BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
They say this is the end, so we’ll take their word for it.
Our last opportunity to (quietly) sing along to “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me” and more than a dozen other ABBA songs that (sort of) power the story of “Mamma Mia!”
The farewell tour of the frothy musical — which centers on the Greek Isles wedding of a young girl (Sophie); her former singer mother (Donna) and the question of who among three men is Sophie’s dad — returns to the Fox Theatre Tuesday through June 18.
Though never a critical darling, “Mamma Mia!” nonetheless stormed Broadway from 2001 through 2015, making it the longest-running jukebox musical in Broadway history. In 2008, such celluloid luminaries as Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan burst out their best “The Winner Takes It All” and “Our Last Summer” for a hit film version; a sequel, “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!,” is now in development for release in July 2018.
On the current North American tour, which launched in October and will wrap next month in St. Louis, Sophie’s paramour Sky is portrayed by Roswell native Dustin Harris Smith. The charismatic actor attended North Springs High School (now North Springs Charter High School of Arts and Sciences), performed in numerous local productions, including on the Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage in 2008’s “Bat Boy,” and graduated from New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts.
Smith, whose family still lives here, talked to us during a recent tour break about playing Sky on this tour — first as an understudy, now as the lead — the continued allure of ABBA and where he hopes to visit while he’s home.
Q: Having grown up in Atlanta, I imagine it will be cool to stand on stage at the Fox.
A: I always frequented the Fox and it, specifically, has been my dream. It’s going to be amazing. I probably saw six or seven musicals there over the years. When I saw that the Fox was on our schedule, I was like, I don’t care what (other shows I might book), I will be there for that show.
Q: Is there a feeling of sadness since this is the farewell tour?
A: As soon as it was announced as the farewell, that was pretty sad. “Mamma Mia!” has been around for almost two decades, so we’re super sad to see it go. It will still be around on the cruise ships and there is a tour going to Europe, but as far as the original Broadway show and choreography, this is it. I’m very humbled to be doing this, as well as incredibly sad to see it go.
Q: Since you’re in your 20s, I’m going to guess you didn’t know a lot about ABBA’s music before the show.
A: (Laughs) I knew “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia,” but I hadn’t really heard a lot of these songs before. Now that I’m in the show, I hear all the songs all the time, like, I was in the dentist office and “SOS” was playing.
Q: Before “Mamma Mia!,” you were in (Green Day’s) “American Idiot.” That’s quite a shift in musical tone.
A: I love them in their own special ways. “American Idiot” has a very strong pointed message, and a lot of people might not agree with it. I enjoyed the message it was putting out, but I can see why sometimes those musicals aren’t bringing in everybody. “Mamma Mia!” isn’t polarizing in any sense. Parents don’t have to ask, “Can I bring my kids?” There is a certain level of mature themes, but a lot of that goes over the kids’ heads. My favorite part of the show is seeing people dressed up; in Fort Lauderdale, there were about 20 older sorority girls and all wore boas and jumpsuits. I love to see that level of commitment. If they’re singing and dancing in the aisle, that’s the best thing.
Q: Now they’re preparing a second “Mamma Mia!” film. What is it about this show and story that you think has turned it into a modern classic and kept it on Broadway for 14 years?
A: It’s like an old friend that you haven’t seen in forever, that you used to go out dancing with and shows up at your door and is like, you want to go again? And you do! People remember these songs because they’re so catchy. It’s a universal story. It’s accessible. As far as jukebox musicals go, this one stood the test of time. There’s a huge level of escapism.
Q: What is it about Sky that you like to play?
A: I can have my own level of goofiness. He used to work in Wall Street, and he left to get out of town and find a different lifestyle. His lines and character afforded him to not being that regimented Wall Street type. I’m a pretty goofy person, I’m a fun-loving kind of dude, so I can appreciate that’s an extension of me.
Q: How is it walking around in those flippers (during “Lay All Your Love on Me”)?
A: (Laughs) Surprisingly easy. I don’t know if it’s because of the time I’ve spent in them and I’m just jaded. I’m a pro at faux scuba diving. The hardest part of the show has to be putting on the wet suit … while singing. It’s terrifying. But (walking in flippers) is easy as long as you pick up your heel.
Q: Once you get to Atlanta for the show, where do you have to go back and visit?
A: My favorite places to go are Café Intermezzo and I’ve been to the (Georgia) Aquarium multiple times; you can never go too many times there. And I like to go to the Varsity for the experience.
7:30 p.m. June 13-15; 8 p.m. June 16; 2 and 8 p.m. June 17; 1 and 6:30 p.m. June 18. $30-$125. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, www.foxtheatre.org.