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By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
Singers and dancers swept across a brightly lit stage at the Ketchikan High School auditorium this past Saturday afternoon, rehearsing for the First City Players’ production of the musical comedy “Mamma Mia!”
“Mamma Mia!” was written in 1999 by Stephanie Johnson, and features songs by the pop group ABBA. The local production is directed by Elizabeth Nelson, choreographed by Bridget Mattson, with musical direction by Deidra Nuss.
According to cast member Jenessa Albertson, the plot is triggered by the lead character Sophie Sheridan’s discovery, while reading her mother’s journal, that her father might be one of three men. Sheridan then invites the trio to her wedding on a Greek island, without her mother’s permission, resulting in wedding chaos. Albertson is part of the dance ensemble.
“It’s a fun play, in every aspect. Even the drama scenes are fun. It’s a party the whole time,” Albertson said, as fellow cast member Delaney Murphy laughed and agreed.
The cast of 40 has been rehearsing since early September, Nelson said. It’s been both a daunting time commitment, and a wonderful bonding experience according to cast members.
Actor Carly Hurst said “Mamma Mia!” is her first play. She portrays Lisa, a friend of the main character. Hurst described the best aspect of being a cast member.
“Just discovering another community in Ketchikan that’s so vibrant,” she said, adding that when she decided to settle in Ketchikan, she figured she’d pretty much met about everyone she’d be friends with. It was a great realization that “there’s more people than you could ever dream to meet here.”
Hurst, native of Newark, Ohio, originally came to Ketchikan to work seasonally, then decided this year to stay.
“Going places and knowing people — just, every new conversation is typically a new opportunity,” she said. “It’s just really fun here.”
Joining the “Mamma Mia!” cast sealed the deal, and now she’s in Ketchikan for the longer term, working as a lifeguard at the Gateway Aquatic Center.
Stephanie Alley, who plays Ali, another friend of Sophie’s, said that the play is so upbeat it has required “a lot of energy” to play her “bubbly” character. She has been in other First City Players productions, including “Les Miserables” and the “Fish Pirate’s Daughter.” What keeps Alley coming back, besides her love of singing and dancing, are the people.
“I like the community of it. It’s nice to do that in a group,” she said.
Getting involved in theater is good for anyone, Alley said.
“There’s always a role for every person,” she said, adding that there always are a variety of roles to choose from — even some with no lines — and also there are support jobs, like set painting.
Scott Brandt-Erichsen, who portrays Father Alexandrios in “Mamma Mia!” also mentioned the theater community as a draw for him.
“I interact with a whole different group of folks who I wouldn’t run into in my normal course of what I do,” he said.
One reason he likes acting in plays is that it pushes the boundaries of his comfort zone, where he tends to be an introvert.
“I think it’s good for my brain,” he said.
Daniela Sáez plays the lead character Sophie in “Mamma Mia!” She has had singing parts in two other First City Players productions, she said.
Originally from California, Sáez arrived in Ketchikan four years ago to visit her cousin, who was working as a reporter for KRBD. She said she fell in love with Ketchikan for several reasons.
“I love the sense of community,” she said, adding that she also values the kindness of locals, the artistic nature of the town, as well as the mountains and the ocean. She has explored many jobs while in Southeast Alaska, including gillnetter, substitute teacher and waitress.
Sáez said that “Mamma Mia!” is a very different experience than her first two plays, as she has more lines and a broader array of emotions to portray than she’s had to before.
Becca Doyle, who portrays Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, in the play, said auditioning for “Mamma Mia!” was part of a life plan she’d made. Her entire adult life has been filled with her love of music, she said, and she had been fulfilling that as a keyboardist and singer at her church.
“For 2018 I had just set a goal for myself to use my music outside of my church,” she said.
Although Doyle had attended First City Players productions before, she said she never had auditioned for a part. She definitely did not expect to land a leading role.
“I was kind of in shock,” she said.
Part of that shock was a result of being told long ago, by a person close to her, that she didn’t “have a great voice.” That had stuck with her for years.
Doyle, a sixth-grade teacher at Houghtaling Elementary School, said she also is a coach for the Girls on the Run program. She said she had to start using the advice she gives to her students on herself.
“You can do hard things,” Doyle said she tells the girls. Doing so makes you “get smarter and grow,” she added. She said she often encourages them to step outside their comfort zones as they train for the program’s 5K run.
“It was a way for me to model that for them,” she said, of taking on the part of Donna.
She said taking on the role also was a “really freeing moment” for her, as she let go of that non-singer identity she’d let someone else make for her.
“It’s really stretching me outside my comfort zone,” she said, echoing Brandt-Erichsen’s words.
Xavier Jones plays the role of Pepper, whom Jones described as a flirt, lead waiter, enthusiast and gold digger. He said he began auditioning for plays at the urging of his co-worker Justin Perro. His first role was as Danny Zuko in a First City Player’s production of “Grease.”
Jones said that he finds that separating himself from his character is one of his bigger challenges.
“You are your own person, but then you have to act as somebody else on stage, and that, at times can be very difficult, especially when you’re tired,” he said, adding that he’d just arrived to rehearsal on the heels of a 13-and-a-half-hour shift at the shipyard.
Jones said it is worth the challenges, though, not only because he enjoys dancing and the thrill of performing on stage, but because of the warm community of First City Players.
“It’s the most inviting place I’ve ever been to, where there’s no judgement whatsoever — where you came from, who you are, what you may have done outside of the First City Players office — you step inside of there, you can be as weird as you want,” Jones said. “You will create friendships that last for a long time — for a lifetime, and it feels like a family.”
Jones said that people who attend the performances are going to enjoy the singing and dancing talent, the outfits, the side jokes and the high energy of the play.
The first performance, a “pay-as-you-can” show that allowed attendees to pay any ticket price they could afford, was scheduled for Thursday night, and the opening performance was Friday.
Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, 3, 9 and 10 in the Kayhi auditorium, and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4 and Nov. 11. For more information, contact First City Players at email@example.com or visit the website at www.firstcityplayers.org.