Mario Matthews goes to a nightclub and an ABBA song is playing, he knows all the words. That’s because he’s been employed in a touring show of Mamma Mia! on and off since 2007. Matthews is part of the handsome male ensemble and is an understudy to Sky, the romantic lead.
“ABBA has been very good to me,” Matthews said of the Swedish pop group whose classic songs from the 1970s are the source material for the musical now on tour (and currently playing at ASU Gammage through May 22). It features songs like “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes It All” and “Waterloo.”
In the story, Sky is about to marry Sophie, a 20–year–old girl living on an idyllic Greek island with her mother, Donna. Sophie desperately wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The only problem is she has no idea who he is, and her mother’s diary reveals that it could have been one of three different men. Sophie invites all three to her wedding hoping that she will figure out her parentage when she meets them face–to–face. Meanwhile, Donna and her two best girlfriends reminisce about when they were a singing group known as Donna and the Dynamos. The stage is set for a comedy of errors and a few love stories. And then there’s a gay surprise.
Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfreid, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan starred in the 2008 movie. But the stage musical also continues to be popular in New York City and on the road, a testament to the music’s infectious enthusiasm.
“I think that after the movie came out, it really gave us a boost,” Matthews said. “People really enjoy Mamma Mia! Everyone recognizes the songs, it’s a really fun–filled show, and the book in general is done really well in how they include the songs in the story. If anything, people can relate to love, because Mamma Mia! is about the aspects of finding love within yourself, finding a long–lost love or finding a new love. It’s so relatable in that way,” he said. “It’s about expressing individuality.”
Matthews, a native of Oklahoma City, said he’s happy at the positive response the show receives, even in conservative markets. He also says that the gay audience will enjoy the show’s spectacle. “Every gay man loves a little sparkle in their life! What’s been most exciting about our society is that it’s constantly growing and evolving, and people are becoming more gay–friendly. I think that’s awesome,” he said. “It’s great to see people becoming more understanding.”
Matthews, who also has been part of the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular ensemble, urged aspiring performers to pursue their dreams. “But with that dream comes a lot of hard work,” he said. “Everybody on this tour has had a long trail of hard work; they’ve gone to school, taken voice lessons, dance lessons, acting lessons, and almost everyone has gone to college,” Matthews said. “If you really want something to happen in your life, it can happen, but it takes work.”
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.