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‘Mamma Mia!’ runs through Feb. 24 at the Welk Resort Theatre in north Escondido. Courtesy photo
Arts Arts Escondido News

Welk’s ‘Mamma Mia!’ brings Greek islands to Escondido

The famed musical and movie, “Mamma Mia!” has made its way to Escondido and will play through February at the Welk Resorts Theatre.

With just over 300 seats, those who see “Mamma Mia!” at the Welk Resort Theatre — housed at the Welk Resorts’ San Diego location in northern Escondido — receive a combination of a Broadway-style musical performed within the confines of an intimate setting. For an extra charge, attendees can also dine in at the Resort’s restaurant — Canyon Grille — before the show starts. Five shows ensue every Friday through Sunday at the theater.

Welk Resort Theatre’s “Mamma Mia!” is directed by Larry Raben, an Encinitas-based director who has also done previous shows at the resort, including “A Christmas Carol,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Always Patsy Cline,” “Forever Plaid,” “Plaid Tidings,” and “Hollywood Heyday” — the latter for which he also served as playwright.

“What I have enjoyed most about directing ‘Mamma Mia!’ at the Welk is creating an on-stage world populated with amazing actors and funny characters and giving the audience the feeling that they’ve had a mini vacation to the Greek islands,” Raben explained. “(G)etting to work on this music in a theatrical context was very exciting for me.”

Noting that the Welk Resort Theatre version of the show is “not a cookie-cutter version of the Broadway production,” Raben said that his team has come up with “many comical moments that you will never see in any other production of ‘Mamma Mia!’”

“This cast is first rate. The orchestra is kicking,” Raben further surmised. “You’ll feel like you were in the story because of the intimacy of the theater. It’s a high octane tour de force!”

Natalie Nucci will play one of the leading characters, Donna, for the second half of the show’s six months. She lives in Escondido and said she finds the opportunity a “dream come true” because it allows for her to be at home with her family throughout the long-term course of the show run. 

Sean Coogan, vice president for resort operations at Welk Resorts, explained that the hardest part about keeping shows going for several months is keeping it fresh and keeping ticket sales churning. There is also the very real human resources element with which to contend.

“To get somebody to work for six months, as much as these people like having a steady job, there’s other things that come up, whether it’s challenges in the family, illness, a better gig, health, whatever it is,” Coogan detailed. “Just maintaining the cast and keeping everybody on track (is important). Hopefully you have a good team, which we do, like a stage manager who’s making sure that people are doing their lines the way they did them their first show as they are doing in their 100th show. You know, it should always remain consistent.”

Raben noted that putting together “a real family of actors” was the key in his cast selection, given six months is a long-haul time period, and in this case, one which runs through the holiday season.

“In the casting process, we sought out not only the best talent, but a real family of actors that would want to spend six months and all of the holidays together,” Raben said. “Again and again in rehearsals, I impressed upon them that in a long run you must take care of each other and treat each other with exceptional professionalism, courtesy, and kindness.”

Nucci said she stays fresh as a cast member by keeping everything in perspective and realizing that, though the show is the same on a day-to-day basis, it will never actually be the same.

“Basically it’s like life: if you stay present, and you have the same routine every day, it’s not the same because it’s a different day and a different moment with a different cellular make-up,” Nucci said.

Beyond musicals, the Welk Resort Theatre also plays host to tribute bands weekly, as well as magic shows called Welk Illusions, performed by magician Anthony Hernandez. Coogan said that forthcoming performances for 2019 will include “The Addams Family” and “Menopause: The Musical,” for which Nucci has worked as associate director and choreographer. During the holiday season, Welk Resort Theatre will also have a performance called “Welkome Home for the Holiday.”

The Welk Resort Theatre opened for business in 1980 and has emphasized musicals ever since in carrying out the legacy of its namesake, Lawrence Welk. Welk, a musician, radio and television show host during his illustrious career, founded Welk Resorts in 1964 and passed away in 1992 at the age of 89.

Pondering opportunities to utilize the theatrical space beyond show time, Coogan said that the Welk Resort Theatre may also open up a youth summer camp, which would allow kids a chance to train under the tutelage of professionally trained actors.

Tickets for “Mamma Mia!” can be purchased here.