Saturday, December 3, 2016

Farewell to 'Mamma' at Gammage

Dustin Harris Smith and Lizzie Markson
photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
by Jennifer Haaland

My, my!  Here we go again.  But this time, Lizzie Markson is the name of the game.  When the national Mamma Mia farewell tour arrives at ASU Gammage next week, newcomer Markson leads the cast as young Sophie.

Like a high school buddy, Mamma Mia revives memories and laughter. The jukebox musical that celebrates the best of Swedish rock group ABBA has visited often in past years. Closing its fourteen year run on Broadway last fall, the show is a well known one. Frequent, happy audience sing-alongs erupt spontaneously each night to the chart-topping tunes.

It was new, however, to recent Elon University MFA (Master of Fine Arts) performance graduate Markson.  The show's casting director spotted Markson during mock auditions on campus her senior year.

"I'm actually kind of grateful to not have seen it," Markson said in an interview with PHX Stages yesterday.

She noted the cast receives frequent comments about how fresh and alive the production is. Having never seen the the show before she starred in it, her character interpretation has the opportunity to bring new energy and perspective to lyrics and lines that might otherwise risk becoming stale.

"Sophie feeds into an aspect of me that has a child-like optimism," said Markson with a cute self aware giggle as she ended the thought with, "the part of me that hopes for the best and doesn't think about consequences until she has to."

Her website describes Markson as ''bubbly, bold and zealous" which sounds just about right for the leading lady whose character is on the blissful brink of marriage but without a paternal figure to give her away.

Chloe Kounadis, Lizzie Markson, Niki Badua
photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia
"From an acting standpoint, it's probably hardest to identify with wondering who my dad is," Markson shared, "But at the core, Sophie is someone who wants to feel loved... and of course we can all identify with craving love."

She took the idea of being loved a step further as she talked about the recent divisive climate across the country.  Acceptance and belonging, to Markson, are emotions we need and that Mamma Mia offers.

"Today, more than ever, people can really use the escape and joy that is Mamma Mia. We (the cast and crew) are eager and grateful to be doing this. We have an energy that transmits to the audience as a palpable joy."

Within "the joyousness that lives in this show" Markson finds a particular seasonal message embedded as well.  "There's a theme of being grateful for what you have and not getting caught up in searching for what might be missing. That's a good thing to remember during the holidays, too."

The whole conversation called to mind the lyrics of one of the musical's numbers.  It's fitting particularly because Mamma Mia's touring days are coming to an end. The new blood of Markson and her cast-mates are ushering the show out with as much passionate energy as the opening cast provided Broadway at the turn of the century.

"Thank you for the music," ring the words of  the cover title from ABBA's 1983 album, "for all the joy it's [still, 30 years later,] bringing."

Mamma Mia plays at ASU Gammage from Tuesday December 6th through Sunday December 11th - www.asugammage.com

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