An actress from Down Under is over the moon to put the mamma in “Mamma Mia!”
“This is my biggest show,” Georgia Kate Haege, 35, says from a recent tour stop in Peoria, Ill. She plays mamma Donna in the wildly popular musical that weaves several romantic threads — and a measure of heartbreak — through ABBA’s greatest pop hits.
It’s the story of a fiercely independent former ’70s “wild child” single mother who’s been raising her daughter, Sophie, alone, while running an inn on a tiny Greek island. As Sophie’s wedding approaches, she wants to know who her father is, so he can walk her down the aisle. The only problem is that Donna had flings with three men in short order 20 years ago, so she doesn’t know which one fathered her child.
All three are invited to the festivities – as well as two of Donna’s best girlfriends, who used to sing as the trio Donna and the Dynamos. Sparks and feet fly to the beat of “Money, Money, Money,” “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” “S.O.S.,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “The Winner Takes it All,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “Waterloo,” among the nearly 30 tunes in the show.
More than 54 million people have seen the show in worldwide productions since it opened in London in 1999. It jumped to Broadway two years later, where it’s played more than 5,000 performances and is still going strong. Right now, professional productions are onstage in London, New York, Germany, China, France, Russia, South Korea and Ireland and so far, it’s played in 74 cities and 35 countries on five continents, including Haege’s native Australia.
The North American tour that started in Orlando in early October is headed to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids for a sold-out show Sunday (12/15) and a fast-selling show Monday (12/16).
- Broadway at the Paramount presents “Mamma Mia!”
- 7 p.m. Sunday (12/15) and 7:30 p.m. Monday (12/16)
- Paramount Theatre, Cedar Rapids
- Tickets: $53 – $73
- Tickets available the at Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203
- Show website: Mamma-mia.com
“Number one, the music of ABBA. It’s just so incredible,” she says. “It’s not just fluffy pop — it’s real, intelligently crafted music that’s harmonically complex. The melodies are very hooky and very catchy and very singable. … The music, the lyrics — that’s number one of why it’s so successful.
“Number two, the book and the marriage of the storyline to the songs and lyrics is incredible. It’s like it was meant to be.
“And thirdly, people come and they leave so much happier. They’re going to leave in such a great mood, so buoyed up by this stage show, with everything from the lighting to the costumes, the songs, the dancing. It’s just so much fun. There’s a lot of great jokes — very clever, funny jokes,” she says.
“And you get to see these relationships played out — young lovers, older lovers, female friends, male bonding, mother/daughter — all these different relationships, so there’s something for every generation and every gender. And for the men, there’s some lovely ladies to look at, and the same for the women.
“It’s a spectacle, a real stage spectacle, and I think that’s why it’s been so successful. It’s just so much fun,” she says. “Literally, we never have a show where people aren’t up on their feet by the end. We’ve done like 60, 70 shows by now, and every single show, people are up. Old, young, everyone’s up. And if they’re not standing, they’re clapping. We just have such a great reaction.”
It’s the quintessential theatrical escape, she says.
“You come to just be taken out of your own world and put in a little bubble for 2 ½ hours — to have the best entertaining time that might take you to the gamut of emotions, from the little tear at this mother/daughter relationship that she’s reflecting on, to the thrill of the love to the heartbreak,” Haege says. “That’s what theater is.”
A soprano, Haege studied music all through high school and college, and too shy to audition for a leading role, had her first stage experience in the chorus of “Guys and Dolls” at age 15.
She left the harbor lights of Sydney for the neon lights of Manhattan in 2002, where she’s been a recording singer for Meatloaf and other artists, fronted her own punk-pop and disco-pop bands, recorded jingles, voiced videos and appeared in new, cutting-edge plays.
“Most of my resume is not the typical plays that get done every year, which are fantastic,” she says, “but I’ve tended to do the new, original works that have been quite avant garde, pushing boundaries. I really like that.
“I like originating roles, so that’s been really fun, but getting to do things like a well-known role is such a thrill, because you’re doing something that people know, people love and they identify with,” she says of her “Mamma Mia!” experience.
While she still has that Aussie lilt to her speaking voice, she says she can easily slip into an American accent. She grew up with American movies and television shows, so it’s been in her ear all her life, and she’s lived in the States for more than a decade, where she’s surrounded by the sounds of her American girlfriends and the men she’s dated. She’s so thoroughly immersed that she sometimes wonders in the middle of a show if she’s still using her “American” accent.
“It’s become second-nature,” she says, “because the lines are the same every night. They’re in my mouth, they’re in my muscles, so I really have to think, ‘Georgia, you’re fine. You’re American.’ ”
And in 2 ½ years, she’ll be able to become an American citizen, but won’t have to turn her back on her heritage.
“I have a green card now, so I’m almost an official American,” she says. “It’s tricky to stay in the States when you’re a foreigner. … I love Australia and I’ll never renounce that citizenship, but I can do both, so that’s what I’m going to do.
And then she adds with a laugh: “I keep dating Canadian men, so they can’t help me by marrying me.”