Mamma Mia's Jillian Kates, Laura Welsh Berg and Jodi Dominick 

"We have such deep relationships off stage and I truly believe it shows in our work. Our love for one another is a big part of what makes this place so special."

click to enlarge Jillian Kates (left), Laura Welsh Berg (center) and Jodi Dominick (right)

Bingo Barnes

Jillian Kates (left), Laura Welsh Berg (center) and Jodi Dominick (right)

Yes, they can dance. They can jive. And you’d better believe they’re having the time of their lives. They are Jillian Kates, Laura Welsh Berg and Jodi Dominick, who have each headlined some of Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s most popular productions for the past several seasons. This summer, the powerhouse performers will rock the amphitheater as, respectively, Donna and her best friends Rosie and Tanya, stars of the all-ABBA musical, Mamma Mia!.

One of the things I’ve learned about what you do for a living is that for you to appear to be having a grand old time on stage takes a lot of very hard work.
Dominick: There are moments when it’s pure joy and moments when we have to get very technical. It’s a mixed bag, but once we get it all together, we’re having a really good time. This show is so much about the relationship of these three friends.
Kates: Many of us have screamed these songs in karaoke, but it’s a blast to have some amazing dance movies put together by our choreographer Jaclyn Miller. Putting it together? That’s the hard part.
Berg: It’s definitely a festival because our audiences are coming with their picnics and bottles of wine, and we’re up there on stage and it’s 100 degrees and at a higher altitude, so getting your breath under you can be a real challenge. There are 26, count ‘em, 26 songs. And when we’re not on stage singing them, we’re part of the chorus backstage. It’s an amazing ensemble.

So, let’s talk a bit about those songs.

Dominick: They’re very iconic, but they’re also quite complex. [ABBA] wrote these songs from their hearts about their lives, about their relationships, as a band, as a group.

I’m not sure what’s fact or fiction regarding the members of ABBA. Weren’t some of them married to one another?
Kates: One couple got married. Then, the other couple married as the first couple divorced. And then the second couple divorced. Through all those years of making music, there were real relationships and marriages happening, and then not happening. Their writing sometimes gets a bit darker and minor in tonality, and you can hear that in a number of songs in Act Two of Mamma Mia! It’s heartbreaking, pretty amazing, and gives me a new appreciation for them.
Berg: I had never been a big fan of “Chiquitita,” for example, but when I heard Jodi sing it for the first time with the entire cast as a backup, it was beautiful. When Mamma Mia! first became a musical, ABBA actually redid some of the harmonies that are pretty exciting and new.
click to enlarge Jodi Dominick (left), Jillian Kates (center) and Laura Welsh Berg (right) - IDAHO SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
  • Idaho Shakespeare Festival
  • Jodi Dominick (left), Jillian Kates (center) and Laura Welsh Berg (right)
When I first bought a ticket to Mamma Mia! when it opened in London in the late 1990s, it didn’t make sense to me on paper. I mean... really? ABBA songs strung together with a crazy story that takes place on a Greek island? But then I went to the theater and laughed the night away as the entire audience leapt to its feet for the biggest singalong I’ve ever seen in a legitimate theater. There have been plenty of jukebox musicals since, but there’s only one Mamma Mia!
Berg: After years of secretly dancing in our seats, here’s the invitation we’ve all been waiting for.

So, after a couple of glasses of wine, you won’t mind if we start singing along?
Kates: Are you kidding?
Dominick: ABBA-solutely.

Tell me if I’ve got the math right. Jodi, this is your ninth season with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Dominick: That’s right.

Laura, It’s nine for you as well.
Berg: I started 13 years ago, but I took a few years off, so that sounds right.

And Jillian, this is your fifth season with the company.
Kates: It is.

You’ve shared the stage with one another on a number of occasions. Will each of you tell me a bit about the other two?
Dominick: First of all, both of them are incredibly game. They go with it, no matter what you throw at them. They’re always willing to play. Even when you’re nervous, they just seem to have it all together, and that’s really inspiring. They’re so bold and I just love them.
Kates: I started in the ensemble of Cabaret when Jodi had the lead part of Sally Bowles. She’s a goddess. And Laura? The moment she walks into a room, it’s sunshine. We’re all so different, but I’ve grown into this incredible friendship with them.
Berg: Last year, I got to be in the chorus of My Fair Lady, and to watch Jillian was an absolute blast. She’s kind, super supportive and so generous. Sometimes, I forget to sing, because I’m so busy listening to Jillian sing. She’s amazing. And Jodi and I have been working together for almost a decade, and we’ve become quite close. That’s something I really cherish with this company. We have such deep relationships off stage and I truly believe it shows in our work. Our love for one another is a big part of what makes this place so special. Our ticket sales are through the roof this summer and a big part of that is being in a place where we can share our joy with the community.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that some of the best moments I’ve experienced in the theater here in Idaho have come from the three of you. Jodi, I was a blubbering mess when you sang “No One is Alone” in Into the Woods. Laura, your headline-making star turn in Hamlet last year was historic. And Jillian, when you lifted your voice in The Secret Garden and My Fair Lady, you lit up the night sky. And now here you all are, elbow to elbow in a show that was tailor-made for the three of you.
Dominick: This is a pretty special summer.
Berg: Imagine, we’re playing these three incredible women who have stayed friends for a long time.
Kates: That’s right, a commitment to being lifelong friends. That’s what’s been the most treasured thing about this show. We hope you’ll love it as much as we do.
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