For the first time in many years, a genuine, honest-to-goodness Broadway show is making its way to the Capital Region, as Mamma Mia! comes to the Royal Theatre next summer for an eight-show run.
The arrival of the popular musical, which uses the songs of Swedish supergroup ABBA to tell the story of a girl and her mother searching for the girl’s biological father, represents the culmination of nearly two years of hard work and negotiation on the part of Victoria native Henry Kolenko, whose company, Kolenko Productions, is presenting the show.
“If you look across Canada, Victoria is one of the largest markets that has yet to be tapped by major productions,” Kolenko said.
From day one, Kolenko wanted the show to be presented at the Royal. “I’ve been at the Royal many times, I even did my classical guitar training there,” he explained. “When I saw they’d done a beautiful restoration at the front of the house, I was thinking ‘How could we bring something here?’”
Having already established a working relationship with staff at the theatre, Kolenko’s biggest challenge was acquiring the rights to the musical.
“The rights holder views the rights for Vancouver and Victoria as one place,” explained Lloyd Fitzsimonds, executive director of the Royal & McPherson theatres. “On the map, we’re only 60 or 70 kilometres apart. Vancouver’s no further away than Nanaimo on the map.”
For most rights holders, “Their attitude was ‘We’ll do this show in Vancouver and if Victoria wants to see it, they’ll come to see it,’” Fitzsimonds added.
But now that the case in Victoria’s favour has been successfully made, he sees a large, untapped market of people who are eager for a chance to see a big show like Mamma Mia! in their own backyard.
“There’s a much, much bigger market of Victoria citizens who aren’t going to consider going to Vancouver to a Broadway musical,” Fitzsimonds said. “Who’s got two days to go to Vancouver and go to the theatre? We usually like to think of ourselves as, we like to serve the patron, and in this case the patron is very well-served. I suspect and sincerely hope that there are thousands of people in Victoria who will go to this show.”
Kolenko hopes that Mamma Mia! will be the first in a series of summertime Broadway shows at the Royal.
“This is a bit of an experiment. Summer is a bit of a slower time for theatre,” he said. “For shows like this, summer time is almost perfect. It will help put something into Victoria that will be in the tourism portfolio, something in the summer that’s going to be quite strong in terms of the quality of production.”
There’s still work to be done before the curtain goes up in July, but Kolenko’s very pleased with how things have progressed to this point.
“These things don’t happen overnight, and I’m really excited. I just hope people in Victoria get excited, too.”