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Theater to make a comeback in Farmington

Four Corners Musical Theatre Co. will perform ‘Mamma Mia!’
Farmington actors top row from left, Nina Syaheda, Mandy With, Armand Jayne and Shera Piper; bottom row from left, Nadia Syaheda, Margaret Clair and Kelsey Beer rehearse a scene Wednesday at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington. The Four Corners Musical Theatre Co. will perform “Mamma Mia!” at the amphitheater. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

FARMINGTON – As New Mexico eases COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, the musical theater is reviving in the Farmington area with a production of “Mamma Mia!”

The musical takes place in Greece on the eve of a young woman’s wedding. When she invites three men who could possibly be her biological father to the island for her wedding, her unknowing mother ... well, you see.

The production will be put on by the Four Corners Musical Theatre Co. with barely two weeks of rehearsal. The show itself will run more days than the cast will have rehearsed. But that is the style of Director Randal West.

“Mamma Mia!” Director Randal West leads his group of actors through a scene Wednesday at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington. This is the first show the area will see since “Disaster” in 2020. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

West worked in California before moving to Fairfield, Iowa, where he was vice president creative director for a TV advertising agency. There, he opened the Sondheim Center and was the artistic director at Way Off Broadway, the professional musical theater at the Sondheim Center for seven years. After a stop in Houston to open a theater there, West ended up in Farmington as the Civic Center supervisor.

West created a style called integrated musical theater.

“It’s not singing and dancing and acting, it’s acting through a style that is big enough that is appropriate to a musical,” West said. “If your character’s energy goes up, or their emotion goes up, they can start to sing based on an acting choice, and if their emotion goes up again, then they can sing and dance, but it is always tied to an acting choice.”

Shera Piper, left, and Margaret Clair rehearse a scene from “Mamma Mia!” on Wednesday at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

West said he has worked with actors from California to New England and in between.

Natalie Szczerba, an actress from Toledo, Ohio, will be among the professional cast members who are traveling to Farmington to be in the production and will play Sophie, the daughter and young woman getting married in the musical.

Szczerba was in the theater’s only 2020 production that ran before the pandemic temporarily canceled live theater. The 26-year-old actress was living in Farmington before the pandemic but moved back to Toledo to be with her parents.

“Actually, the date I’m leaving to come back to New Mexico is the date I left New Mexico to come back to Toledo,” Szczerba said. “Coming full circle it seems. Although it was a really difficult time and provided many challenges, it was also a time of immense growth and searching of silver linings for me, so I’m thankful for the good that has come out of it.”

While Szczerba was not able to work as an actress during the pandemic, she said she was “lucky enough” to have a cathedral in her hometown that allowed her an outlet to sing at church services, weddings, funerals and quinceañeras.

“Mamma Mia!“ Director Randal West talks with actors Wednesday at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Some were not as lucky, however. Matthew Aaron, who has been acting for 11 years, since age 13, said the pandemic hit him hard. He will play the part of Sam.

“I was in Kansas doing a show that got canceled the day before we were supposed to open,” he said. “There was nothing more disheartening than being told that my industry is not essential when I personally feel it was more in demand than anything. People look to the entertainment industry for escape, and we as performers were sitting on the sidelines waiting, just waiting. Now that we get to share stories again, I’m excited.”

Szczerba said she isn’t nervous for the show, but is overly excited and thankful that the theater season can happen this year. Most of all, she “cannot wait” to be back in Farmington where “everyone is so kind.”

“I love the climate and options there are for outdoor activities,” she said. “I’m also just so looking forward to being with friends who are like family and getting to do what we love and create theater magic together once again and to bring back live theater to the community.”

For some in the professional group, the trip to Farmington for production will be a first. Choreographer and feature dancer Sarah Harkness, however, has been to New Mexico in the past and said, “These trips and the amazing New Mexico landscape and history have often inspired the work that I bring back to stage on my students here (in Alachua, Florida).”

The Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington. The Four Corners Musical Theatre Co. will perform “Mamma Mia!” at the outdoor theater. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Four Corners Musical Theatre Co. will perform “Mamma Mia!” at the Lions Wilderness Amphitheater at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from July 8 to Aug. 1. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children. Attendees are urged to bring a light jacket because the theater is outdoors and temperatures can drop in the evening.

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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