do with the "Money! Money! Money!," as the song goes.
"I want the audience to leave feeling like they've known these characters as long as they've known each other," Sam says.
Mamma Mia! runs Fridays and Saturdays July 19 through August 3, Fridays at 7:30 and Saturdays at both 2pm and 7:30. Tickets are on sale now at summerplacetheatre.org/tickets.