‘Mamma Mia!’ dances like a queen into Schuster Center

Broadway show is part of Dayton Live series.

What the world needs now may be “Mamma Mia!,” the frothy jukebox musical that celebrates the music of the Swedish pop music group, ABBA.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself singing along to songs such as “Honey, Honey,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “Money, Money, Money.”

The North American touring company is coming to the Schuster Center June 11-16 as part of Dayton Live’s Broadway series.

When it opened in New York in 2001, “Mama Mia!” was nominated for six major awards. The 2008 movie version starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Amanda Seyfried was a big hit. A movie sequel came out in 2018.

“The feelgood rush that surrounds this musical is something special, even by Broadway and West End standards,” wrote the editors of “Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story.” They noted that “‘Mamma Mia!’ is more than just a show: for those that attend, it is a special event. Also striking is the fervor with which the stage version continues to be greeted, long after it might have been supposed to be superseded by the star-studded movie of 2008.”

The authors suggest that “Mamma Mia’s” success can be attributable to the “lightness” that has made it such a hit, the overall association with “exuberance and joy.”

The story

The setting of the story provides much of the charm; it all takes place on a mythical Greek island where daughter Sophie is about to be wed. Her mother, Donna, owns and manages a hotel on the island.

Sophie is determined to discover the father she has never known and has invited three surprise guests to the wedding hoping that one of them will end up walking her down the aisle. All of the men were involved with her mother decades before.

Other entertaining guests at the wedding are Donna’s two oldest friends — two women who’ve been part of her past as members of the singing trio, ”Donna and the Dynamos.”

Meet the mamma

Portraying Donna in the Broadway tour is Christine Sherrill.

“It’s a great part, a lot of work and a lot of singing but also a lot of satisfaction,” said Sherrill in a phone interview. “Audiences love it and we get a lot of younger generation people coming who have seen the movie. They say ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t think it was possible to love anything more than the movie.”

Sherrill has been intimately connected with “Mamma Mia!” for years. Fifteen years ago she played the role of Tanya, one of Donna’s friends.

“I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to the music but the creatives on the show encouraged us to listen to ABBA Gold, the compilation album,” she said.

Her real love affair with the music, she said, came when she realized the ABBA lyrics can mean different things to different people. A good example is “Winner Takes All” with lyrics that suggest the pain of a relationship that’s breaking up.

One of the major themes of the show is the importance of female friendships and the ability of females to empower each other.

“Donna’s two best friends arrive at the island and haven’t seen each other in years,” Sherrill said. “They support her through a chaotic and emotional weekend and she confides in them. There’s a silly bedroom scene but the feedback we get is that it’s really moving to see that friends can be silly and pick each other up when things get rough.”

Another important theme is romantic love as Donna retells the story of all these past relationships. There’s a love story between Donna and her daughter and, of course, the bridal couple — Sophie and her fiancé, Sky.

“The music is timeless and joyful so the audiences in Dayton should be prepared for a party at the end of the show,” said Sherrill. “They have the opportunity to stand up, sing, dance, and it’s our favorite part of the show. We feel like we’re infusing these cities with joy and a sense of community.”

Sherrill’s advice to young people hoping to perform professionally?

“I think the kids today have a clearer picture of what they were made to do. I think if you’re a musical theater performer, you know what you were put here to do. It’s very rewarding.”

Popular for high schools

Although ABBA had many hits in the 1970s and early 80s, the music is striking a chord with younger generations.

Jason Hamen, director of theater programming at Centerville High School, said his school’s recent staging of the musical was one of several in the Miami Valley, including Franklin and Oakwood high schools. Many students, he said, grew up watching the movie version and as a result came into these productions not only knowing the songs from the show but also knowing trends in social media based on the songs.

“Our production was a hit with audiences and it was fun to see the crowd filled with people of all ages who know versions of ABBA hits from their own generations,” Hamen said. “Mamma Mia!” now ranks number three in Centerville’s all-time highest selling shows.

Schools have many reasons for selecting the shows that make up their seasons.

“For us, ‘Mamma Mia!’ gave us the opportunity to have a large cast in a high-energy show,” Hamen said. “And unlike newer shows that might not be familiar yet, ‘Mamma Mia!’ already has an audience, and that translates to ticket sales, which are essential to the livelihood of educational theater programs.”

Carlee Page, a senior at Centerville High School who performed in “Mamma Mia!” said Sophie’s story is relatable to teens who are figuring out where to go in life.

Sherrill believes the music, both timeless and joyful, appeals to every generation.

“For the new generation it’s because of the resurgence of disco music, for the older generation it holds a lot of memories.”

How to go

What: The Broadway tour of “Mama Mia!” presented by Dayton Live

When: Tuesday, June 11 through Sunday, June 16

Where: Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St., Dayton

Tickets: $39-$139. The Ticket Office, Box Office, and phone hours are regularly from 10 a.m. to 6 .m. Tuesday-Friday and 90 minutes prior to every performance. Order online at daytonlive.org

Related programming: Background on Broadway: Sixty minutes before each performance, patrons can learn about the development, history and artistry of the show. This free event is in the Schuster Center’s Fourth Floor Lobby. Patrons must have a ticket to that day’s performance.

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