by Zachary Petroff | staff writer
Feb. 24, 2022
Pittsburgh’s oldest amature theater group, the Duquesne Red Masquers, are a true testament to the timeless adage that “the show must go on.” The performing arts group will be debuting their rendition of the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!” on Thursday, Feb. 24 in the Genesius Theater. The show runs until March 5, and tickets are still available on the Duquesne Red Masquers website.
The initial debut was scheduled for Feb. 17, but due to health concerns stemming from Covid-19, production was pushed back one week to prioritize the physical and mental health of those involved in the production.
“I have never felt so helpless in a theater production before,” said Justin Sinethe show’s director and the Genesius Theater’s technical director, who had Covid-19 earlier this month.
“I was stuck at home in bed. I couldn’t leave my house, and the show was happening. I just had to trust my technicians, my staff, my stage management team and the actors because the show was going to go on whether I was there or not,” Sines said. “Theater doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
“It required a lot of different people with a lot of different talent coming together at the same time at the same place to put the show on,” Sines said.
“Mamma Mia!,” a campy, goofy experience that shines through the actors’ performances, should leave spectators in awe with the level of preparation that went into the production.
According to stage manager Elysse Dalzell, the rehearsals usually run Monday to Friday nights from 6-10 p.m. Dalzell said this show has been a special instance incorporating weekend rehearsals as well.
“We were able to take each day and break it down. With these specific actors, we would have them working on blocking and acting parts, and then later in the night we would do dancing or singing and were able to split it up so not everyone is here all the time. It is a pretty big time commitment,” Dalzell said.
One of the challenges facing this production was the use of masks during the performance.
“What we were planning to do before the Covid outbreak was to wear clear masks, like shields. With the Covid outbreak, we decided to have everyone wear a black mask. That is a part of the costume now,” Sines said.
While it appears that having performers with such obvious masks would be a hindrance or a focal point of the performance, the actors are able to emphasize their facial expressions and movements to keep the audience immersed in the musical.
“I’ve always been taught when people can’t see your mouth moving, they can’t hear you well and I am not experiencing that,” Sines said.
“Mamma Mia!,” debuting in 1999, is the story of the wedding of Sophie and her outrageous plot to solve the mystery of who her father is. Her mother, Donna, the fierce yet vulnerable single-parent, finds herself in often heart-felt situations, trying to navigate themes such as lost love, independence and various examinations of relationships. Through the music of ABBA, “Mamma Mia!” is able to avoid taking itself too seriously, while giving the audience a chance to both laugh and cry.
“This production specifically has so many moving parts, and it is so interwoven,” Music Director Aaron Thompson said. “The forefront has to be the sound.”
Navigating theater arts through a pandemic would seem to make this type of show impossible, but the Red Masquers saw this as just another hurdle that comes with the typical chaos it requires to perform their art.
“I just have to applaud how hard these students have been working and their dedication and their passion,” Choreographer Katherine Hess said. “Growing, learning, being flexible, being adaptable – that is just the nature of theater in general. Of course Covid is really giving us a run for our money.”
Shortened schedules, health concerns, inclement weather and basic student life all impacted the process of rehearsals. Rarely was the entire cast together for rehearsals, according to the production staff. The show’s success is a direct correlation of the cast and crew’s ability to step up and meet the varying challenges.
Freshman Rachel Lewandowski was originally cast as part of the ensemble and Ali’s understudy, though found herself taking over the role of Donna a little over a week ago. With the support of her fellow castmates, Lewandowski was able to take command of the character in merely 48 hours, allowing her hard work to provide a seamless transition to one of the lead roles.
“I think we give the characters dimensions. I hope that shows in our production because we have worked on it so hard,” Lewandowski said.
The Red Masquers’ production of “Mamma Mia!” provides young and talented students an avenue to showcase their dedication and craft. This show enables the audience to be immersed in a colorful world filled with catchy songs, funny one-liners and impressive dance features.
Tickets can be purchased at duqredmasquers.com.