‘Mamma Mia!’ another dream role for South Burlington actor

From left, Tanya (Jennifer Warwick), Donna Sheridan (Serena Magnan O’Connell), and Rosie (Chloë Fidler) reprise one of their hits from their girl group Donna and the Dynamos in the Lyric Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” at the Flynn Center April 11-14.

Jennifer Warwick still has the first money that she ever earned as a performer.

Warwick, of South Burlington, is playing Tanya in Lyric Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” opening on the Flynn Center MainStage on Thursday, April 11.

She was a long-time resident of Shelburne, having moved there in 1998 after moving to Burlington in the mid 1990s from New York. She grew up in the Big Apple and met her husband there. He wanted to move to Vermont, and she agreed on the condition that they would live in the Burlington area.

“Fortunately, I chose wisely because it’s so rich with the arts,” said Warwick.

She has been able to continue her work in theatre here over the years. She has been a member of Lyric Theatre since 1997, been on the board, and served as board chair.

Besides roles she has performed for Lyric, Warwick has appeared in productions from Middlebury to Stowe. She also started a theatre company, Girls Nite Out Productions, with Janet Stambolian.

After seeing Stambolian in “Crossing Delaney,” the two actors got into a conversation about the scarcity of theater roles for women.

Warwick said Stambolian asked her, “When are we going to do a play together?”

They decided to do “Steel Magnolias,” with each of them taking one of the six prominent women’s roles, and Girls Nite Out was launched, promoting plays “that have female dominant characters,” said Warwick.

Warwick acted through high school and college in New York, and over the years she’s gotten the chance to play some great characters.

“I’ve been really, really fortunate. I’ve played some really dream roles,” Warwick said, including The Drowsy Chaperone in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Miss Hanigan in “Annie,” Mama Morton in “Chicago,” and Domina in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

One of the roles she dreamed of playing was Rose in “Gypsy.” This past summer, she got her chance at Stowe Theatre Guild. Shortly after the show closed, a production at Skinner Barn in Waitsfield lost their Rose, and Warwick reprised her Rose there.

For her performance at Stowe Theatre Guild, she won a best actress award from BroadwayWorld Vermont.

More Tanya than Donna

And now Warwick is playing Tanya. While for years she had dreamed of playing Donna in “Mamma Mia!,” in rehearsals she came to a realization.

“I see I’m much more of a Tanya than a Donna,” Warwick said.

She likes Tanya’s strength and finds Tanya particularly interesting in today’s climate as a character who’s in control of her sexuality.

“I’m in charge of who I am,” Warwick said. “I sing the song in the second act ‘Does Your Mother Know,’ and I’ve had this fling with this young man and all these young men are flirting with me.”

This production of “Mamma Mia!” has been particularly rewarding. Now that Lyric Theatre owns a space on Green Tree Drive in South Burlington for rehearsals and set construction, Warwick said it’s been great to rehearse on the set before they move to the Flynn just prior to opening.

And the actress is very excited about the result.

“‘Mamma Mia!’ is colorful,” she said. “It’s about friendship, about family and love and fun. It’s a very fun time and audiences will not be disappointed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll feel bonded with the ones you love.

“The production team, the director, the musical director, the costumes, it’s all been so phenomenal,” Warwick continued. “The attention to detail has been really incredible. It’s been a delightful opportunity.”

“Mamma Mia!” has a number of cast members from South Burlington, including Brita Down, Becker Buddy Meilleur, Evan Brown, Kelly Mancini Becker, Kylie Halpin and Sadie Jones in the singing ensemble and Sophie Lederman in the dance ensemble.

‘Mamma Mia!’ already a hit

Before the Lyric has even opened “Mamma Mia!” next Thursday, it’s a hit. As of Monday, there were 430 tickets left for the whole run. With the Flynn Center MainStage, where the show is being staged, having a little less than 1,400 seats, that means the show is already at 95 percent of capacity, pretty close to being completely sold out.

Production supervisor Margaret Welch said that much of the excitement may be due to the fact that Lyric Theatre is one of the first community theaters to get the rights to produce the popular musical that was adapted into a hit movie with Meryl Streep.

You might say it’s a magical musical featuring the ABBA abracadabra, including such hits by the Swedish super group as “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes All.”

It’s the story of a young woman (Sophie Sheridan) who tries to identify her biological father by inviting the three men who it could possibly be to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mother (Donna Sheridan, played by Serena Magnan O’Connell). The musical is set on a beautiful Greek island.

“Mamma Mia!” opened in London in 1999 and on Broadway in 2001, where it became the eighth longest running show on Broadway and has been seen by over 60 million people around the world.

Warwick might bet her bottom dollar that audiences will love “Mamma Mia!” but she won’t bet her original dollar.

Even after a lifetime of performing, Warwick still remembers visiting her grandfather in Florida and going to a restaurant with a piano player.

“I just got up and started singing Christmas carols,” she said. “The man who was playing the piano gave me a dollar. I’ve got it framed and I’ve got it to this day.”

The show will run at 7 p.m. on Thursday-Saturday (April 11-13), at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (April 12 and 13), and at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 14 at the Flynn Center MainStage. The 1 p.m. Saturday, April 13, performance will be audio described for the blind or visually impaired.

For tickets call 802-863-5966 or visit flynntix.org.

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