The Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre is opening the smash hit next weekend at the Firehouse Arts Center, with its ABBA '70s songs such as "Dancing Queen," "Gimme Gimme Gimme" and "Take a Chance on Me."
"'Mamma Mia!' is one of the most nostalgic types of shows in terms of music," director Scott Maraj said. "People really love the music and the feelings it brings to them to hear these songs."
The story follows the adventures of Sophie, a young woman living with her mother, Donna, on a Greek island who wants to know the identity of her father. Donna has kept this fact a secret, so Sophie invites three men from her mother's past to attend her wedding. Donna's two best friends from her youth, Tanya and Rosie, are also there.
"Story-wise, it's a show that talks about first love and parent-and-child relationships as well as the bonds of friendship," Maraj said. "In those aspects it's highly relatable, those are universal themes."
The show -- called a "jukebox musical" because it features popular music -- opened in London in 1999 and since then has been a hit around the world, including being nominated for Tony Awards in New York.
Maraj estimates he has seen the show about a dozen times.
"I have seen this show more than any show in my life -- tours coming through San Francisco, in Las Vegas, in Chicago and in Los Angeles, where I am from," he said. "ABBA Gold is one of my all-time favorite CDs, I still have it in my car."
"The music is timeless," he continued. "Like 'Dancing Queen' -- when you hear it at a reception, everybody gets up to dance."
"Mamma Mia!" starred Meryl Streep in a 2008 movie version that was not critically well-received but has remained popular with audiences. Last year's sequel was much better, Maraj said, and "made up for the first movie."
Maraj is one of the founders of Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, and he also directed its productions of "Plaid" and "Taffeta." Now he is enjoying putting together "Mamma Mia!"
"It's just so much fun," he said.
Artistic director David Judson noted this is the first professional production of "Mamma Mia!" in the Tri-Valley or San Jose areas. And he said they are thrilled to introduce Laura Park to the Bay Area in the role of Sophie.
"She is a New York actress who grew up in Moraga, a true gem that our audiences will fall in love with," Judson said. "'Mamma Mia!' also features other critically acclaimed, regional Actors' Equity Association professionals, including the return of Pleasanton resident Joy Sherratt as Donna."
The three possible fathers are played by Brian Watson as Harry, Noel Anthony as Sam and Shawn Bender as Bill. Other cast members include Jennifer Stark as Rosie, Patricia Pitpitan as Tanya, Melissa Momboisse as Ali and Kriselle Kelsey as Lisa.
The show has a cast of 23 with 13 speaking roles, one of the largest for a Pacific Coast Rep production.
"With these kind of people -- professionals, and who have talent -- it opens itself up to more collaboration between the production team and the actors," Maraj said. "I love to collaborate -- instead of one brain, we have 23 brains in terms of what might work and what might not."
The entire show takes place on a Greek island so it does not need a lot of sets, he added.
"We have an amazing creative set director in Patrick Brandon. He's done all 25 of our shows, since 2010, and because he knows the space, he know what we are able to do," Maraj said.
Music director is Brett Strader, and choreography is by Gary Ferguson.
Maraj said not all the songs will be included on the program, which is typical in "Mamma Mia!" productions.
"When it first came out, in the orchestra pit they would hide the titles of the songs so the audience wouldn't know what was coming next," he explained, and they would be surprised and excited as each old favorite began.
"We will be looking to have fun," Maraj said. "We want this show to be a party. We want you to go to escape the reality of the real world."
ABBA and more
What: "Mamma Mia!"
Who: Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre
When: Jan. 26 to Feb. 10
Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave., Pleasanton
Tickets: $25-$44. Go to www.firehousearts.org, call 931-4848, or purchase at the theater box office.
Special: "Inside the Show" -- Actors return to the stage to discuss the production following the 2 p.m. matinee performance Jan. 27.
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