Seventeen-year-old Mallie Lyons had never seen “Mamma Mia” – the movie or the musical – when she was cast to play one of its lead characters, Sophie, at Joe Jefferson Playhouse.
And she had never really danced to disco music.
But that did not stop the Baker High School senior from belting out ABBA songs and showing off her dancing skills in the local theater’s most successful show to date. As Sophie, Lyons played a 20-year-old preparing for her wedding on a Greek island while trying to find her father.
Running three weekends in August, Joe Jefferson Playhouse’s “Mamma Mia” – featuring eight Baker students and five Baker graduates and directed by Baker theater teacher Eric Browne – became the first JJP show to sell out nine shows, according to the theater.
Packed audiences sang along with chart-toppers including “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “S.O.S.” and “Take a Chance on Me” and laughed at the jokes and more comedic numbers. Meanwhile, throughout the two-and-a-half hour show, they were drawn into a tale of the love shared between a mother and daughter.
Lyons said she was blown away by the success of the show.
“I’ll be honest. I’ve never been a big fan of ‘Mamma Mia,’” she said. “But working with this cast was an amazing experience. It was an honor to share the stage with such incredible people. With their insane talent, our phenomenal choreography and spectacular direction, we brought ‘Mamma Mia’ to a whole new level. Everyone came in ready to work. I hope we exceeded everyone’s expectations when they came to see the performance.”
With “Mamma Mia 2” set to hit theaters around the same time as JJP’s local production, Browne said he anticipated that the show would do well. But the cast – which practiced four to five days a week all summer – never expected all nine performances to sell out.
Watching students, past and present, do what they love on stage, Browne said, “brings tears to my eyes.”
“I cannot begin to describe the joy and pride of watching each of them grow into their own as a performer,” he said. “Several of the students have been working with me since freshman year, and they just keep getting better and better.”
The students are about to start rehearsing for Baker’s spring production: the Disney musical “AIDA,” which will run April 26-28. Performing in a community theater gives them a chance to hone their skills and build their acting resumes.
Besides Lyons, these Baker students performed in Mamma Mia:
- Emma Cheatham, Vannah Mills, Brandon Tice and Logan Zirlott in the dancing chorus
- Jhalana Jones and Madison Burkholder in the Greek chorus
- Gavin Reeves as the sound designer and sound board operator
Baker alumni in the show included:
- Savannah Hall as Ali
- Michael Tanner as Eddie
- Drew Poche in the dancing chorus
- Gabriela Merz in the Greek chorus
- Perry Stone as the light board operator and lighting co-designer
This was the eighth show that Browne directed at Joe Jefferson, with the others being: “1776 the Musical,” “Into the Woods,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Avenue Q,” “The Producers,” “Peter and the Star Catcher” and “Cabaret.” Five of those won Outstanding Production of the Season.
Browne began directing 14 years ago at the University of Montevallo, where he majored in acting and directing. His first show in Mobile to direct was “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Mobile Theatre Guild.
For “Mamma Mia,” Lyons said she had to get a little out of her comfort zone to become Sophie, an engaged 20-year-old daughter of a former disco legend.
“I feel as though my own personal experiences with love, nostalgia, and the bond I have with my actual mother helped me identify with Sophie and discover many interesting things about the character,” she said.
Her favorite song was “Slipping through My Fingers,” an emotional number featuring her mom Donna (played by Lesley Roberts) helping her fix her hair and put on her wedding dress.
“We shared such incredible moments on stage and it always felt so real when we performed that number together,” Lyons said. “It’s a beautiful mother/daughter moment.”
Lyons performed recently in JJP’s Cabaret. She plans to try out for “AIDA” and is practicing now for a short play, “Here We Go” that she plans to perform in the state’s Trumbauer competition.