Stage & Dance

The tour stops here

Martin Kildare was almost late to Tuesday's rehearsal of Mamma Mia! Like many visitors to Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, he'd been lulled into a pastoral afternoon in the country and — whoops! — it was time to get back to work at the Lexington Opera House.

It's not an experience that most actors with Broadway Live tours have had. Usually the theater company rolls in on the day of the show, and with five performances in three days, there isn't much time to roll out to the country, hit the mall or even sample the fare at downtown restaurants and watering holes.

But, for the second consecutive season, the Opera House has been selected by a national tour as the site to prepare for the road. In fall 2007, the Opera House hosted tech rehearsals for 12 Angry Men, featuring Richard Thomas of The Waltons. This year, Mamma Mia! set up shop in the Opera House early last week to prepare to hit the road again after cast and set changes, and retooling the show for smaller venues.

"This really is going to be like an opening night," Kildare, who plays one of the dads in the show, said of Friday's performance.

There are several new cast members, including Michelle Dawson, who is stepping into the lead role of Donna, and Liana Hunt, who is joining the cast to play Sophie.

The story, set to the music of 1970s chart-toppers ABBA, centers on young Sophie, who is getting married in Greece. She wants to be given away by her father. Problem is, there are three potential dads, so unbeknownst to her mom, Donna, she has invited all three men to the island for the wedding.

The big mystery is finding out who dad is, but the point is hearing timeless pop hits sung by people theoretically frolicking in the Mediterranean sun.

"You can take it on several levels," says Kildare, who has been with the show for a little more than a year. "If you just want the music, it's almost a concert. If you want a story, this is a really good story, and if you just want to escape and have fun, you can do that, too."

Three selling points, hit songs and a successful film adaptation last summer have helped make Mamma Mia! a hot ticket in Lexington. Only a limited number of tickets remain available for each performance.

But the show's impact has been more than just at the box office.

Larry Bell, manager of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Lexington Center, said the show's two-week sit-down at the Opera House is an example of how the arts can have a monetary effect on a community.

According to a statement from the Opera House, the production's extended stay in Lexington resulted in 671 hotel room nights booked for the cast and crew. The Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated a total economic impact of $473,000 from the show's stay, not including revenue from ticket sales and patrons visiting establishments around the Opera House before and after the show.

"The company wanted to come here because this theater is amazingly gorgeous, but small," Dawson says.

That made the Opera House an ideal place to work with a new production configured to take the show into towns where it has not played.

Lexington Center president and chief executive Bill Owen said in the Opera House's statement that the Mamma Mia! tech rehearsal booking was a direct result of the $2 million renovation that the Opera House recently finished.

Patrons enjoy the improved seating and sound, but the Mamma Mia! actors likes the upgraded cast accommodations, including new star dressing rooms.

"The simple convenience of having a bathroom in your dressing room is huge," Dawson says.

Kildare jokes that as one of the three dads, he usually doesn't get star treatment. But even in the ensemble areas, "the tile in the showers is so nice, I want to bring my wife over and show her that this is the type of tile we should get for our bathroom at home."

For touring actors, home is the road for much of the year, which is why cast members say they have appreciated touches like the gift of Opera House coffee mugs when they arrived.

"When you're used to drinking out of paper cups at hotels, it's great to have your own coffee mug to drink out of in the morning," Dawson says.

On Tuesday night, the company treated the cast to a party at Natasha's Bistro to celebrate the seventh anniversary of Mamma Mia! on tour.

"The food was wonderful," said Hunt, who got to toast the show's success before stepping on stage as Sophie.

Dawson says that's maybe the most important part of what will make Lexington memorable to the cast.

"We have new costumes, a new set with new paint; everything's new," Kildare says. "It's like you've had this car you've always liked, and suddenly you have a new model."

Dawson says, "This is where we've been learning new roles and getting to know new cast members, and it really feels like an opening night. To us, Lexington will always be this special place where we kicked off this production."

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