You likely already know “Mamma Mia!” as a worldwide phenomenon. Whether you’ve seen a live performance or the movies, or you’ve been meaning to check out the show, “Mamma Mia!” in the round at Toby’s Dinner Theater in Columbia promises to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Audiences around the globe love this musical for its high energy, fast-paced love story, and music. It was a smash hit on Broadway, running for more than 14 years and 6,000 performances. On film, it has grossed more than $615 million, (the sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” grossed nearly $400 million) and attracted a superstar cast led by Meryl Streep and Cher. And, you don’t have to be a child of the ‘70s to know most of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” lyrics.
The Toby’s cast for “Mamma Mia!” is extraordinary. Audiences familiar with the venue will see some new faces and many of the “stars” they have come to love over the years.
“As the director, I did my best to present the story with heart, honesty and a lot of fun,” said Mark Minnick, director and choreographer. “‘Mamma Mia!’ is a wonderful story about family, and it is accompanied by outstanding music that works so well within the story. We just brought out the truth of the moments. Our show will bring great joy, laughter and some tears.”
Toby’s has been producing quality musical productions for more than 40 years. Dinner is served before the show.
“Diners will enjoy a wonderful summertime menu, and we name the items after songs or characters from the show,” Minnick said. “The audiences chuckle at the names and it just brings a sense of fun while in the buffet line.”
Maggie Dransfield, a Columbia native, plays Sophie, a young woman in search of her heritage. “[Toby’s] is very different than traditional theater because [actors] meet the audience before performing for them [by waiting tables]. I’m able to connect and create a small relationship with my guests during the dinner hour. That is so fulfilling for me. I work the hardest I ever have at Toby’s and I’m proud of my work.”
After dinner, the special experience continues. Unlike a traditional theater, Toby’s is round rather than a proscenium (stage) theater, which means the audience is seated 360 degrees around the stage. Every seat in the theater is between 1 and 25 feet from the stage, creating an intimate experience between the audience and the cast.
Minnick promises the audience will be treated to “top-notch talent, pouring their heart and soul into the production. [It’s] an intimate in-the-round production that will draw you in from start to finish. It really is beautiful,” he said. “Our musical director has created a sound that is true to ABBA and gloriously fills the theater. This is a perfect date night!”
Heather Beck plays Donna, the lead. “I think the most interesting thing about the role of Donna is that it can be played differently depending on the vision of the director and the cast of people,” Beck said. “Every performer will bring unique nuances to the role. I play her, well, a little like me. I try to keep her as real as possible, a hardworking mom who has done the best she can and continues to do the best she can while having to unexpectedly relive some of her past. I like the strength in Donna.”
Beck is a lifelong performer originally from the Lone Star State. She said of all venues, Toby’s is her favorite to perform.
“I prefer theater in the round rather than a proscenium stage. I love meeting the people who come to the shows and I love all the energy they bring,” Beck added. “This production of ‘Mamma Mia!’ is so much crazy fun and also a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. Then we throw in a rock concert at the end!”
Dransfield, too, loves the unique atmosphere. “Theater in the round is intimate on so many levels,” Dransfield said. “Although the audience never participates on the physical stage, they are close enough to see more expressivity than almost anywhere. During each performance, I could reach out and touch the audience. I don’t, but that’s how intimate the space is. They are right there on the island with us every night.”
Beck could not say enough about her colleagues. “Our cast and crew, music director, and Toby herself, are amazing. Each and every one of them,” Beck said. “It’s like being surrounded by this amazing buoy of talent and energy. They keep me afloat. I’m pretty lucky.”
Minnick promises the spectacular will sell out, so people should get tickets now. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.
“Expect to see light, love and real emotional connection,” Dransfield said. “Our production is rooted in the heart. We wanted to create something really special and honest that radiates to our audience members. I believe we have done that. Escape with us for a few hours. We laugh, cry, and dance our hearts out. Our cast would love to share this experience with you!”