Thanks to a 14-year run on Broadway and an even longer 19-year run in London’s West End—which continues to this day—Mamma Mia! is one of the most beloved jukebox musicals ever. It’s no wonder that Toby’s Dinner Theatre has chosen the musical as its summer show, staging its high-energy production June 15 to Sept. 9 under the direction of Mark Minnick.
Written by British playwright Catherine Johnson and based on the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA, the musical was composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.
Mamma Mia! is set on a Greek island paradise, where a young woman about to be married takes on a quest to find out who her real father is, inviting her mother’s three former lovers to the island under false pretenses. With ABBA’s timeless music as its backdrop—including anthems, “Dancing Queen” and “The Winner Takes It All”—the story is full of love, laughter and friendship.
The show stars Heather Beck as Donna (the mother) and Maggie Dransfield as Sophie, the soon-to-be bride. Dransfield tells us that performing at Toby’s is something she has been looking forward to for a long time.
She grew up in Columbia, Md., and went to college at West Virginia University. Once she graduated, she headed to Boston and says she “did some things and found myself as an adult there.” Upon coming back to Maryland, she heard about the auditions for Mamma Mia! and knew she had to give it a shot.
Somewhat surprisingly, Dransfield wasn’t too familiar with the show before auditioning. She knew about its theatrical run but never saw it on stage, and she only watched the movie for the first time before her audition.
“A lot of people my age have seen the movie a lot and love it so much, but I just never got into it,” she says. “I always loved Meryl Streep and I like Amanda Seyfried as well, so they are what drew me into watching the movie, and it was so great. I really liked that there was potential for real drama. I know a lot of people say it’s really fluffy and they do it as fluff, but I see so much
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In addition to the allure of ABBA’s music catalogue, Dransfield likes that the story is very pro-female and that it brings with it a feeling of empowerment.
“What’s so special about it is the honesty between mother and daughter. You have the mirror images of mom and her two best friends, and the daughter and her two best friends. You get to see two different age groups going through a lot of the same issues.”
One of the key elements to playing Sophie, Dransfield says, is displaying an “energetic energy boiling up” because her character carries the secret of writing letters inviting the three possible fathers to her wedding.
“The stakes are super-heightened and I feel she has to deal with a lot of things and huge drama ensues, and that is fun to play as an actress,” she says. “I’m a huge family girl and really close to my family, so being put in this where my character is close to her mom but has no idea who her dad is, that pulls me to Sophie and her desire to find out the truth.”
Toby’s timing for the show is spot on, with a movie sequel to the original coming out on July 20, while the Toby’s show is mid-run. Titled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the film is expected to be a summer blockbuster.
The three possible dads are Jeffrey Shankle as Sam, Darren McDonnell as Harry and Russell Sunday as Bill, and the show also features Coby Kay Callahan, Tess Rohan, Paul Roeckellm Jamie Pasquinelli, Cassie Saunders, Joey Ellinghaus and Shiloh Orr. Brandon Bedore, Justin Calhoun, David James, Rachel Kemp, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Prowant, Nia Savoy, Louisa Tringali and Brigid Wallace round out the ensemble.
Dransfield shares that Minnick immerses everyone into the story in a beautiful way. “I love theater in the round and Mark directs really well in the round, so he’s set us up really well, so we’re able to play and every person in the theater is going to get a unique experience from watching,” Dransfield says. “People will leave loving ABBA even more from this and they will get some of the story that they didn’t get from the movie. We’re giving you a truthful, heartfelt story and people will connect with the characters on a more human level.”
Reflecting back on the parts that her family and Toby’s have played in bringing her to this point, Dranfield says “I was kind of a crazy kid and started singing when I was 3 years old, and it’s something that my family has always done a lot of in our lives,” she says. “I was homeschooled so I would go to a lot of dance classes and voice lessons and participated in things during the day when a lot of kids were at school. Both my parents are mathematicians but all of us kids are artists” – Dransfield’s brothers John and Stephen also act, and both recently appeared in Toby’s productions – “and we have been pushed towards what we love. I knew early on, this is what I wanted to do.”
“I got my roots through Toby [Orenstein]. I was a part of her Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts camp and did a couple of shows with her. She boosted me up into knowing that this is what I wanted to do,” Dransfield says. “Coming back, I was excited about the possibility of breaking into D.C. theater. When Mark gave me this part, I just knew I was ready for an adventure with them and ready to step into their professional theater.”