Stage

Mamma Mia Kicks Into Gear in Houston Again, This Time With an Original Broadway Cast Member

Choreographer Jessica Hartman and cast members of Mamma Mia! rehearsing.
Choreographer Jessica Hartman and cast members of Mamma Mia! rehearsing. Photo by Laura Hagen

Actor Mark Price has come full circle. A member of the original cast of Mamma Mia! on Broadway as Pepper, one of the young tavern workers, he's now returning to a Theatre Under the Stars production as Harry Bright, one of the dads. And the Houston native, who now lives in New York, sees symmetry in coming back to his hometown to do so.

The story, as most people know by now from either the long running stage musical or the movie involves Donna, the mom, who runs a restaurant on a Greek island. Her daughter Sophie who is engaged to be married wants her father to walk her down the aisle. Problem is, she doesn't know who her father is. She delves into her mother's old diary and discovers three possibilities around the time that her mother conceived her and invites them all to the island, without her mother's knowledge. From there, a sorting out process occurs around a lot of ABBA songs, with a new definition of what makes a family achieved by the end of the show.

When the juke box musical opened on Broadway it wasn't the best of times, Price said. "It was during 911 and there were a lot of shows that were closing around us; they were dropping like flies. We were one of the only shows that was some lighthearted entertainment at that time. and I remember when we were doing the show, none of us had any idea of how the show would be received. In fact, I did not have high hopes for the show. It was a pleasant surprise for me that the show did so well and I'm thrilled that it has.

"What they created was a pretty successful piece of theater that works structurally in terms of book and of course, music, you can't go wrong with ABBA tunes. It transports people not only geographically but in terms of the light heartedness in delving into the issue of having three possible dads. It allows people to escape and it's not a coincidence that it did quite well when it first opened and then last year it was one of the most produced shows in regional theaters around the country.

"When we were doing the show in New York one of the biggest shockers was when Meryl Streep came to the show. I remember thinking 'That is so weird. What is Meryl Streep doing at Mamma Mia!' At that time she had  daughters that were interested in the show, that really loved the show. So they wanted to go see it. She wrote a letter to the company saying it was the most joyful time she had in the theater in a really long time. And then flash forward, she ended up doing the movie."

His Harry Bright character is "a big misfit who chose a profession based on what he thought he should do and had come to the island to have a delightful mid-life crisis."

"It is a pretty tight show it hasn’t changed much. It changed a lot initially in New York when we were rehearsing it; there were a number of drafts and previews and script changes. I think they found a very successful formula that works for a jukebox musical."

His advice to anyone considering going: "Just to come and have a good time. We need more people experiencing joy, fun and a sense of abandonment. It sort of sounds like I'm saying  Mamma Mia will save the world. It won't. But at least you’ll laugh and you'll have a good time."

Performances are scheduled for February 19 through March 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sunday, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-887 or visit tuts.com. $30-$134.50.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing