Kristie Marsden, who plays Sophie, the daughter, in the touring production <i>Mamma Mia</i>, that opens Tuesday in the Stranahan Theater.
Theatergoers who hear the title Mamma Mia! generally think of the music of the Swedish pop group ABBA, but there's a whole lot more to the romantic comedy than that. At least, that's according to Kristie Marsden, who plays Sophie, the daughter, in the touring production that opens Tuesday in the Stranahan Theater.
"Everyone kind of blows it off as a cupcake musical, but the fact that they took 23 songs that were already written and put them into a story line, I think makes it even more special," she said last week in a telephone interview from Dayton, where the production was playing.
The show takes place on a small Greek island where Sophie and her mother, Donna, are preparing for Sophie's wedding. It is to be the day of Sophie's dreams, except for one thing: Sophie wants her father there and she doesn't know who he is.
"Sophie finds her mom's diary from the summer she was conceived and figures out that she has three possible dads and invites all three men to the island, thinking that she'll know who her dad is when she sees him. But she doesn't," Marsden said.
"Catherine Johnson is the playwright and she wrote the book for the show, and I think it's absolutely adorable," she said. "For the first time in a long time, you have a musical that incorporates at least three roles for women over the age of 40, which is amazing. You never see that in theater."
The roles Marsden refers to are those of Donna and her two best friends, who are the supporting comedic sidekicks.
Marsden said she can see elements of her own personality in Sophie. "She's very spunky and sassy but at the same time when she gets an idea, she doesn't think it through to the total end. She kind of gets a little too excited. She acts on impulse, then goes, 'Oh wait, I didn't think it would end like this. Oops."
The men are not forgotten in Mamma Mia! There are the three possible fathers and Sophie's fianc<0x00E9>. "The dads are really neat because they each have their own personalities, and the story lines of how they were involved with Donna are really cute," Marsden said.
Mamma Mia! is heavy on the comedy. Sophie doesn't tell anyone except her two best friends about her plan to meet her father. "That's the thing, she's running around this island, trying to keep her mother from seeing the dads, the dads from seeing the mother, and the fianc<0x00E9> from seeing the dads and finding out. For a girl who's getting married the next day, she's got a lot on her plate," Marsden said.
She refused to tell whether the real father is revealed by the play's end. "I'll just say that things work out very differently than you think they will.
"That's another great thing about this show is that there's no villain. Circumstance is the villain, and you get to like all of the characters."
Another aspect of the show that's fun, Marsden said, is trying to figure out when and how the ABBA songs will fit into the production. The program lists all the songs, she said, but they're not in order, so it's a big guess as to which will pop up next.
Among the familiar Benny Andersson-Bjorn Ulvaeus tunes performed by the cast to the accompaniment of a nine-piece orchestra are "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Slipping Through My Fingers," and "The Winner Takes It All."
"We're not a Pulitzer Prize musical here," Marsden said. "This is a musical that did well after 9/11 because of the fact that it takes people away from the chaos of the outside world. It's complete entertainment. That's its purpose and it serves it."
Marsden, who is 21, has been with "Mamma Mia!" since she was 19. "I've been acting professionally since I was 17," she said, listing guest starring roles on Dark Angel, The Chris Issak Show, and Beyond Belief, a cast role in Wolf Lake, made-for-TV movies, and voiceover work. "The fact that I was working in the industry for a year and a half [prior to Mamma Mia!] and I was able to work on a steady basis is something I'm really proud of."
Marsden is from Burnaby, B.C., just next door to Vancouver. It's the hometown of Michael J. Fox, who, she said, lived right down the street from her parents. Although she hasn't yet met him, she hopes to follow in his footsteps and has plans to leave Mamma Mia! on Feb. 22 to move to Los Angeles to pursue film and television opportunities.
"I have a great agent who has taken me on already and I'm excited to kind of leap in and try something new, because it's a total departure from being on tour," she said.
But while she's on tour, she intends to have fun and to help the audience have fun.
Mamma Mia! is a show for everyone, she said.
"Even if you aren't a fan of the music or you don't know the music, you still have the story, which is adorable. And younger kids, the teens, kind of like my age, the early 20s, love the music because it's very catchy. Then you have the baby boomers who know the music, so they're watching this, thinking, 'Oh, I remember when I first heard this' or 'I shared this with Billy Bob,' then you have senior citizens who are like rocking the aisles, they're dancing and going crazy, and up on stage we're like, 'There's Grandma, dancing in the aisles.' "
And that's exactly the reaction the cast aims for - and gets - just about every time.
"Mamma Mia!" runs Tuesday through Feb. 8 in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Feb. 6; 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 7, and 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 8. Extremely limited single seating is available Tuesday and Wednesday; the remainder of the performances are sold out. Information: 419-381-8851.
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