Feel like dancing? Feel like singing? The actors onstage will be doing plenty of that in “Mamma Mia!” and the audience is invited to join in as the spirit moves them, when the blockbuster musical hits the Old Creamery Theatre’s main stage Sept. 5 to Oct. 13.
ABBA officials denied permission for the Amana troupe to stage an official singalong production, but it’s not uncommon to have spontaneous bursts of audience participation in a show full of the Swedish pop group’s peppy disco classics. And the company will be holding Saturday night dance parties with the cast afterward on the outdoor terrace, complete with twinkling lights and a cash bar.
“With ‘Mamma Mia,’ there’s the community on stage of this group of actors telling this story that’s about community and family,” said Kristen Behrendt DeGrazia, 51, of Iowa City, a professional actress who plays the mamma, Donna Sheridan. “I have not done the show before, but from what I understand, the audience becomes a whole other character basically, and they’re part of that community.”
She’s been told people might start singing along as the action unfolds.
“And that’s fine,” added Keegan Christopher, 29, of Fairfax, an Old Creamery artistic associate who is doing triple duty as director and actor, as well as co-choreographer with his wife, Katie Colletta, who plays Donna’s daughter, Sophie. “This is what this show is about.”
“It’s a celebration,” DeGrazia added.
Set in 2000 around Donna’s hotel on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, the story written to weave together ABBA’s greatest hits revolves around Sophie’s upcoming wedding. She wants a traditional white wedding, with her father walking her down the aisle. However, she doesn’t know who that might be — until she discovers it could be one of three men her mother dated in the summer of 1979. So without telling her mother, Sophie invites them all to the wedding.
Also on the invitation list are the two women who performed with Donna in the ’70s girl group Donna and the Dynamos. Naturally, they reprise their harmonies on several ABBA hits. During the early rehearsals, DeGrazia was especially enjoying singing “Super Trouper” with the ladies.
“Donna gets a mix of singing all the fun stuff and feeling like a middle-aged woman who is a rock star for a minute. That’s pretty cool,” DeGrazia said.
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“But then, there are a lot of songs that tell a story, that are very much connected to the scenes and the relationships, like her song with Sophie, ‘Slipping Through My Fingers,’ and then ‘The Winner Takes it All.’ There’s a great arc I can already see to that chunk of the show — getting dressed for the wedding and having this really important moment with Sophie that leads all the way through her penultimate moment with Sam. ...
“You get to play dress-up and have fun, especially for Donna,” she said. “Donna is really a down-to-earth person. She’s an artsy kind of beatnik business owner and pretty grounded. And so when she puts on those heels and flashy costumes to be the Dynamos again, it is like a woman getting to kind of relive her youth and play dress-up with her friends, and I think that’s where a lot of the heart is.”
She’s also convinced audience members will embrace and identify with the middle-aged men and women in the key roles, who bring their own life experience to the show.
“That’s what’s charming for the audience,” she said, “because every woman sitting in the audience who is anywhere near the ages of these women are just like, ‘Yes, you go girl,’ and that’s fun. We all laugh at ourselves sometimes when we get to be silly and fancy in our sparkly jumpsuits. But I think that’s what really makes the show work. This show could just so easily just be a revue of ABBA songs, but then the whole story that was created really, really brings a depth to the show.”
It’s a story that strikes a personal chord for director Christopher.
“I think it’s really true that many people believe this is the best jukebox musical, because it is so much more than just a jukebox musical,” where oftentimes a very thin storyline connects the dots between songs.
“It’s so much more than that,” he said, noting that because his mom had full custody raising him after a divorce, he cried the first time the cast ran through the script.
“Watching that (Donna/Sophie) relationship form as we did the read-through, that’s partly what put me to tears, because you can relate to this on some level. Everybody can. You see that love and the desire to do anything for the person — and also the desire to stop them from making the mistakes, but you know you can’t. You have to let people make the mistakes they’re going to make and learn and grow from them.”
It also resonates across the generations. DeGrazia’s three teenagers and her musical theater, voice and acting students at Nolte Academy in Coralville are all grooving on the music.
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“ABBA is huge with kids right now,” she said. “Teens in general and theater kids. ... It’s really got such a broad appeal as something for every person. And that’s fun.”
WHAT: “Mamma Mia!”
WHERE: Old Creamery Theatre, 39 38th Ave., Amana
WHEN: Sept. 5 to Oct. 13; 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday
TICKETS: $32.50 adults; $20 students; $12 student rush 30 minutes before showtime; Old Creamery Box Office, (319) 622-6262 or Oldcreamery.com