Not knowing you: BPA’s ’Mamma Mia!’ is ‘not your grandma’s’ classic

My my, how can I resist you?

Clearly, it’s a problem.

After a reportedly record high turnout of hopefuls at tryouts, the hotly anticipated imminent Bainbridge Performing Arts production of “Mamma Mia!” has emerged as a new twist of the beloved classic.

Helmed by Troy Wageman, also the choreographer (and making his BPA directorial debut), the ABBA-inspired West End-born musical theater staple will feature several twists for the island iteration, which opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3.

Hannah Knap-Jenkins stars as Sophie, who, days before her impending wedding, sends an invitation to each of her three possible fathers after reading her mother’s diary to discover the identity of the candidates.

Her mother, Donna, is played by Olivia Lee. And the three possible papas are portrayed by Wayne Purves, Timothy Glynn and Matt Eldridge.

One of several regional revivals of the show this year, BPA’s version features at least one gender swap and a slight change of venue.

“It’s not your grandma’s ‘Mamma Mia!’” Wageman said. “I wanted to make sure that we weren’t giving the same production that you’re going to see everywhere else.”

A story as familiar as this one — made even more so by the 2008 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep — lends itself well to thoughtful updates, the director said.

“At its surface it is a bunch of very fake characters that are very one-dimensional,” he said. “I wanted to make sure this production, we were sitting watching a show we’d never seen before, that we were able to see real people. And that was really important to me; that we were able to see real people and not the stereotypical casting that you’ve seen.”

Hence the character of Tanya (played by Ryan McCabe) is now a man — a fabulous drag queen, in fact — and the central taverna houses a rocking karaoke bar (“Because how many people sing ABBA in a karaoke bar?” Wageman asked).

“Innately [it] makes complete sense with the show and music because drag queens have been doing ABBA music since the beginning,” he explained. “Two things. One, I had a performer in mind that I knew could do it. And two, I kind of wanted to honor that drag queens used to do ABBA music.”

Eldridge, who plays Harry (the Colin Firth part in the 2008 movie adaptation), said it was a project he was immediately attracted to.

“Who hasn’t wanted to be Colin Firth at some point?” he said. “I feel like it’s kind of a dream role in that way.”

Also, he’s an ABBA fan from way back.

“[‘ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits’] was actually my very first album that I ever bought,” Eldridge said. “My parents took a friend along with me on a vacation and one day at Safeway they gave us each five dollars and said you can buy a cassette album. My friend got Def Leppard and I got ABBA’s greatest hits.

“We listened to those two albums, I kid you not, like probably 100 times over the course of 10 days,” he said. “My parents were so sick of it, but I was totally hooked.”

ABBA, an ubiquitous presence of FM radio for nigh three decades now, is quietly beloved, the director concurred.

“I don’t think you realize you love ABBA,” Wageman said. “My grandparents used to have one of those really big consul TVs with the record player on one side and the 8-track and the stereo in the other side, and one of the only records that would work on that thing was ABBA, their ‘Gold’ album. This music’s just always been in my blood.”

And it is, almost literally, the star of the show.

“They never stunt-casted this show,” Wageman said. “It just ran on its own; the stunt casting was that it was ABBA music. So they never had to throw stars into it on Broadway and it’s still had this longevity.

“My collaborators and myself, we have not been able to figure that out,” he added. “We talk about it and we wonder how it ran for 13 years on Broadway. It is remarkable that they were able to create this story around their music and they were able to figure that out. And what is really, really fascinating is that it’s one of the very first actually successful jukebox musicals that has a pretty involved plot.”

A plot that focuses on relationships, especially the familial kind, which cast member Michelle Abad (who plays Rosie, one of the titular Dynamos — do not call them backup singers! — of Donna and the Dynamos, Sophie’s mother’s disbanded girl group) said is, beyond even the music, the key to the show’s continued popularity.

“Especially mothers and daughters … I feel like they connect with it more,” she said.

The team has worked hard, she said, to make those relationships, some supposedly life-long in the show, believable on stage.

“I’ve loved working with this team; this team in particular is the big draw for me,” she said. “It’s so weird because we’re trying to create characters that have known each other for years so it’s hard in a sense to create relationships so quickly, but I feel like … we’ve clicked quite well. We all know what needs to be done and we’re able to do that, we trust each other to have things done.”

Evening shows are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. The show runs from Friday, May 3 to Sunday, May 19.

The run includes a special pay-what-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2 and the opening night reception is 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 3.

Tickets, $29 for adults, $24 for seniors, students, youth, military, and teachers, may be purchased online at, by phone at 206-842-8569, or in person at BPA (200 Madison Ave. North).

BPA box office hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and one hour prior to each performance. Also, “First Saturday” teen tickets are just $5 at the box office on the first Saturday of the run.