“Mamma Mia!” the musical featuring the music of ABBA, is coming to Durham on its farewell tour. This will be its third and final stop at the Durham Performing Arts Center. “Mamma Mia!” — also a film starring Meryl Streep — is full of songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA, who rose to fame in the 1970s with hits like “Dancing Queen,” Super Trouper” and “Take A Chance On Me.” The musical is a peppy, colorful display of song and dance around the story of a wedding in Greece, the bride’s mother and wedding guests that complicate things.
Kevin Casey is the conductor and keyboardist for the North American tour, and talked with The Herald-Sun from a tour stop in Pensacola, Florida. This is his fourth year in the show, and previously worked in “Spamalot,” “Miss Saigon,” Titanic,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and most recently, “Shrek: the Musical.”
He had never seen “Mamma Mia!” before joining the tour. He quickly converted, Casey said.
“The music is great — it’s really fun to play. The best part is people enjoy the show so much. You go to work and people are happy you show up,” he said. Where he’s located in the orchestra pit, people from the audience come talk to him during intermission. Kids come down and want to see the instruments, Casey said. He can also hear audience reactions during the show.
The farewell tour has a new cast and is “fun, with a heightened sense of something because it’s the last time in each city we go to,” Casey said. Productions of “Mamma Mia!” will continue in regional theater productions and beyond once the rights are released, he said.
Casey is from Huntington Beach, California. He took piano lessons growing up, was in his high school show choir, and went to the University of Southern California. His music background is rock.
“When ABBA was first out, I was in high school. Their start was the same time punk started. At the time I was listening to the Clash and all those, and ABBA didn’t fit that. My mother liked ABBA,” he said. “When you’re that young, your musical world is pretty tiny. So at the time I dismissed them. I got older and realized there’s good music in every genre.”
Casey taught for 10 years at Orange County School of the Arts in California, and it was great, he said. But after a while they would graduate and move to New York and do things that Casey wanted to do, too. So he did, getting a tour that led to a bigger tour and so on.
Once Casey converted to ABBA, he bought all the albums. Beyond “Take A Chance On Me” and “Dancing Queen,” the show has some surprises, and there are great tunes among the non-hits, he said.
“I definitely became an actual fan. It’s pretty impressive what they did, coming from Sweden and writing not in their language, and the music’s good worldwide. It really has been a treat to do the show,” Casey said.
Performing in “Mamma Mia!” is a great feeling, and when they finish the show, the crowd is happy, he said. He has been in 800 performances, and they’re down to about 150 in the farewell tour.
“I appreciate it more the longer I do it. Especially now, counting down toward the end. Each show is more meaningful now that there’s not as many left,” Casey said.
“We get to the bows, and people jump up to leave. No, don’t leave — this is the best part. The end is 10 minutes of joy,” he said.
When he worked in “Miss Saigon,” while it was a good show, everyone leaves somber, he said. “There’s no dancing reggae mix at the end. I’d rather do ones like this when people leave happy and excited.”
“It’s nice to be able to go to work and people are happy you are there. It’s just good all around. I really enjoy the show and the fact the audience does, too, it’s a tough combination to beat,” Casey said.
GO & DO
WHAT: “Mamma Mia!” farewell tour
WHEN: May 5-7
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham