The theatre darkens. Silence falls and the orchestra strikes the first note.

Thus begins a night of musical theatre. Because of the orchestra, the magic begins and the audience is transformed.

At the Picketwire Center for Performing and Visual Arts, beginning July 11, there is an orchestra of incredible experience and artistry in the pit, transforming us to a place beyond La Junta, beyond the United States – all the way to Greece for the musical comedy “Mamma Mia!”

In fact, these fabulous musicians have over 200 years of combined, professional musical experience. And that experience is heard in every note.

Directing the orchestra this summer is James Lind who, in addition to his teaching and directing experience, has a doctorate in trumpet.

On keyboards are three favorites from the musical world.

Sally Kappel started with Picketwire in the "Sound of Music" in 1974 and taught generations of students in La Junta. The list of musicals and special concerts she did for Picketwire is endless.

Joining her is Mr. Music: Dean Rees. His magic fingers do something to those piano keys that are better than magic because the sound is sheer delight and perfection.

Adding another keyboard to this orchestra amplifies the ABBA score. Terry Miller does the honors. All three keyboard players are also well known for their soaring musical talents with the Arkansas Valley Community Choir.

The other two musicians in the pit are well-known to Valley music lovers. They have played with bands, jazz combos, choirs and, of course, during Picketwire’s summer musicals: Al Guadagnoli on bass and Larry Cook on percussion.

Guadagnoli became a Picketwire Player 34 years ago with the 1985 production of "Carnival." Since then, he has been involved in 10 productions.  

Cook started with Picketwire in the 1997 production of "Moon Over Buffalo" and has lent is talents to 13 productions.

When I asked the musicians what is different about this summer’s musical, Rees replied, “Well, it is ABBA.”

And Lind said, “There’s nothing more fun than a rock ‘n roll score.”

It is true. Listening to the score and watching the cast, it certainly is full of fun and youthful energy. The audience is going to have a blast during this musical because the musicians and actors are having so much fun.

Because all these musicians have performed for so many organizations and in so many venues, I asked them about Picketwire’s community theatre.

Rees said that Picketwire isn’t a normal community theatre because the quality of the productions is so high.

Lind added the talent is something you would experience in larger cities.

Sally Kappel, the longest running Picketwire Player, said that Picketwire would not have lasted 50 years had it not produced excellent plays year after year.

Rees added that the summer musical also shines because the director, Tracey Salzbrenner, has a real knack for making magic.

“She is so organized and covers all the details," he said. "She knows what she wants and gets it out of everyone.”

Some of them added that they have never been able to say “no” to Salzbrenner. Maybe that’s why it all falls together during the final weeks of performances.

So, when you are watching the actors delight you on stage – singing and dancing their hearts out – remember the unseen musicians in the pit.

The orchestra strikes the first emotion, bringing excitement and joy to the darkened theatre.

The musicians in an orchestra are the main driving force of a musical, from the first note to the last.

ABBA’s music comes alive through Picketwire’s orchestra this summer and bring us wonderful music of the night.

Join us for “Mamma Mia” July 11-13 and July 18-20. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.

Box office is now open. Call 384-8320 or purchase tickets online at picketwireplayers.org.