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Paramount Theatre launches local production group

There are no stars, Director Tim Rice told his cast at the Paramount Theatre.

“Everybody in this group is as important as everybody else,” Rice said as he stood on stage and spoke to the cast in seats below him. “You’re going to be working very hard and having a lot of fun.”

Rice was setting the tone as director of his first large musical, Mamma Mia!, which is hitting the stage at the Paramount Theatre this November.

“It’s a lot of work,” Rice later said in an interview. “It’s a big effort.”

The play is the first to be performed by the new Paramount Players group, featuring an all local cast and crew.

The idea for the Paramount Players came together about a year ago. Rice and his husband Leif Erickson, a choreographer and local eye doctor, wanted to put together an up-lifting play. They pitched the idea to Paramount Theatre.

“We thought this would be a good way to bring all of the groups together,” Rice said.

The Paramount Players formed at a time when many local theater groups have shrunk or stopped doing musicals.

“We haven’t seen as much activity as there was in the past,” Rice said. “It’s expensive to put together the big musicals. When the economy was not thriving, that had an impact on it.”

The historic Paramount Theatre, which is frequently used for national touring shows, seemed like an ideal place to showcase the local talent. The play features actors and actresses from local theater groups from as far away as Manchester.

“We have the assets,” said Paramount Theatre Programing Director Eric Mallette, who will be the co-producer for Mamma Mia! “We have so much talent overflowing…why not use it?”

The nonprofit production is operating on a tight $40,000 budget.

Rice, who works in biotech sales, has a background in acting and producing shows in local town halls. This is his first large musical.

“I’m a little nervous,” he admitted.

About 70 people auditioned for 40 roles.

“There’s a tremendous amount of local talent in this area,” said Jean Mee, a Rutland resident who is playing the lead role—Donna Sheridan. “They are waiting for someone to pull it out of them.

Some of the actors have worked in several productions together before. Others were meeting each other for the first time.

“I was excited to learn about something else in the Vermont area,” said Allie McGahie who lives in Manchester is playing Donna’s daughter Sophie.

Bonnie Pritchard is playing Donna’s friend Tanya Chesham-Leigh.

“It’s a big community event,” said Pritchard, a sixth grade teacher in Clarendon. “It’s bringing a lot of people together. We don’t have a lot of opportunity for musicals in this area.”

The cast sat in the seats and hummed Amazing Grace, following musical director David Castonguay’s lead.

“Let’s make some harmony,” Castonguay said as the group laughed and kept humming

“Let’s try episcapalian,” Castonguay called out as the group started humming again.

Castonguay talked about the importance of the cast learning their parts.

While Rice is getting ready to direct, Erickson, a former figure skater, is getting ready to choreograph. Erickson said the dance routines will be similar to the Broadway choreography.

“This is something that can draw the theater community back together,” said Erickson.

Rehearsals start in July and the play is scheduled for Nov. 1, 2 and 3. Tickets will be on sale starting July 1.

“They’ll leave the theater happy,” said Rice who grew up listening to ABBA music, used in Mamma Mia! “We need that today.”

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