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story.lead_photo.caption Photo courtesy ACO "I knew it would be big, because this music is so popular," says 'Mamma Mia!' director Julie Gabel. "When you think about it, you think about it being happy and joyous. Who doesn't want to play with that? It's an iconic piece of Abba." Starring in the Arts Center of the Ozarks production are Lesha Fogerty (center) as Donna, Mary Schulz (left) as Tanya and Anna Knight as Rosie -- Donna and the Dynamos!

Julie Gabel's first foray into the Arts Center of the Ozarks summer musical was the 1980 production of "Oklahoma!". The young singer braved the Arkansas heat -- summer shows were outdoors then -- to perform in one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best-loved musicals, and, Gabel says, she adored every minute of it.

Fast forwarding nearly 40 years finds Gabel directing an equally infectious summer musical for ACO: "Mamma Mia!", the frothy, fun show concocted from the fizzy pop music of 1970s super group ABBA. The New York Times' Ben Brantley compared the show to a cream-filled Hostess cupcake and said "it may be the unlikeliest hit ever to win over cynical, sentiment-shy New Yorkers."

FAQ

‘Mamma Mia!’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. July 12-13, 19-20, 26-27; 3 p.m. July 14, 21, 28

WHERE — Arts Center of the Ozarks, 214 S. Main St., Springdale

COST — $15-$40

INFO — 751-5441

FYI

ACO Announces

2019-20 Season

“In our 53rd season, we will give a strong nod to our heritage, as well as advance toward new programs that champion new ideas, local communities and cultural partners,” says ACO’s new executive director, Bryan Gott. “You will see programs come to life on our main stage, in the gallery, around town and in our new black box.”

Main Stage

”’Mamma Mia!’ kicks off our season,” says Gott. “This summer musical performance is sure to get the audience out of their seats and singing along. It’s a great time that you won’t want to miss.”

Gott says the fall show, “Midsummer Night’s Dream” “will be adapted and modernized by the cast and director.”

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” says Gott, “follows a long-standing tradition as our Christmas show.”

The spring show, the British comedy “See How They Run,” will “welcome in the warmer weather,” says Gott.

Black Box Presents

“We are also excited to introduce our black box to the community with a new series,” says Gott. “Our black box will host ancillary events to our main stage series such as a Slam Poetry Night before opening night of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ as well as host more intimate shows such as local play readings and regular concerts.”

Music Nights

“Come join us as our black box is transformed into a cabaret-style lounge with food, drinks and music curated and performed by local musicians,” invites Gott. “We’ll be partnering with the Stitches group from the Station to curate youthful options and bring a few bigger names to our main stage.”

“It is going to be a great season at the ACO and great time to enjoy yourself in downtown Springdale,” says Gott.

"It is so joyous," says Gabel of the happy musical, which takes place on a sunny Greek island that is full of folks who like nothing more than to break into upbeat song and dance at the drop of a hat. The plot revolves around soon-to-be-bride Sophie's attempts to figure out who her father is. She's got three possibilities, all former beaus of her once wild-child mother, and she's on a mission to figure out which one should be walking her down the aisle. The show's writer, Catherine Johnson, wove together around 20 classic ABBA hits to propel the plot. The fact that those songs are the soundtrack to the lives of those of us around in the 1970s and 1980s means the show has a built-in fan base, says Gabel.

"I grew up in the 1970s, and I had an ABBA album," she says. "It was one of the favorites of my oldest brother. He's not a big musical theater fan, but he took his wife and kids to see 'Mamma Mia!', and he loved it. I thought, 'I have to see that sometime.'"

Gabel is quick to say that the appeal is not just limited to those of a certain age, however. She's currently working with Trike Theatre on its production of "Mary Poppins" and found a young ABBA fan on the production staff.

"One of the teenagers had her phone on and was listening to ABBA, and I said, 'Are you kidding me?' She said, 'I love this music!' and I thought, 'OK, it's coming back around again.' When I look at the names of the songs in the show, it kind of cracks me up -- 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!', 'Money, Money, Money'. The names are kind of ridiculous, but the sounds are really appealing, the beat is good, the voices are good -- their sound was really different, and their songs have really great storytelling."

ACO has a longstanding tradition of producing a big, flashy musical for the steamy summer months, and that tradition engenders a lot of loyal performers who return to perform year after year. Gabel promises that audiences will see both new and familiar faces in this show.

"We had a huge turnout for auditions -- there were somewhere around 80 people that showed up," she says. "The people in this cast are some of the kindest people I've ever been around. They come to rehearsal early, they want to stay late, they want to tape the choreography so they can go home and work on it. They are so kind and so sweet.

"I love the fact that I was able to be involved in their first show, 'Plaza Suite', this season, and now this one. Looking out over the whole season and the changes that ACO is making -- they're growing and developing, and I think they're going to continue to do wonderful things. I think the summer musical is almost like a culminating celebration of the end of a great season."

Photo courtesy ACO Sophie (Caroline Elser) has a choice of three dads -- Brandon Hamilton (from left), Shane Sturdivant and Peter Gaskin -- in the Arts Center of the Ozarks' production of "Mamma Mia!". The summer musical opens July 12.

NAN What's Up on 07/07/2019

Print Headline: 'The Name Of The Game'

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