Mamma Mia! already drawing audiences to Confed Centre
'It's a fun show, a celebratory piece, and that falls heavily in line with what draws our audiences in'
You know the songs. You can likely sing several without thinking: hits like Souper Trouper, Take a Chance on Me, Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes it All — from the 1970s Swedish super-group ABBA.
And now, they've come to the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
The Charlottetown Festival is one of only two theatres in North America licensed to present Mamma Mia! since it closed its 14-year run on Broadway last fall. One of the highest-grossing musicals of all time, it'll be the second show on the mainstage, in repertory with Anne of Green Gables.
The production value is far beyond anything the festival has been able to accomplish in the previous 50-some-odd years.— Katie Kerr, who plays Sophie
"It's a fun show, a celebratory piece, and that falls heavily in line with what draws our audiences in and also our mandate,"said Adam Brazier, who's both the artistic director for the entire festival and director of Mamma Mia!
"And it cross-casts exceptionally well with Anne of Green Gables, which is always a challenge."
The musical comedy was written in the UK 1999 and toured successfully worldwide. A screen adaptation in 2008 starring Meryl Streep, among other big Hollywood names, was also a huge hit.
It's the story of Sophie, a young woman about to marry who reads her mother Donna's old diary in an effort to discover who her father is. Turns out there are three possible men, so Sophie invites all three to her wedding. Of course, chaos ensues, and it's all set to ABBA's hits.
The show has a universality and a familiarity that audiences enjoy, Brazier says — it's been seen by more than 60 million people.
"We're very fortunate to be able to get it here," enthuses Katie Kerr, who stars as Sophie.
Kerr, who now calls P.E.I. home, also plays Anne's bosom friend, Diana Barry, this season.
"If you haven't seen the show, you are in for a treat," she adds. "The production value is far beyond anything the festival has been able to accomplish in the previous 50-some-odd years."
The theatre recently shut down for more renovations, and Kerr said Mamma Mia! will show off new sound and light capabilities.
Still meets mandate
How does a show written in the UK promote Canadian culture and content, as the Confederation Centre is supposed to?
"We also live and die by our ticket sales," said Brazier.
"We have incredible support for our infrastructure, but for the Charlottetown Festival, there is no money for us to develop shows."
To present riskier Canadian musicals including Spoon River and Belles Soeurs, Brazier argues, the festival must hedge its bets with proven money-makers like Mamma Mia!
Money, Money, Money
Ticket sales for Mamma Mia! are pacing well ahead of last year's second mainstage musical, Alice Through Looking-Glass, centre officials said, noting preview performances sold out quickly and sales are already good for June.
"We have a very good feeling that Mamma Mia! is going to push what is more common for our festival in terms of ticket sales," said Brazier. "It will exceed what we normally do, that's our hope."
The royalties rates for Mamma Mia! are high, admitted Brazier, because the show is so popular.
The Name of the Game
Kerr played Anne in 2013 and 2014 at the Centre, so knows something about the challenge of bringing wildly popular characters and stories to life.
"There's always a little bit of pressure that you won't sound like the movie, or you miss somebody's favourite part in the novel," admits Kerr. "But it's part of that excitement of live theatre."
The show incorporates the best of a revue-type show featuring hit music like Canada Rocks! but adds a more engaging storyline, Kerr said — "a fascinating, really captivating story to follow, mixed in with songs that you know and love."
Brazier was the first in Canada to play Sophie's groom, Sky, 20 years ago in Toronto and on a U.S. tour, so the show is also very nostalgic for him.
Thank You For the Music
With hits so familiar to so many, it's possible the audience may be tempted to join in, but Brazier frowns on it.
"I would prefer it if people didn't. I certainly don't like it when I've paid $70 — I like to hear the professionals, if you don't mind."
Mamma Mia! runs until Sept. 3.