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Amphitheater will welcome three shows, including relaunch of musical theater company


Production of 'Mama Mia' will run for 16 shows

FARMINGTON — Live entertainment options in Farmington got a big boost earlier this week when city officials announced that Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater would play host to three events over a six-week period, including the return of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company.

The city had invested a substantial amount of funding in 2019 into beefing up its arts and cultural offerings at the renovated Farmington Civic Center and the amphitheater, even going so far as creating the musical theater company under the direction of newly hired civic center supervisor Randy West.

The theater company was scheduled to produce several shows each year, combining professional, out-of-state actors with local performers. West filled out the schedule at the two venues with a wide variety of nationally touring musical, theater, dance, comedy and other performing arts acts.

But all that came to a halt in March 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That caused the cancellation of all live performances and limited the city's offerings over the last 15 months to a handful of virtual performances that were streamed to local subscribers from other venues across the country.

Now, the city is back in the live entertainment business again — and West, for one, could not be happier.

"Thrilled," he said, describing his feeling about getting back to work, especially with the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company, which he leads. "I can't tell you. And it's not just me. There's such an energy about this show among the 14 professional and national talents, the 18 local professionals and the paid interns. It's a big cast."

The company's production of the musical "Mama Mia!" will headline the summer season at the amphitheater, running for 16 performances from July 8 through Aug. 1. That production will be bookended by single performances by the country group the Doo-Wah Riders on June 26 and the New Mexico-based visual art and performing arts group ARTrageous on Aug. 7.

Back in the groove

West said the core members of the Four Corners Musical Theatre Company — performers Matthew Aaron, Nick Drivas, Natalie Szczerba and Margaret Clair — have returned to the fold and will headline the production of "Mama Mia!" The show features the music of the pop group ABBA and is known as a jukebox musical, a stage or film production that showcases well-known, previously written songs instead of tunes that were written specifically for the project.

West originally scheduled the production at Sandstone last summer, but the pandemic derailed those plans for a year.

"A lot of jukebox musicals don't work," West said before emphasizing that "Mama Mia!" is very much the exception, and he thinks the local reaction to it will be very warm. "It's got an eclectic score."

Rehearsals for the production will begin June 22, giving the cast two full weeks to iron out the kinks before the curtain goes up. The show will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays for four weeks.

The Mains Foundation for the Performing Arts, a Farmington-based, nonprofit, philanthropic arts group, has agreed to underwrite the salaries of all the professional actors in the production, as well as covering their travel stipends and a share of their housing costs.

That has allowed West to lower ticket prices for the production to $15 for adults and $12 for children, or season passes for all three amphitheater shows to $20 for adults and $12 for children.

Another element of the production that has West excited is the way he plans to incorporate the natural surroundings of the amphitheater into the show.

"We're really integrating 'Mama Mia!' into Sandstone," he said. "My vision is when we get done with this, people will say, 'You might have seen "Mama Mia!" before, but you haven't really seen it until you see it at Sandstone.'"

West is planning to illuminate the sandstone rock formations in the amphitheater backdrop with colorful LED lighting and will be using other lighting to simulate the shimmer of the ocean. He also plans to dig a trench across the amphitheater stage area and run water through it to serve as a small stream.

The idea, West said, is for the amphitheater to feel a bit like a character in the production.

"We're being thoughtful about how we can highlight where we are," he said. "It's just really using everything that's there."

West and his crew have used their down time during the pandemic to make other modifications to the amphitheater facility that don't involve the stage area. They have refurbished the restrooms, the pavilion and the seating area, among other modifications, and have converted the gift shop into a bar where a vendor will be serving cocktails during the production of "Mama Mia!"

They also have constructed a permanent, two-story building at one side of the stage that is nondescript enough to be used as a set piece during various productions. For "Mama Mia!" it will serve as a taverna, but the building is designed as a casita to fit in with the natural surroundings of the amphitheater.

"We want to make the environment seem as magical and as theatrical as possible," West said.

A full summer at the amphitheater

The other events planned at the facility this summer include performances by the Doo-Wah Riders and ARTrageous. West has worked with both groups before and is very familiar with them.

The Doo-Wah Riders are based in the Los Angeles area and have been around since 1978, performing a combination of country and Cajun styles. West said the group has not resumed full-scale touring yet, but it has been performing occasional shows across California for the past several weeks.

ARTrageous will be making its second appearance in Farmington, as the group delivered a well-received show here in January 2020. The Tijeras-based company performs shows that are a high-energy mix of live painting, singing, dancing and humor, with an emphasis on audience interaction.

West said after the group's last show here, he had three middle school teachers approach him and rave about the company's penchant for engaging young people in creative pursuits, asking how soon he could book the group again.

ARTrageous will be performing only a single show here in June, but the company may have a greater presence in Farmington in the future. West said he has been in discussions with the group about planning a three- to four-day residency in Farmington next year, during which company members would work with local students and integrate them into a public performance at the end of their stay.

More: ARTrageous bringing energetic visual spectacle to Farmington Civic Center

Eventually, West wants ARTrageous to make Farmington its second home, a place where the company can workshop new material and feel a strong connection to the community.

Later in the week, West said he will be meeting with city officials to discuss plans for the reopening of the Civic Center in the fall. He plans on being able to announce the details of the fall and winter season for that facility by August, noting that much still depends on what sort of government restrictions on crowd sizes remain in place then.

More: 'Disaster!' mixes calamities with comedy, music at Farmington Civic Center

But he said city leaders were eager to have a summer season at the amphitheater, and he believes it can be carried out in full no matter what happens with the pandemic.

"We are more than optimistic," he said. "We are hopeful all this will work out."

Attendance at the amphitheater will be limited to 75% of capacity while San Juan County remains categorized at the Turquoise Level under the state's color-coded system for business restrictions, West said. Call 505-599-1148 or visit fmtn.org/shows to purchase tickets.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.