Waco Civic Theatre director Eric Shephard knows there’s a storyline for the musical “Mamma Mia!” whose production closes the theater’s 2018-19 season.
He — and a legion of “Mamma Mia!” fans of its stage, film and pop song incarnations — also know that the songs of 1970s Swedish pop superstars ABBA drive much of the musical’s energy and tone.
The trick in directing the musical comes in finding when to pay attention to the story and when to let go and simply enjoy the moment.
“This show straddles the world between musical theater and pop music,” he said. “It’s a prototype of the jukebox musical, maybe the best of them. It’s really smart and fun and it works.”
Jukebox musical is the term used to describe stage shows built largely around songs from a particular genre or performer, such as “Jersey Boys” (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), “Forever Plaid” (1950s male singing groups), “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (Leiber and Stoller), “Million Dollar Quartet” (Memphis rockabilly), “The Marvelous Wonderettes” (1950s-’60s female singing groups) and more.
In “Mamma Mia!,” it’s ABBA songs like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Super Trouper,” “SOS” and the title track that have audiences leaving with a smile and humming a melody.
The song-studded storyline, set in 1999, has young Sophie Sheridan (Casey Daniel) living on a Greek island and on the verge of marrying her fiancé Sky (Cameron Jackson). She wants her father to walk her down the aisle at the wedding, but doesn’t know who he is. Her mother’s diary has clues her mother Donna (Marnie Abrahams, Leah Murelli) won’t divulge, so Sophie invites three likely suspects: Sam (Jeremy Stallings), Harry (Bill Selby) and Bill (Kevin King), to the Greek wedding, without the three or her mother knowing her plan.
Donna’s longtime friends Tanya (Cathy Hawes, Julia Meek) and Rosie (Becky Fox, Krystal Spring-Marshall), who once performed as Donna and the Dynamos, also show up and the combination of parties, remembered relationships, romance and love provide plenty of opportunities to hear ABBA songs.
Tommy Edds serves as musical director for “Mamma Mia!” heading a five-player combo, with choreography by Cori Cook Burkett and scenic design by Brad LaMotte.
When the Waco Civic Theatre added “Mamma Mia!” to its 2018-19 slate, the theater had planned on involving Waco actress Jennifer (Tusa) Noth Hemphill in its production. Hemphill had performed in the musical’s national tour, but landed a role this spring that prevented her from coming to Waco for an extended time, Shephard said.
Shephard said the theater has fielded calls from avid “Mamma Mia!” fans from as far as Arkansas inquiring about the Waco production. Opening night already has sold out and the WCT has added a “sing-along” performance — as if audience members won’t be singing or humming along every night of the run — with wine and dancing on May 25.
“It feels right at this time of year,” the director said.