It’s a travel day for the cast of Mamma Mia! and Sarah Smith has traded in her dancing shoes for her running shoes. Despite giving herself an extra hour and a half to prepare for press after for the bus ride from the airport, she’s still behind schedule and apologetically flustered. “We were flying into Florida and then had an hour bus ride. We literally just got to the hotel,” she says. “I fell asleep on the bus, and when I woke up it was so much later than I thought it would be. I feel so bad.”
Smith is a consummate professional, and the show must go on. The tension in her voice gives way as she eases into tales of life on stage as the 9th top selling Broadway musical in history takes its victory lap across the country. “This leg of the tour is going to go until June 12, and then it will go out for one final farewell year,” she says. “All the cities are currently calling it the farewell tour because it will be the last time it comes through that city, but next year will officially be the last year.”
Smith brings the role of Rosie to life in Mamma Mia! The beloved musical is presented by the FSCJ Artist Series May 6-7 at the Times-Union Performing Arts Center. Seen by more than 54 million people around the world, Mamma Mia! is celebrating 5,000 performances on Broadway. The international tour has visited more than 74 foreign cities in 35 countries.
Mamma Mia! tells the story of Donna, an independent, single mother who owns a small hotel on an idyllic Greek island, who is about to let go of her spirited daughter Sophie. For Sophie’s wedding, Donna has invited her two lifelong best girlfriends, practical and no-nonsense Rosie and wealthy, multi-divorcee Tanya from her one-time backing band, Donna and the Dynamos. But Sophie has secretly invited three guests of her own.
On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, Sophie brings back three men from Donna’s past to the Mediterranean paradise they visited 20 years earlier. Over 24 chaotic, magical hours, new love will bloom and old romances will be rekindled on this lush island full of possibilities.
“It’s kind of crazy how quick it’s gone by. Everybody’s like, ‘I can’t believe it’s almost over’,” says Smith. “When you’re doing something for this long, you sort of wonder what it’s going to be like being on the road for that long. Now that I’m in my second year, I’m like, ‘Oh, it just kind of flies by,’ which is really quite a blessing.” It’s a bittersweet journey that’s going by way too quickly. Smith says she was astounded by the wide appeal of the show. Inspired by the storytelling magic of ABBA’s songs from ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘S.O.S.’ to ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Take a Chance on Me,’ Mamma Mia! is a celebration of mothers and daughters, old friends and new family.
She grew up listening to the music of ABBA but it took slipping into Rosie’s jumpsuit to really feel the power of the live performance. “It’s incredible, isn’t it?” she says. “I had no relationship to this show at all. I mean, I had a relationship with ABBA’s music. I’ve been listening to that since I was a kid, but I didn’t know the show at all. I had no idea what this thing was. It almost made me chuckle. I didn’t get it until I performed in it for the first time with an audience. They knew what was coming, and you suddenly realize what this show means to people and the relationship that people have with this show and how excited they are to see it multiple times. They will travel to different cities to see it multiple times. It’s taken on a life of its own.”
Smith says she expected to see mothers and daughters, ladies out for a girls’ night, old friends coming to see the show together, but she was surprised to see just how diverse an audience can be in any city on any given night. “What I’ve come to realize is that you really can’t stamp a demographic on this show. Kids freak out about this show. I’ll meet 7 and 8 year olds after the show that are like decked out in a t-shirt. I love meeting an audience in general, but kids are my favorite. They are so excited and so enthusiastic about it,” she says. “The one that surprises me the most is how often I have been pulled aside by men who tell me, ‘This is my favorite show. I’ve seen it eight times, and my wife doesn’t even have to drag me’. I love that. My first year, I was amazed and how often that happened. It’s literally a show for everyone.”
At the core, Mamma Mia! is about having a good time both together on stage and with the audience. There is a moment in the show that breaks the fourth wall and lets the crowd in on the fun. “You just can’t help but just love the rock star finale that we do, just because it’s the moment that we get to say to the audience, ‘We know you’re there, and we want you to party with us.’ The more fun that we’re having and the more honest that we can be, the more fun the audience is having. It’s a sort of give and take. We’re going to let you in on this, and once they realize that they’re in on the fun, it allows us to give that much more,” says Smith.
“I think that has become one of my favorite parts. As far away as they are, you feel so close to them in that moment, and I really love singing ‘Waterloo’ and of course, ‘Dancing Queen’ is always a blast. ABBA Gold was like a permanent fixture in my car in high school. If you were getting a ride to school with me, chances are you were going to be listening to ABBA at some point. I love being on stage and performing, and I love every show I’ve ever done for all sorts of reasons, but nothing has been quite like this. I kind of want to take that jumpsuit with me and wear it forever.”
Catch Smith and the rest of the cast at the fun-filled performances of Mamma Mia! at the Times-Union Performing Arts Center. For tickets and more information, visit www.fscjartistseries.org.