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Published: Thursday, 6/11/2009

Mamma is coming to town

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
'Mamma Mia' opens Tuesday at the Stranahan Theater. 'Mamma Mia' opens Tuesday at the Stranahan Theater.
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At least three national stage tours of Mamma Mia! have come through Toledo, and the movie starring Meryl Streep was in theaters for several months last year. So why should people care about another national tour, especially when competition for discretionary income is strong?

According to Martin Kildare, Mamma Mia! is in the right place at the right time.

It s kind of a surprising thing, but in this economic climate, this is just the kind of thing that people need, he said in a telephone interview from Reno, where the show was playing last week. It opens a six-day run in the Stranahan Theater Tuesday.

When times are tough, people need to be reminded that it s a wonderful world and great things happen. It really is a great thing, particularly in these times, to give people a few hours of real joy.

The play, built around songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA, is about a young woman named Sophie, who is planning her wedding on the small Greek island where her mother, Donna, owns and runs a small hotel.

Despite feeling secure and loved, Sophie has one big hole in her life: her father. Donna has always refused to talk about him. Then Sophie finds her mother s diary from two decades earlier and, reading it, she decides that there are three possible candidates to be her dad. She secretly invites all of them to her wedding, figuring that she ll know her father when she sees him.

One candidate, Sam Carmichael, is an American architect; another, Bill Austin, is an Australian travel writer, and a third, Harry Bright, is a British banker.

Kildare plays Austin, and he s having a great time with the role.

I ve been doing it for almost a year and a half now, and still it s a party every night, he said.

The story that Catherine Johnson wrote to put this music to really touches a chord. I think that s the one thing you ll see that s different from previous tours and from the movie: Our particular version of the play right now really emphasizes the storyline.

Yes, he said, the plot generally is considered just a device to have Sophie looking for her three dads. But what if you did live to be 21 years old and never knew your father and finally had the chance to meet him? That really comes with high emotional stakes.

Think of it, he said. Bill travels to the island, believing he s going to reconnect with an old flame and maybe talk over old times. Then he learns that a lovely young woman could be his daughter, giving rise to conflicting emotions: I don t know that I m ready to have a daughter and I ve missed 21 years of her life already.

Then, he said, you add the music, such as Dancing Queen, The Name of the Game, Our Last Summer, and The Winner Takes it All.

It s not just, Oh yeah, I used to like this song, it s Wow, this song, the one about missing out on love or finding someone you ve looked for for so long really means something. That, to me, is why people come back over and over again.

Kildare got to Mamma Mia! in a roundabout way. A versatile actor, he has worked at Theatre des Amandiers in Paris and Shakespeare s Globe Theatre in London, as well as appearing in such TV dramas as Numb3rs, CSI: New York, and Without a Trace.

About 10 years ago, he was living and working in New York, and he heard of a job opening for a classical actor who was willing to sing ( they didn t say able to sing ). He auditioned and got the role of the villainous Scar in The Lion King, which he performed for three years.

The Lion King gave him entry to other musicals, and when a former co-worker got the job of resident director of Mamma Mia! she called Kildare.

It s amazing. I really thought OK, it ain t Shakespeare, but it will pay the bills. But Shakespeare wrote a lot of comedies, and I think he would be proud if he had written this comedy.

As for what he says to men who don t want to see the show because they think it s just for women?

That s easy; he just repeats something ABBA wrote:

Take a Chance on Me.

Mamma Mia! opens Tuesday in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through June 20, with matinees at 2 p.m. Wednesday and June 20 and 21. Tickets range from $23 to $65. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@ theblade.com or 419-724-6130.



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