“Mamma mia!” is an Italian expression that conveys in two words the broad range of emotions experienced in life – joy and delight, shock and amazement, weariness and exasperation, worry and fear, pain and sadness.
“Mamma Mia!,” a musical that debuted on Broadway in 2001, tells a story about some of those ups and downs in life through the songs of ABBA that were recorded decades earlier. In the Theatre Victoria production of the musical, the talented Victoria mother-daughter duo, Laura and Kate Klimist, will play the roles of mother and daughter at the Leo J. Welder Center for the Performing Arts from July 26 to Aug. 4.
The setting is a Greek island where a young woman is planning her perfect wedding. The only problem is that her father cannot walk her down the aisle because she does not know who he is. She finds the names of three men who hold the potential to be her father and invites all of them to her island wedding. She is determined to have one of them walk her down the aisle, but finding the right one proves more challenging than she thought.
“When Kate was a little girl, we saw ‘Mamma Mia!’ five or six times, and she said, ‘Mommy, one day you and I are going to do this,” Laura said.
Laura is a dancer who has choreographed routines for the theater for more than 35 years, and Kate, 23, of Malibu, Calif., is an actress, songstress and dancer who grew up around the performing arts all her life and eventually majored in theater at Pepperdine University.
When Theatre Victoria announced plans to produce the musical, Laura called Kate in California to tell her the news, but Kate had too many commitments to return home for auditions. Laura settled happily into her role as choreographer for the musical until she heard from Kate just days before auditions began.
Kate had attended one of her acting classes where she had shared that she passed on an opportunity to perform in one of her favorite musicals with her mother in her hometown in Texas. Her acting coach, Cameron Watson, was dismayed.
“Why aren’t you doing this?” Watson asked Kate. “You might never get an opportunity to do this again.”
Driving home from class, “Slipping Through My Fingers,” one of ABBA’s songs, started playing on the radio.
The song goes: “Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning. Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile, I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness, and I have to sit down for a while. The feeling that I’m losing her forever, and without really entering her world, I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter. That funny little girl.”
Kate started crying and called her mother.
“I need to come home and do the show,” she told her. “I made a mistake.”
Auditions began two days later, so Kate put together a video auditioning for the role of Sophie and sent it to Theatre Victoria, and Laura hastily began preparing to audition for the role of Donna.
“In one regard, it’s surreal, and in another, it’s so emotional because this show is about the relationship between a mother and a daughter,” Laura said. “When I sing the song ‘Slipping Through My Fingers,’ it’s hard to stay focused on what I’m doing because I’ve never made it through the song without bawling my eyes out.”
She said watching Kate grow up and setting her free to do what she needs to do in the world has been difficult for her.
“Kate leaving for school was the hardest moment in my life ... and it happens with everyone everywhere,” Laura said. “I realized my life and hers had changed forever; she was gone at that point, and I don’t think people realize the second a child leaves for college, that moment, life as they knew it is gone forever.”
At the end of the performance, Kate walking away “weighs heavy” on Laura because the scene reminds her of every time they say goodbye at the airport.
“So many times I want to reach out and say, ‘Come home, but I can’t because you have to let them go,’” Laura said. “Hold onto your kids and love them every second because when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Kate called performing in “Mamma Mia!” with her mother a dream.
The banter between mother and daughter in the musical reminds Kate of her relationship with her mother.
“Her mom is her best friend and her whole world,” Kate said. “It’s a special relationship, and that’s what I have with my mom.”
Kate’s boyfriend, Clayton Mattingly, also an actor living in California, decided to audition for the role of Sky, Sophie’s fiance in the musical, so he sent his audition video with Kate’s. Mattingly is from Malakoff, southeast of Dallas, but spent half of each year of his life as a child in California, where he performed in Nickelodeon series “Big Time Rush” and “iCarly.”
“The most fun and hardest part of the show is the ‘Voulez-Vous’ dance because there are a bunch of lifts and super hard partner choreography, and it’s really fast,” Mattingly said. “Everyone is working really hard to get that dance down.”
“Dancing Queen,” “Money, Money, Money” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” are among more than 20 ABBA hits featured in the musical. Michael Teer, executive director of Theatre Victoria and director of the musical, said he is excited because many of the actors are making their theater debuts. Some are traveling from Wharton and Port Lavaca, which makes “Mamma Mia!” a true Coastal Bend production, he said.
“We both fell in love with the show, and it became our show, singing in the car,” Kate said. “It’s an amazing experience that I’m not sure I’ll ever have again in my life – it’s a treasure. I’ve done shows with my mom my whole life, but I’ve never really had the chance to be in a show with her.”