You are cordially invited to attend a Greek Island wedding as Mamma Mia! comes to the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre for the 2018 Mountain Play. I am extremely excited to walk down the aisle for an exclusive interview with the lead actress playing Donna, Dyan McBride.
Congratulations Dyan! What a fun musical to be in. This is a nonstop, high energy role. You’re sliding, running, skipping, dancing ... you must have a ton of energy. Can you tell me about the actress behind Donna and why you think you stood out for this role?
With Donna, not only do you have to be fit to handle the physical demands but you have to have strong vocals. You need to be a warm singer because you're portraying a sensitive character with the potential husbands and love for her daughter all while translating pop music into actable musical theatre. Donna is trying to find out who her daughter’s real dad is and reckoning with events long ago that she never expected to deal with in a single and stressful day, her daughter’s wedding. It’s a challenge but a fun arc as an actor.
Do you have a personal favorite part about being Donna or a favorite onstage moment?
It’s all great. I get to be on stage with my girls, Jennifer McGeorge and Susan Zelinsky. Carrie Lyn Brandon, who is my daughter is a crazy good vocalist (wait til you hear this voice!) and all guys are phenomenal. I love it all because it’s such a fun musical. But if I have to choose a song, I like singing S.O.S. I love the way it feels and the tension. Since we have no spotlights, all internal monologs don’t have that ability to convey emotions the way you see in other versions of Mamma Mia! We need to be creative in a way that has never been done before.
Say the first few words of any ABBA song and it’s like a mind control substance. Do you have an ABBA song that you just can’t get out of your head?
When you’re an actor and working through a song it stays in your head. You eat, sleep and dream about it. Probably Dancing Queen does this the most. It’s so infectious I just can't stop myself. I suspect that's the one the audience will lose their minds over too. The song I personally loved growing up, which is not in the play, is Fernando…but I have a little humming moment of it.
Have you ever been to the Mountain Play?
No and I'm really excited to be performing outside. It’s a very special place with a stunning view. I feel so supported by Jay Manley (director), Jon Gallo (music director) and Zoë Swenson-Graham & Nicole Helfer (choreographers). I really appreciate Jay’s leadership and friendship. Everyone is a real pleasure to work with.
Nothing can beat the fun factor of this play. What do you think is the secret sauce Mamma Mia has to audiences?
I think at the heart of every good musical is a good story. Mamma Mia is inspired by the play Carmelina. It has the same nonsensical plot that drives the play as we try to figure out who Sophie's real dad is. It’s a relatable story, a good mystery, a sweet mother-daughter/daughter-father tale. It’s perfect for anyone who has children….or was a child. I suppose that’s everyone! I also find pop rock musicals to be so nostalgic. If you deliver it well, audiences will come with you on that ride. Even though this show has a strong script, you have to have a good frame work or it will feel gratuitous. The musical form has to make sense to get from one moment to another. But it’s ABBA, I can probably stand there and sing “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” and audiences will still love it.
Yes, ABBA songs are so catchy. I noticed a sing-a-long which I think is a first for the Mountain Play.
I have no idea how this is going to work. We have a planned sing-a-long but I don’t know how people can stop themselves from singing along at all the performances. I’m game for anything. You cannot over think Mamma Mia! You have to be present, happy and have fun with the audience.
What do you think the audience will like the most about this production?
I think that all the elements combined. Visually, its going to be stunning. The costumes are coming along and the talent level is crazy good. I think audiences will see a unified Mamma Mia! It's a class act put together by top people. They do it right.
According to Meryl Streep, who played Donna in the movie, Donna is a rare middle age female lead who possesses a fierce feminist power. This is a very current topic from the Women’s March to #MeToo and #TimesUp and yet the play is supported by ABBA's kitschy pop songs that were written in the 70’s by four white polyester hot pant Scandinavians. How do you think this narrative ties these ABBA songs together?
When you get to this age women get into the prime theater roles. I'm stoked to be a theater actress now. A lot of musical theater writers know women are really powerful. I try not to think about this is a rare thing. I think it's an exciting time to be an actress at my age. It’s cool to have a love interest which typically happens in your 20’s & 30’s but I'm extremely proud to play a strong character who did everything on her own. Donna loves Sam but not because she need someone to fix her. She does it all and truthfully, it’s exhausting. She’s tired at the beginning of the play. That’s the real side of doing and having it all. Donna is part of this wave of feminism to have her own life, her own dreams, to stand her own and she decides what she wants. I appreciate that about her. She's full of flaws. She’ll say the wrong thing. Do the wrong thing. In the opening of Money, Money, Money, "In my dreams I have a plan. If I got me a wealthy man."…..for her, the reality is it's hard if you’re a working woman but it’s easier if your a rich dude with power. Donna is an individual, she's human, flawed, messed up, good, bad and real.
The mountain play is well known for capturing theatrical magic while adding modern touches. Since we are traveling to a wedding in Greece, can we expect some interesting surprises?
I won’t go into details but to create an ocean on a mountain top is going to be spectacular. It’s a great space built from nothing and that's pretty cool. Besides the amazing scenery designed by Andrea Bechert, we are all trying to capture not just the spectacle but the spirit of the music and storytelling, making sure the audience is invested in it and having a fantastic time.
In years past, the cast has been in local parades, at libraries and bookstores. Between now and the when the play starts where else can we see you and the rest of the cast?
On the weekends, we rehearse at the amphitheater. Hikers stop by to sit and watch…..and sing. It get’s us used to what a 4,000 person amphitheater might be like for this years Mountain Play.
What else is new at this years Mountain Play?
There is a $5 fee to go up the mountain but it's a great way to get to the amphitheater if you do not want to hike up. Buses leave from Tamaplias High School. You can return for free or hike down to Mill Valley.
You can also pack a picnic from Whole Foods! When you purchase a ticket for a Mamma Mia! performance, you’ll receive a coupon for this handy cooler picnic bag. And now, as part of their Nickels for Nonprofits program, Whole Foods will donate ten cents per reusable bag to Mountain Play for every bag you bring to one of the Marin County locations.
Also, in addition to the headline show, preshow activities and musical acts provide entertainment for the whole family. Each day has a theme with special preshow entertainment at 12:30pm.
- Opening Day (May 20) - preshow entertainment by the Marin Girls Chorus
- Arts Appreciation Day (May 27) - preshow entertainment by ‘Til Dawn
- OUTdoors at the Theatre LGBT Day (June 3) – preshow entertainment by Shelley Doty
- Sing-along Saturday (June 9) - we encourage you to sing-along with the regular production.
- Mount Tamalpais Appreciation Day (June 10) – preshow entertainment by Natalia Betzler
- Father’s Day Picnic Contest (June 17) – with Celebrity Judge Chef Roland Passot
About Dyan McBride:
Ms. McBride is thrilled to make her debut on the mountain! Dyan has worked as an actor or director with notable companies such as 42nd St. Moon (24 seasons), Woodminster, Lucky Penny (artistic associate), Center Repertory Theatre, Diablo Theatre Company, Sacramento Theatre Company, Ray of Light, Marin Theatre Company, Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, Broadway by the Bay, Utah Musical Theatre and Performance Riverside. Multimedia work includes companies like Yahoo, Nintendo, Progressive Auto Insurance, Coremark, and Comcast. She is featured in the web series Lien on Me, the rock documentary, Springsteen and I and the new short film, Generations. Ms. McBride is an adjunct professor of theatre arts at Solano Community College, Las Positas College, Academy of Art, and is Director of Education for 42nd St. Moon. Awards/Nominations: TBA, BATCC, Shellie, Arty, Dean Goodman, Broadway World and Irene Ryan/Kennedy Center. BA -Cal. State Fullerton (Musical Theatre). MFA -UC Davis (Acting). Member-SAG/AFTRA and AEA. Represented by Boom Models and Talent. She is the dog mom of Violet, married to the awesome Dennis O’Brien, and has a terrific family and lovely friends. She likes to read, garden and rock out. Check out her upcoming projects at www.dyanmcbride.com
About Mountain Play:
“For over 100 years the Mountain Play has been a unique, annual tradition for thousands of Bay Area residents. Established in 1913 as a part of the outdoor theatre movement, the award-winning Mountain Play Association (MPA) has been a gateway to a lifelong appreciation for live theatre for four generations of playgoers. The annual "great outdoor adventure" is a unique community event and has become a beloved cultural tradition. … Respected for its high artistic quality, professional production values and longstanding community partnerships, the Mountain Play provides an accessible live theatre experience for more than 15,000 patrons each year and has become a quintessential rite of spring for the entire Bay Area.” Information provided by www.mountainplay.org