When the lights turned on Friday night, Sept. 3, at the beautifully appointed Old Town Temecula Community Theater there was a buzz in the air. Excitement prevailed at the dawning of a new era.
Jason Green is heading up a new Board of Directors for the Temecula Valley Players, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) California corporation. It will be up to Green and this Board to drum up community support to pay these performers.
It's called community theater to distinguish it from an Equity house. That is where the performers actually get paid. These are not amateurs because there isn't any money to pay them. The Temecula Valley Players are unpaid pros.
Let me be perfectly clear. Do not confuse the passion of unpaid performers with the rank of amateur. It's not the same. After seeing just one production, it is my belief this cast should be put on the city's payroll.
In case you didn't know, it takes a tremendous amount of money to support a playhouse. It takes lots, and lots, and lots of donors providing huge endowments to stiffen the coffers.
Like Moonlight Amphitheater in Vista, the Temecula Valley Players are supported by the city of Temecula. Therefore, it is this writer's belief, the city managers need to apply for funding from CalArts to meet payroll.
Enough politics, now for the good stuff.
All praise or blame starts with director Carol Damgen. This clever woman is a much acclaimed instructor at Cal State San Bernardino's Theatre Arts department. Her astute approach on this much-seen play, "Mamma Mia!," adds a freshness not before imagined. Damgen's directorial hand is light, though subtle enough to brighten the production. No wonder she has won numerous awards for her work. This one too, is deserving, if for nothing else but bringing out the best in this cast of real people.
Laced with charm, Georgia Kate (Sophie) exudes excitement and poise. Her vocals are clear and lyrical throughout. It's the eve of Sophie's wedding.
When her best friends Ali (Rocky Estevez) and Lisa (Regina Martin) arrive on the fictitious Greek island of Kalokairi to be her bridesmaids, Sophie welcomes them with the news that she has found her father after reading pages from her mother's diary.
Estevez (Ali) radiates energy. Along with the sparkling Martin (Lisa), this blushing trio jubilantly bounce to the lyrics of "Honey, Honey."
Sensing mischief, Donna Sherman (Sarah Farooqui) welcomes the bridesmaids just before the untimely arrival of Harry Bright (John Harnetiaux), Bill Austin (Jason Wesley Green) and Sam Carmichael (Jason W. Webb).
Faced with the sudden arrival of her cloudy past, Donna urges the men to leave. But they won't, declaring they were invited to the wedding and given room keys by Sophie.
Farooqui is a delight to watch as she reveals Donna's story. With beguiling nuance, Farooqui's well-trained voice is filled with a charismatic vocal range pulling the audience into the story.
More fun kicks in when the men disclose their relationship with Donna from 21 years ago. Harnetiaux aka Head Banger talks about how he'd met her in Paris and then followed her to Greece to explore their connection. Exuding natural British charm and reserve, Harnetiaux is the consummate gentlemen tenor.
With a more robust voice is Green, the inveterate bachelor-world traveler. Green exudes natural charm, blissful comedic timing, and latent marauding instincts as he cavorts in the second act with Rosie Mulligan (Rachel Pfeifer Green).
Webb has played this role multiple times.That must be why he resonates as Sam. He brings magnetism and masculinity to musical theater through his singing and stage presence.
The dynamos are Tanya Chesham-Leigh (Sonia Watson) and Rosie Mulligan. Born to entertain, both of these ladies fill their parts with charismatic talent. Watson shines in her break-out song "Does Your Mother Know" sporting the gams and chops to sell it as she slews Pepper, the bartender.
Green gets her chance at glory with "Take a Chance on Me" as she provocatively lures Bill into an onstage seduction. Green does not play a "bright-eyed, blushing, babydoll ... ," oh no, not our Rosie. She drops a show-stopping song slanted at an adult audience.
Anthony Moss plays Sky, Sophie's fiancé. Although handsome and talented, Moss didn't quite hit his vocals. Holding back his beautiful voice seems like an easy fix. Just adjust the volume on his mic.
Pepper (Aaron Moss) is the spicey bartender at the tavern. Attractive and flirty, he tries time and again to entice the spirited Tanya with his charms.
Understudies are prevalent throughout the multi-talented ensemble. Dance captain Peter Varvel plays Eddie, Gerard Velona plays Father Alexandrios, Robin St. John plays Sister Anastasia, Nichelle Myers-Yokeley plays Sister Helena. Rounding out the cast are Kelsey Matheson, Kevin Alcott, Jenny Robinson, Michel Michelucci and Megan Pastrallo, Julia Peralta and Emily Segaar.
British playwright Catherine Johnson is best known for writing "Mamma Mia!" based on the music of ABBA which she later turned into the highest grossing film in the UK in 2009.
Temecula Valley Theater complex is located at 42051 Main Street. The box office is inside The Merc. Tickets: (866) 653-8696 or visit temeculatheater.org. Performances run only until Sept. 19. Currently masks are at the guest's discretion.
"Mamma Mia!" is worth the time and effort to find a parking spot. I recommend free parking at the Old Town Public Parking building on Mercedes Street because free street parking requires a parking fairy to find a spot.
"Mamma Mia!" performed by the Temecula Valley Players is rated a 10 out of 10 for the joy they provide. This is a must see.
Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected].