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Interview: One of the Leads From "Mamma Mia" Talks About the Power of Abba 

Playing at the Altria Theater, July 25 and 26

click to enlarge The cast of the long-running hit musical, “Mamma Mia” gets its Abba on during a big number. The show runs for two nights at the Altria Theater.

Kevin Thomas Garcia

The cast of the long-running hit musical, “Mamma Mia” gets its Abba on during a big number. The show runs for two nights at the Altria Theater.

In the final stretch of its 15-year North American touring production, “Mamma Mia” has taken singer Marc Cornes to theaters, casinos and even Canadian hockey arenas.

For Canadian cities where there isn’t a large enough theater, hockey arenas sometimes play host to touring Broadway shows.

“It’s interesting to play in a hockey rink, where people are 3 feet in front of you,” he says. “You have to watch for puddles of water where there was ice, but they have a false stage that they bring up, and it does look like an actual theatrical production.”

Since it debuted in London’s West End in 1999, “Mamma Mia” has proved one of the most financially successful musicals in history, grossing more than $2 billion worldwide and becoming a hit movie starring Meryl Streep. The jukebox musical is based on the music of Swedish pop group Abba, weaving songs like “Dancing Queen” and “The Winner Takes It All” through its plot.

“Mamma Mia” comes full circle for Cornes. It’s the favorite musical of the man who taught him how to sing when he was a child. .

“It’s been really special,” Cornes says. “Everybody loves Abba. The music’s very nostalgic for people. It takes them back to a time when they were happy or they were loved.”

The musical’s story follows Sophie, a young woman who’s about to get married on a Greek island. Raised by a single mother, Sophie has long wondered about the identity of her father. She discovers her mother’s old diary and learns that three men could be potential candidates. She invites the trio to her wedding to determine which one is her father, unbeknownst to her mother. “The story’s very simple,” he says. “It’s about a young girl trying to find out who she is, and I think everyone can relate to that.”

In the production at the Altria Theatre next week, Cornes plays Bill Austin, a travel writer and adventurer, who is one of Sophie’s prospective fathers. “He kind of goes where the wind takes him,” he says of his character. “He travels the world with all his worldly possessions. He is always down for whatever’s coming next, so when he comes to the island, he’s totally game for what’s going to happen.”

Although Cornes also toured in the Peter Pan-themed hit Broadway show, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” he says the audience reaction to “Mamma Mia” is an entirely different beast. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” he says. “I met a woman last week who’s seen the show 115 times — so people definitely love it.”

He’ll perform the show 280 times by the end of the year and says he’s yet to grow weary of the music. In fact, performing in the show has made Cornes more of an Abba fan. “Every night I find something new and I find something fun about the songs, something I hadn’t heard before,” he says. “‘Mamma Mia’ is just a fun show. It brings joy to anyone who sees it.”

Richmond is this production’s last stop before its final five shows in St. Louis later in the month.

“The show means so much for so many people. They sing along, they clap along, people bring boas,” Cornes says. “The energy coming from the audience is overwhelming at times, in the best way possible. People are just so into it and just so happy.” S

“Mamma Mia” plays July 25 and 26 at the Altria Theater at 6 N. Laurel St. For information visit broadwayinrichmond.com.

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