Life can be interesting with its twists and turns.
When the splashy fun-loving ABBA musical “Mamma Mia!” opens this Friday night at The Prizery for an 11-performance run, director Tyler McKenzie will be back onstage performing with the touring company of “Hamilton.”
But a chance encounter last December led to him being back in Halifax County for the first time in 10 years and taking the director/choreographer’s job for The Prizery’s production of the hit musical.
Former Prizery managing director Alison Streeter, who lives in Atlanta now, went to Greenville, South Carolina, last December to see the traveling “Hamilton” production since she knew two of the performers in the show: Fergie L. Philippe and Tyler McKenzie, both of whom worked at The Prizery in different seasons of The Prizery’s summer music celebrations.
Philippe had been in “Les Misérables” at The Prizery with Streeter several years ago, and McKenzie was a student at Western Carolina University in the first summer lineup back in 2009, performing in “Dames at Sea” and “Annie.”
Knowing that McKenzie had later been on Broadway in “Mamma Mia!” as well as in the professional touring production of it, she mentioned to him that Chris Jones was doing the show this summer at The Prizery for the 10th anniversary season. He was instantly intrigued about what it would be like to come back to South Boston as staging director and choreographer and decided to reconnect with Jones to throw out the idea.
Jones was instantly interested. As he said, “We are blessed to have McKenzie stage and direct ‘Mamma Mia!’ It’s great to have Summer Theatre Alum return to either perform or join our creative teams.”
Jones then asked Streeter in January to take on the title role of the mother, Donna. Streeter said the chance to work with McKenzie was a huge incentive to saying yes, and she was able to work out the time off at her job at the Orbit Arts Academy in Atlanta.
The production team of “Hamilton” also was very agreeable to allow McKenzie time off to come here for two weeks to take on the challenge.
“I’m still representing ‘Hamilton’ when I come here to take on this director/choreographer role,” McKenzie said. “They encourage the cast to take time off occasionally, and when we return we are refreshed and ready to take on the nightly challenges of our roles in the show.”
Streeter added: “The summer professional performers know how cool it is to be directed by McKenzie and just adore him. They seem to really like his process of approach to the show. He gives us the freedom to explore our characters, pushes us to dig deep and approaches the entire process with generosity. He brings his whole self into the room and inspires us to do the same.”
McKenzie said he loves being able to give back to the community that gave him a chance as a college student. The Prizery was his first professional job, and now 10 years later he is a swing performer in “Hamilton,” able to play multiple parts in the show as needed.
Being a swing performer means he knows the staging, the dancing and the singing and speaking parts of multiple characters and can play any one of them in a moment’s notice, sometimes in the middle of a show. He also added with a grin, “and the pay is good!”
McKenzie noted all actors should try to be malleable, able to change from character to character at a moment’s notice, and the swing performers can do that and are hired more frequently for other roles. Being hired professionally as a swing performer means a performer can be trusted to step up and give good results instantly.
McKenzie noted some things have changed in the South Boston community in the 10 years he’s been gone, saying, “There is more to do here and more places to go.” But he commented that The Prizery “still smells the same,” and that’s good. It smells of energy and the stage and the process of theater. He says, “I see the possibilities of what can go on there.”
McKenzie has left now to return to his “Hamilton” role, but he leaves the show fully equipped to brush up small areas and be ready to open this Friday night.
Join McKenzie on seeing the possibilities of what can go on at The Prizery as “Mamma Mia!” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday,. Catch Streeter in one of the title roles as the show continues that weekend and all the following week, with five 3 afternoon performances and six 7:30 evening shows, running between Friday and July 21.
Tickets can be purchased at 434-572-8339 or prizery.com.