By PAM HARBAUGH
The ABBA juke-box musical that has swept the world is slowing to a stop. But not before it makes a stop Sunday at the King Center in Melbourne for matinee and evening performances.
And that should suit area super fans of “Mamma Mia!” just fine because, although this is the show’s final tour, the sweet part for all those fans is that former Melbourne performer, GABRIELLA MARCHION, 21, is touring with the show as an ensemble member who also covers the roles of Ali and Lisa.
“When we heard the news that Gabriella would be part of the national tour, of course it spread like wildfire throughout the theater community among those of us who worked with her here,” said Erin Ashley Frank. “Just two years ago, she was on stage with us and now she is part of a national tour, so of course we all want to support her and a large group of us have planned to attend the local performance to cheer her on. I think it’s really special that the tour is stopping at the King Center of all places.”
While the San Francisco Bay Area native lived in Melbourne for about a year, Marchion quickly stole the hearts of area theater patrons in her vivacious performances of leading roles in three productions at the Henegar Center: Lola in “Damn Yankees,” Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Famiy” and Allison in the community theater premiere of “Cry-Baby.”
“I immediately fell in love with her energy and spirit…and that voice!” said Henegar artistic director Hank Rion. “She is an amazingly talented actor and I was so lucky to have her be part of the Henegar Family, if only for one year.”
Although she has been performing since the age of six, it was her turn as Allison in “Cry-Baby” that accelerated the momentum.
The Henegar production was rewritten especially for community theaters and is now the version that MTI is licensing nation wide. The creators of the show, which was based on the John Waters film, came to Melbourne to see it and immediately encouraged Marchion to go for it.
“Hank and all, that’s what made me pack up my bags and go,” Marchion said,
When she moved to New York City, the show’s creators tapped her to understudy the show’s Broadway star for the reunion concert at the popular after-hours cabaret 54 Below.She had been in New York a little more than a year when she was cast in the final tour of “Mamma Mia!” Auditions were held in a midtown audition studio. She went to call back after call back. Finally, in May, she got a call in the morning in her Washington Heights apartment she shares with two other former Brevard residents and Broadway hopefuls – Noah Christian Necaise and Taylor Straney.
“I was like over the moon I was so excited,” she said. “I woke up all my roommates and told them. We all jumped around and hugged and stuff. It was great.”
Rehearsals started in September and she was on the road three weeks later. Now, she says, she gets to perform in what she says is a “party on stage.” She loves the audience’s big, joyful response to the show. Many of them stand up and start dancing to the music.
“You can’t help it,” she said. “You just gotta start dancing.”
Certainly, any self-respecting musical theater fan knows the story which is the setting for those toe tapping, hip swinging ABBA songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me.” British playwright Catherine Johnson tells the romantic comedy of family and friends gathering for a wedding on a Greek island. The bride’s mother has brought two girlfriends and the bride has invited three former lovers of her mother, one of whom might be the bride’s father.
Then throw in songs by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and you have a hit show that became the eighth longest running show on Broadway. It’s been seen by more than 60 million people in 50 productions and 16 languages around the world. This tour marks the 15th year on the road,
It has inspired fierce devotion among fans.
Marchion experiences that devotion every time the show performs. After the show, they flock to the stage door for autographs.
“We get a lot of superfans,” she said. “They see the tour every year and just live and breathe ‘Mamma Mia!’ People dress up in ABBA awesomeness.”Indialantic resident Andrea Green Deratany Blasy saw it twice on Broadway and twice at the King Center.
“The first time I saw ‘Mamma Mia!’ was on Broadway and I was blown away,” Blasy said. “In fact, all of us in the audience were on our feet dancing and singing along. This show is a phenomenon and completely captures the imagination. I am planning to see it and already have tickets. Three of us gals are going together.
Also an avid supporter of area arts and culture, Blasy is excited to see Marchion on stage.
“I love Mama Mia because it is 100% joy,” said Kathi Hooper Landers. “I’ve seen the national tour three times and made sure I got great seats for this run. We are so excited to see Gabriella Marchion release her inner dancing queen at the King Center. She is ridiculously talented in the true musical theatre triple threat kind of way.”
Laughing, Rion said “I expect great things from her…and better be part of her Tony Award acceptance speech!”
But these super fans better get their tickets now for this last professional tour. After that, it will be up to area theaters to satisfy those “Dancing Queen” jones. Indeed, next season both Titusville Playhouse and Riverside Theatre have the musical in their season bill.
NB: An edited version of this story will run Thursday in Vero Beach 32963.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Mamma Mia!” performs 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at the King Center for the Performing Arts, 3865 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne. Tickets begin at $47.75. Call 321-242-2219 or visit KingCenter.com.