Mamma Mia! here we go again: live theatre is back at the Mayfield

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It sounds like the blueprint for a door-slammer farce to be sure (the kind that the Mayfield Dinner Theatre propels across its stage from time to time). After closing and re-opening and re-closing the doors a dizzying number of times this difficult pandemic year and a half, the theatre is about to open them again.

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The Mayfield is back, starting in September, with a five-show season of live shows for real-live in-person audiences. And with four of the five productions, music — yes, singing! — is involved, in a lineup that leans deliberately into proven audience favourites, and the shows that got cancelled.

It starts small, Sept. 14 to Oct. 31, with the two-actor music bio-revue A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, starring Sara-Jeanne Hosie and Sheldon Bergstrom as the narrator. And by next spring (April 12 to June 12, with an extended run possible), the lineup goes big and full-bodied: the Broadway blockbuster Mamma Mia! with its cast of nearly two dozen plus the band.

That hit was to have opened at the  Mayfield last spring. So “Here We Go Again,” laughs Mayfield artistic director Van Wilmott. Retaining the rights a year later was “tricky,” he says. The show is in big demand, a natural for the big Broadway touring companies when they’re back in action. “It’s a happy show to come back to.”

The Mayfield’s Yuletide slot November 9 to January 23) is occupied by a hit show originally scheduled for last summer. Wilmott has had to cancel Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, a perennial Mayfield fave last seen at the theatre a decade ago, no fewer than three times.

Nashville Outlaws, which runs Feb. 1 to April 3, marks Wilmott’s return to his first Mayfield show as artistic director (and the first production he directed there) in 2007. The revue, by Will Marks and Sara-Jeanne Hosie taps a nonpareil hit catalogue: songs by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.

“Each show (in the season) gets a bit more complicated,” says Wilmott. “You just don’t know the audience comfort level. A big question mark.”

During the summer of 2022, July 5 to Aug. 1, Mayfield audiences will be watching a revival of Sexy Laundry, a comedy by Vancouver’s Michele Riml last seen at the Mayfield in 2011, when the run was shortened by the theatre renos of the time. It’s about a couple trying to jump-start a 25-year-old marriage, armed with a copy of Sex For Dummies. Casting for the new production awaits.

Like so many of Edmonton’s theatres, the Mayfield has been persistent and ingenious in the face of ever-changing restrictions. The lockdown of March 2020 meant that the musical Rock of Ages never hit the stage at the dinner theatre. When the theatre returned to action last summer, it was with a straight play (Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story) since singing onstage was verboten, and an audience at tables separated by Plexiglass and reduced to about 25 per cent of capacity. After that, the original revue Keep Calm and Rock On, for which special Plexiglass booths were custom-made for individual singers, closed four weeks early in the big lockdown of last November. But, as Wilmott points out, since gatherings beyond households were not permitted (much less dancing in the aisles), the theatre’s usual Christmas party crowd couldn’t happen anyway. The upshot: the Mayfield with a massive Plexiglass surplus; some has been diverted to the washrooms.

“It feels so exciting to have a show onstage coming up,” says Wilmott. The plan is for full capacity in the 450-seat house, and a return to the theatre’s signature buffet. All kitchen and serving staff will be masked, with rigorous sanitizing measures in place.

Tickets are on sale soon at mayfield theatre.ca.

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