It’s official: audiences have set new attendance records for any theatre production in East Gippsland’s history, as Bairnsdale Production Line Theatre Company celebrates the runaway success of Mamma Mia! the musical during May.
The cheerful jukebox musical more than lived up to expectations, with attendance figures for the first night, first week and the entire 10-show season overwhelming all previous records.
“We’re still tallying the final figures,” Production Line president and Mamma Mia! star, Viki Wright, said.
“But I can say with absolute certainty that the previous attendance record of 3041, set in 2017 by Beauty and The Beast, has been well and truly shattered.”
In three weeks, over 10 performances, more than 3200 East Gippslanders turned out to enjoy the music of ABBA and the talents of the Production Line cast and crew, and also to celebrate the easing of COVID restrictions, which had robbed them of the opportunity to enjoy live entertainment for the previous year.
“It demonstrates, more than words could ever do, just how valued and important the performing arts are for the well-being of the community,” Ms Wright said.
“On stage, off stage, in the audience and the wider community, the message has been loud and clear: theatre matters to East Gippsland.”
The remarkable success of Mamma Mia! must also be music to the ears of the Forge Theatre and East Gippsland Shire, signalling a return to near-normal for a region whose economy relies heavily on tourism and entertainment.
East Gippsland Shire Council’s general manager place and community, Jodie Pitkin, said it was very pleasing that the season of Mamma Mia! was such a success.
“Congratulations to everyone involved in the production from Bairnsdale Production Line Theatre Company,” Ms Pitkin said.
“It’s great to be able to welcome people back to performances at the Forge Theatre and Arts Hub. The success of events such as Mamma Mia! are a result of our guests who come from near and far to enjoy live performances at the Forge.”
The success of Mamma Mia! is encouraging to the entire region’s theatre community, which has been lobbying recently for a greater voice in the development of home-grown performing arts events and facilities.
“Every year, Production Line brings 10 musical theatre and three non-musical performances to the Forge,” Ms Wright said.
“It makes us by far the biggest contributor to the local theatre calendar. And that doesn’t take into consideration the many other events we stage or contribute to, such as our own workshops and seminars, or participation in events such as the Paynesville Music Festival and Carols events.
“Add to that the number of young up and coming performers and teachers who pass through our shows, many of them going on to professional careers – I think we have every right to be proud of what we’re doing.”
Mamma Mia! was expected to do well from the moment it was first announced, back in late 2019 before the pandemic hit. What the Production Line team didn’t expect was the rush of bookings for the entire season, and the overwhelming response from the community as word spread about the quality of the production.
“We always take with a grain of salt the praise we get from families and friends,” Ms Wright said.
“But when complete strangers say things like ‘I saw Mamma Mia! on Broadway, and this was better’ –well, you have to believe we must be doing something right”.
In the meantime, the Mamma Mia!team and Production Line members are taking time to catch their breath, before starting it all again.
In the wake of Mamma Mia!’s success, they’ve announced their musical for May 2022: Grease.
“It’s unashamedly another period rock-n-roll show, guaranteed to draw in audiences of all ages for a night that offers the same kind of fun and nostalgia that Mamma Mia! gave us – and we’ve proved that we can deliver the goods,” Ms Wright said.
“It’s also a golden opportunity for East Gippsland’s younger performers, offering a range of roles in particular for men in their late teens or 20s. We’re already on the lookout for our new Danny, Kenickie, Doody, Sonny, Putsie, and the nerdy Eugene.”
More urgently, the company will soon call auditions for their October comedy, Clue, a madcap parody of the famous Parker Brothers board game.
And, unlike Mamma Mia! and Grease, performers won’t be required to sing or dance.
Further information regarding the Clue auditions and details of the October season will be announced over the next few weeks.
IMAGE: The Mamma Mia! cast celebrate the show’s success on stage at the Forge Theatre. (Photo: Jody Haberfield)