Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mamma Mia! Comes to Washington

The national tour of Mamma Mia! (best known as "the ABBA musical") arrives tonight in Washington, D.C. The show opens at the National Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue for a two-week run.

I interviewed one of the members of the cast, Rebecca Covington, for the Metro Herald. Here's the result of that interview.

Mamma Mia! Comes to Washington:
An Interview with Cast Member Rebecca Covington

Rick Sincere
Metro Herald
Entertainment Editor

Mamma Mia!, the West End and Broadway musical with the songs of ABBA (written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus), comes to Washington for two-week engagement ending on July 13, just in time for the debut of the film version of the stage hit. (The film opens July 18 and stars Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.)

Now in its tenth year in London and after six years on Broadway, Mamma Mia!’s national tour comes to the National Theatre from Denver and St. Louis, on its way to Philadelphia, Cleveland, Tampa, and Chicago.

Leading the cast of 30 is Susie McMonagle as Donna Sheridan, the independent single mother whose carefree past catches up with her on the eve of her daughter's wedding. Prior to Mamma Mia!, Susie could be seen on Broadway as Fantine in Les Misérables and in the National Tours of The Secret Garden, The Sound of Music, Les Misérables, and Pump Boys and Dinettes. Bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan is played by Rose Sezniak, who is a recent graduate of Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Her fiancé Sky is played by Geoffrey Hemingway.

Kittra Wynn Coomer and Michelle Dawson play Donna's best friends and former back-up band, Rosie and Tanya (respectively), who reunite with their best friend on the island for Sophie's wedding. The three men from Donna's past and Sophie's possible dads are John Hemphill (Sam Carmichael), Martin Kildare (Bill Austin), and Michael Aaron Lindner (Harry Bright). Sophie's and Sky's best friends are played by Rebecca Covington (Ali), Nicole Laurenzi (Lisa), Adam Kaokept (Pepper), and Anthony CeFala (Eddie).

The Metro Herald had an opportunity to speak with cast member Rebecca Covington, who was on the road with Mamma Mia! in Denver, about her life in the theatre, how she came to join this production, and her previous visits to Washington, D.C.

Covington was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, where she showed early signs of musical talent. She started playing the violin at the age of two. “My older brother was playing violin,” she said, “and I begged to play it. That’s why I started so young, because it was in the house.”

Playing the violin led her to a local school for the performing arts, where she was a “violin major” by the time she was in the fourth grade. That is when she had her first experience on stage. “I did a show called Big Moment, Small World,” which was a Disney revue, and “I played a fork in ‘Be Our Guest.’”

The turning point in her life – when she decided to move from orchestra pit to the apron of the stage – came when “my orchestra went on tour in Europe and I saw a West End production of West Side Story.” At that moment, she said, “I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Covington explains: “My mom was with me and she said afterward, ‘I saw you sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time.’ She knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

When the tour was over, Covington went back to her high school, where she became more involved in student theatrical productions. She went on to Belmont University in Nashville to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music and musical theatre. In college, she said, “I decided I was burned out on violin, but theatre was one thing I could not live without. So I decided to reroute my life.”

In college she participated in a series of shows: “Bye Bye Birdie, 42nd Street, Crazy for You, Smokey Joe’s Café, Hello, Dolly!, Oklahoma! – we did two musicals a year and we stayed pretty busy. Raisin in the Sun was my only straight play while I was in college.”

Covington’s professional career began when she went to the Southeastern Theatre Conference, which, she explained, was like “a mass audition.” Each performer had 90 seconds to sing and do a monologue. As a result, she was invited to do an audition for a non-Equity touring company of Thoroughly Modern Millie. “I was so excited,” she said. “We were on the road for ten months. We closed after the matinee on June 11 in Newark, New Jersey, and I moved to New York City that night.”

Once in New York, Covington signed up with an agent, and “that allowed me to get going professionally.” And fast, too: “I started a production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ in September.” Covington’s other credits include Aida and Hair.

Covington came to the cast of Mamma Mia! through her agent. She auditioned in February 2007 and was added to the cast in March. “I am so thankful to be here,” she said. “I’ve been on the road with [this show] for a year and three months.”

The engagement at the National Theatre provides Covington with her first opportunity in years to visit the Nation’s Capital. “My middle school took a trip to Washington,” she said. “I’m excited to go back, because I’ve never experienced anything like the Fourth of July in D.C.” The contrast with Independence Day a year ago will be sharp: “Last year for the Fourth, we were in Canada. So we’re going from it not being a holiday to where it’s the mecca of celebration!”

Traveling with a show means living out of a suitcase, which can be a drain. “It’s hard to sleep in different hotel rooms,” said Covington, but “you try to keep healthy. I try to eat as well as I can. I also go running at the gym, lift weights, and try to walk around as much as possible.”

What does Covington think of Mamma Mia!? “It’s the most fun you will have in the theatre in one night. The energy is crazy, and the audience is on their feet,” from start to finish. “It’s so exciting.”

One might think that cast members of the stage show of Mamma Mia! might be worried about competition from the film. Not at all, says Covington. “We’re very excited about seeing the movie and how they do it.”

There are currently eleven productions of Mamma Mia! running concurrently around the world (nine permanent productions and two tours). The original cast recording of Mamma Mia! is available on Decca Broadway. For information about Mamma Mia! around the world, visit www.mamma-mia.com.

Tickets for Mamma Mia! may be purchased now through Telecharge only at Telecharge.com or by calling (800) 447-7400. Tickets are priced $46.50 to $91.50 plus service charge, with a limited number of premium seats available at $151.50. Tickets go on sale at the National Theatre box office Tuesday, May 27. For groups of 20 or more, call (866) 276-2947. For more information, call (202) 628-6161 or visit www.nationaltheatre.org.

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