Music of ABBA makes Austin return of Mamma Mia! a must-see performance

ABBA music makes Austin return of Mamma Mia! a must-see performance

Mamma Mia!
From left, Gabrielle Mirabella, Georgia Kate Haege and Sarah Smith from the Mamma Mia! North American Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus
Mamma Mia!
The Mamma Mia! North American Tour Company Photo by Joan Marcus
Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia!

When my son was nearly two, he became enamored with the music of Mamma Mia!. No matter how foul his mood, the entrancing melodies of "Dancing Queen," "SOS" and
"Super Trouper" made him tap his feet and smile.

Since its 1999 debut, this Broadway musical — based on the timeless music of ABBA — has enjoyed such a long and successful run. Mamma Mia!’s quirky characters, flashy costumes, heartwarming plot and mystical music returns to Austin for a short run at Bass Concert Hall January 20-25. 

If you have yet to see Mamma Mia!, you're in for a treat. The show does an amazing job of pulling in every audience member from the very first line — and very first note. “It’s a party,” exclaims actress Sarah Smith, who plays straight shooter Rosie. “I think there’s something really surprising and magical about it.”

Mamma Mia! is a cleverly constructed musical about a young bride’s quest to find her biological father by inviting her three possible dads to her wedding. The story, which centers on the bride’s mother Donna, is told though some of ABBA’s biggest hits.

Smith (whose parents live in Austin) joined the national tour in September, having never seen the production. She says figuring out how to play humorous Rosie was an interesting challenge, because on paper, the character is a lot like her. “It’s funny to approach a role that’s so much like you ... you have this weird moment of thinking, well, how do I act like myself?”

Smith says she found "her Rosie" with the help of the two actresses who play her best friends, Donna and Tanya, and who had already been playing their parts for a year. “Day one, they were like, ‘Give us new stuff, we’re ready to play!’ We’ve really found some very unique and very new moments that belong to the three of us. It’s been a really fun experience.”

She says the actors in Mamma Mia! are having just as much fun as the audience. “I think it goes without saying that the music of ABBA is a big part of that. There’s just good energy every night," Smith says. "It’s really a lot of fun to bring that to an audience and have them leave feeling like they’ve been a part of something.”

Smith admits it wasn’t until the first night she played Rosie in front of an audience that she really "got it." That is, she finally understood why so many people love this show and become "repeat offenders," the term she affectionately uses for fans who have seen the show multiple times. “It’s a story that relates to so many people and because of that and the familiarity of the music, people can’t help but get invested in the songs, the story and the characters.”

If you’re not yet a repeat offender, Smith offers this analogy as to why she thinks you should pull out your best disco garb and come see Mamma Mia! at Bass Concert Hall. “I think for anyone seeing it for the first time it’s surprising ... it’s like opening a fortune cookie. You know the cookie is going to taste good but you wonder what that little surprise is going to be."