Mamma Mia! was known as the ABBA musical when it opened at the turn of the 21st century.
But in the ensuing decade and a half, the music has become as associated with the show as with the 1970s Swedish pop group. And that phenomenon holds true for the leads of the production coming to Lexington this weekend.
“I remember a friend of mine had the movie, and she just loved it,” says 18-year-old Kyra Belle Johnson, who plays Sophie. The movie she’s referring to is the 2008 film starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. “I think I knew the music came from somewhere else.”
Erin Fish, who plays Sophie’s mother Donna, declines to give her age but allows, “I could have a daughter Sophie’s age.” She says she encountered the music before the show, barely.
“I think my dad had ABBA on 8-track, I do remember that,” Fish says, recalling a tape format that barely made it into the 1980s. “I remember I liked The Winner Takes it All, and then the other songs in the show, I remember thinking, ‘Oh wait, I have heard these songs before.’”
It’s men, it’s women, it’s amazing all the people that love
Erin Fish who plays Donna on the national tour
Regardless of how they encountered the songs, they are now a huge part of the actresses’ lives on the national tour of Mamma Mia!, which returns to the Lexington Opera House for a four-day, five-show run Thursday through Sunday.
For those who missed the movie, or the first go around, Mamma Mia! is the story of Sophie’s wedding on a Greek Island. Her dream is to have her father give her away, but there is a problem: She discovers there are three men who could be her father while reading her mother Donna’s diary. So, Sophie invites all of her potential dads to the wedding under Donna’s name, and of course, hi-jinx ensue.
The production is set to the music of ABBA, whose music dominated Top 40 radio in the late 1970s with hits including Dancing Queen, Take a Chance on Me and, of course, the musical’s title tune. ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were active in the development of the show, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — who went on to a solo career in the 1980s under the name Frida with the hit Something Going On — had financial and promotional involvement in the show. Agnetha Fältskog rounded out the ABBA lineup.
Being in the show has taken everyone in the show back to the original source material, the actors say.
“They really want us to sound like the original recordings,” says Johnson, whose big numbers include Honey, Honey and I Have a Dream. “So we listened to them to get the right rhythms and intonations.”
Fish says, “It’s so much fun to sing, its so intricate. Everything they basically notated from the recordings. Every rhythm, every harmony, everything that is in there is what ABBA wanted.”
Asked what her favorite songs are takes Fish back to the acting side of the musical theater equation.
“Winner Takes it All has to be my favorite, because she’s so vulnerable at that moment, and it’s so wonderful to sing,” Fish says.
Enumerating her favorites, Johnson notes the equally dramatic Name of the Game, but adds that show closer, “Waterloo is so much fun, and the lights are on the audience, and we see everyone up singing along and dancing.”
And those are fans of all ages, now. Through the show, the actresses say, the music has gone from being a nostalgia trip for children of the 1970s to being a cross-generational musical theater experience.
“It’s everybody,” Fish says. “There are grandmas and grandpas dancing, and last night there were little girls in the first row talking to the conductor, and they’re amazed at it. And it’s men, it’s women, it’s amazing all the people that love Mamma Mia!”
If You Go
What: National touring production presented as part of Broadway Live at the Opera House.
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4, 8 p.m. Feb. 5, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 6, 1 p.m. Feb. 7.
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.