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Heart of our City, Jordan Paolinelli in Prince Rupert’s Mamma Mia!

“I’ve got so many people to sing for again,” the lead actor said
“I’ve built my life to the point in which I feel like I’ve got so many people to sing for again,” said Jordan Paolinelli who plays the lead role of Sophie in Mamma Mia! to be staged the Lester Centre April 20,21 and 22. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Her day-to-day job is as a longshoreman down at the port, working her way up the ladder to union status. She wears a hard hat and safety boots most days. She loves the outdoors, hiking trails with her new husband of eight months and spending time with their dogs. It is a stark contrast to the woman she has become over the past few months and the characteristics she has cloaked herself in.

Since November, Jordan Paolinelli has dedicated all her spare time to metamorphosing into a different person. The pretty, long blonde haired woman has let the power of the theatre carry her away. With a soprano voice of an angelic siren, she has taken on the role of Sophie in the community musical Mamma Mia! set for its Lester Centre debut curtain rise on April 20 to 22.

Born in Edmonton, she spent her first formative years running freely with other ‘kids’ on a goat farm and later a cattle ranch. One of three girls, as an identical twin, she always had a counterpart by her side and laughs that they are so similar if you say hello to her tomorrow in the grocery store and she doesn’t wave back, then it’s not her you are saying hello to.

“It was wonderful [growing up]. I mean — there were plenty of identity crises where we were both trying to be as different as possible. We’d try all sorts of different dyed hair and piercings. Short and long hair — just trying to become our own person. Ultimately, she’s my soul sister. I don’t know what I would do without her,” Jordan said.

Her family moved to Prince Rupert when she was seven years old and she has grown up and gone through the school system in the coastal city. Life wasn’t without challenges for Jordan and just like the symbolic Melpomine and Thalia (tragedy and comedy) masks representing theatre, Jordan has survived almost a quarter of a century by donning both.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she graduated high school in 2017. Even before earning her diploma, she did as many other Prince Rupert youths do; she headed to the port, where she had her name included on the board.

“The opportunity arose and I was just looking to make money. I figured a couple of years, but then I got hooked on long shoring and part of 505. I’ve never left.”

Jordan says she was balancing studying and longshoring during her final year at school.

“I would go to roundup in the morning and then if they didn’t get out, I would go to school. Then I’d go again in the afternoon to try to get another job.”

“Currently, I’m working in the maintenance shop. My dream is to become a heavy-duty mechanic. So I’m kind of starting from the bottom there and hoping to get an apprenticeship at some point.”

The 24-year-old said her career is the “polar opposite” of what she loves to do at home. She said she is very creative and loves to sketch, paint, and singing was second nature to her growing up.

“I grew up with a mom who was very outgoing. She dragged us to every sort of parade, musical event, anything she could get us to, we were involved in. We were the kids in Sunday school screaming at the top of our lungs, singing as loud as we could — we were just loud and proud. That’s how we were raised to be.”

Years in elementary school plays and choir in high school helped to develop her voice. Then in her second year of high school, she was cast as the female lead in the operatic-style musical Pirates of Penzance.

Tragically, the one person Jordan was singing for, that had been her original encouragement didn’t get to see the young teenager perform her starring role.

“In 2014, my mom committed suicide,” she said, adding that a few days after her passing, she headed back to rehearsals. In hind site, she said she was numb and “just going through the motions.”

“[Theatre] was something that got me through … When I was performing, I wasn’t nervous. The [production] didn’t feel as important as I thought it was going to be because she wasn’t there. I felt like the person who was most important wasn’t there.”

She said after her mother’s death, when those performances were over, she stepped away from an open curtain and took a few years off the stage.

“I feel like the creative side of me needs to be pushed a little bit. On my own, I’m a very go-go-go person. I don’t slow down and I probably don’t take enough time for myself to pursue my passions. Theatre slows me down and reconnects me to the creative side of myself.”

“… Mamma Mia was a soundtrack that we listened to all of the time and repeatedly watched the movies and danced in the kitchen,” she said. “So, when this musical came about … it just felt like it would be something she would want me to do. It felt like the right direction to go and so I couldn’t help myself. I was so excited.”

The lead actress said she has been through a lot of traumatic ordeals in her life so far.

“I feel like an old lady in a young body. I very much relate to [older people],” Jordan explained. “I’m a sober person in my 20s. I feel like a lot of people in my age group can not connect on the same level.”

However, being part of the cast of Mamma Mia!, being with people who have the same passions and interests as her has been “really awesome.” She said there are no expectations with the cast to be someone you’re not.

“… everyone is so supportive and welcoming of whoever you are … They are so inclusive.”

There are many thing things she is looking forward to in the Lester Centre production of Mamma Mia!

“I feel like the performance is really where the magic happens. There’s a lot of work and effort put into the memorization of everything, having it all perfectly set up and on display and just getting to sing your heart out. That’s what I’m most looking forward to.”

Rehearsals since January have swallowed evenings and weekends with more than 20 hours a week for many of the volunteer cast and crew, on top of their regular jobs with mainly only Wednesdays and Saturdays free.

“I work a physically exhausting job, so by the time we get to evening practices, having my brain and body moving at the same time - I have a hard time keeping up. I feel like if I could just do practices, the amount of energy I could get out there would be so much more phenomenal.”

But many would say the phenom is already shining with not having missed a single rehearsal at the time of speaking about her experiences. With a soprano voice as light as feather, lifting notes into the ceiling heights of the auditorium, Jordan explained she was “awfully nervous” at the audition for Mamma Mia! and didn’t necessarily try out for the role of Sophie as she was interested in other roles

“I would have loved to be Donna. I felt more comfortable singing her songs .. but I am so honoured to be [Sophie].”

While Jordan has masked herself in the production as the naïve bride to be, she said she doesn’t relate to Sophie at all as a character.

“I know I’m her age group, blonde hair, but to be a bubbly, young 20-something who is oblivious of the world — I feel like that is so opposite of my personal life … it’s been fun to step into a different role.”

The talented actress and vocalist said she thinks the end of the production is going to be an emotional one.

“As a cast, I think it’s been a huge bonding experience. It’s going to be also very sad because suddenly the routine of seeing everyone every couple of days is ending.”

The musical soundtrack is from the 70’s disco band ABBA, with all the glitter it brings highlighting the storyline of a mother-daughter relationship, with the influences of new love, old friends and lovers and taking up where things were left off.

“There’s so much energy happening and you just let it all out. I feel like I’m going to be hungover [with emotion] just because we’ve put so much time and effort into this event,” the young chanteuse said.

“[The public] doesn’t see the months and months of practicing and singing and running lines and all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into these very quick three days where you’re gonna blink and they’re going to be over,” she said.

“I’ve built my life to the point in which I feel like I’ve got so many people to sing for again. I’m nervous as hell for this one. I know so many people that are so excited to see it. It feels like the value of performing has come back again - like that spark is back.”

“I’ve built my life to the point in which I feel like I’ve got so many people to sing for again,” said Jordan Paolinelli who plays the lead role of Sophie in Mamma Mia! to be staged the Lester Centre April 20,21 and 22. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)