Music from Swedish pop group ABBA and an exploration of how relationships evolve over time may not seem to fit together at first. But the hugely popular musical “Mamma Mia!” proves they do.
The show, which opened on Broadway in 2001, continues to engage audiences around the country. For the first time, Phoenix Theatre will produce it.
The show runs through Oct. 15.
“Mamma Mia!” focuses on Sophie, a girl about to get married, as she searches for the answer to who her father is, inadvertently reuniting her mother Donna with three men from her past.
The show features ABBA hits such as “Mamma Mia!;” “Honey, Honey;” “Dancing Queen;” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” and “SOS.”
In the Phoenix Theatre production, director Robert Kolby Harper tried to emphasize the strength of the girls and women in the show, who are all very different.
“They make their own choices. They don’t let men define them … They realize their own dreams, and they go after them,” Harper said. “I like the idea that women are being represented coming from different walks of life, and they’re best of friends, and there’s no cattiness.”
The show is set in the Greek Islands, where Donna runs a resort. Iconic images of Greek buildings on a hillside inspired the set.
“I love how it looks like there’s stairs and doors that go to Narnia…There’s so many of them. The stairs intertwine almost. I like that idea that life is a series of choosing to walk through a door or choosing not to walk through a door,” Harper said.
The ensemble plays a major role in the show in re-creating the ABBA music. In many scenes, members of the ensemble sing backstage.
“Oftentimes, you will have 15, 16 songs in the average musical, and the ensemble sings in say 10 of them at some point. This show has like 22 songs, and the ensemble sings in 20 of them. It’s a lot of backup because ABBA was this almost choral group, in some respects. You need those voices because it’s iconic,” Harper said.
Four cast members, including two members of the ensemble, are from ASU’s School of Music. Harper, who teaches at ASU, said the show allows the students to learn the process of community theater, network and have mentoring from professionals.
“I like to think of the rehearsal process as a continuation of the classroom. What’s nice is they have somebody who they can still ask questions of inside of the professional environment,” Harper said.
A lineup of mostly local actors makes up the cast. Sarah Daniels is taking on the role of Sophie, and Debby Rosenthal is playing her mother Donna.
Rosenthal, who has done commercial, film, voice-over and theatrical work, first saw “Mamma Mia!” while working as a theater critic for ABC13. She said she immediately connected with the character of Donna.
“I sat there, and I watched the role of Donna, and I just said, ‘I have to play her. I feel her,’” Rosenthal said.
As the mother of a 20-year-old daughter, the actress can empathize with Donna. She wants to bring out the strength and fortitude of the character.
“The tenacity, the love and devotion that she felt for that child, where she wanted to raise her and how she wanted to raise her and just her passion for where she wanted to live, I just admire who this character is, what she went through,” Rosenthal said.
In the show, Rosenthal has had to learn new skills, including dancing with a 10-pound drill and in three-inch platform boots.
On a musical level, the show challenges Rosenthal, a soprano, because of the low alto range and her musical theater training.
“I’m really trying to not be so clean with my diction, trying not to be so precise…I’m really trying to be more poppy,” Rosenthal said.
Details: Through Sunday, Oct. 15. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Special performances 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 16 and 23 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17. Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix. Tickets start at $29. 602-254-2151, phoenixtheatre.com.
If you are interested in supporting local theater, consider one of these productions in your neighborhood.
Theater Works’ ‘Gypsy’
With intelligent, heartfelt music by Stephen Sondheim and a timeless story by Arthur Laurents, the musical “Gypsy” helped to shape the musical theater canon. Theater Works will produce the iconic 1959 musical through Sept. 24. Inspired by a memoir by striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, the musical follows Gypsy’s mother Rose, who is determined to make her daughters famous in the vaudeville world. Colorful characters with real emotions, a focus on family relationships and themes of resilience and strength continue to make the musical relatable today. In the local production, Broadway actress Kelli James will play the part of Rose, joining the ranks of actresses such as Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone and Angela Lansbury. Amanda Glenn plays the role of Rose’s daughter Louise, aka Gypsy.
Details: Through Sunday, Sept. 24. 7:30 p.m. Fridays. 2 p.m. Sundays. 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13. Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 10580 N. 83rd Drive, Peoria. $36, $31 for seniors and $14 for students and youth. 623-815-7930, theaterworks.org.
Hale Centre Theatre’s ‘Kiss and Tell’
F. Hugh Herbert’s play “Kiss and Tell” is set in the 1940s, but the show continues to resonate today because of its exploration of complex and evolving family relationships. Hale Centre Theatre will put on the show through Nov. 14. In the 1943 play, two sets of parents navigate their teenage daughters becoming interested in boys. Zany situations arise when the parents’ reactions result in even greater issues. The show stars Meg Farnsworth as Corliss Archer and Lizzy Jensen as Mildred Pringle.
Details: Through Tuesday, Nov. 14. 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. Special performance 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4. Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert. $20 to $32. 480-497-0277, haletheatrearizona.com.
Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre’s ‘Barefoot in the Park’
“Barefoot in the Park,” over 50 years after its debut, still strikes at the complexities of romantic relationships through humorous yet human characters. Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre will put on this classic through Oct. 8. Neil Simon’s 1963 play follows newlywed couple Corie and Paul, two complete opposites, as they learn to live together during the early days of their marriage. The production stays true to the original version, with a focus on flawed characters trying to find a compromise and the comical situations that arise as a result. In the show, Jacqueline Anderson plays Corie, and Gustavo Flores takes on the role of Paul.
Details: Through Sunday, Oct. 8. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre at Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale. $28, $22 for students and seniors. 480-483-1664, desertstages.org.
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