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Come to 'Mamma' Celebration of ABBA music returns to Shea's

"Mamma Mia!" -- here we go again. And again.

For the fourth time in six years, the immensely popular musical based on the music of Swedish disco outfit ABBA will plant itself at Shea's Performing Arts Center for a six-day run starting Tuesday.

After a film version of the 2001 Broadway show came out last year, an entire new legion of "Mamma Mia!" fans was christened. And according to Shea's, they're clambering for tickets in numbers far higher than expected.

"We would attribute some of that to the movie," said Shea's spokeswoman Lisa Grisanti. But it seems to owe more to the current economy. "People want to be entertained and they know what they're getting for their entertainment dollar," Grisanti added.

The show, for most purposes exactly the same as its previous incarnations in Buffalo (though vastly different from the recent film starring Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski), nonetheless features a fresh cast, led by Rose Sezniak and Susie McMonagle as the show's central characters Sophie and Donna Sheridan.

The show is essentially a showcase for about 25 ABBA hits ("Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," "Voulez-Vouz," "Honey Honey" and so forth) peppered throughout a story of the young Sophie's upcoming wedding on a Greek island, to which she invites three of her mother's former lovers.

Sezniak, who counts "Mamma Mia!" as her big break in musical theater, can't precisely account for the popularity of the show, which currently has at least eight separate international tours and productions running simultaneously.

"We have people come all the time who say that it was like their 15th time," Sezniak said. "Short of my mother, who has come to see me 15 times, I don't know who would want to see the show that many times."

Sezniak said she was skeptical about the production when she first saw it. "I wasn't sure how much I would like it because I thought it would be a cheesy jukebox musical," she said. But she ended up loving it, Sezniak said, because of obvious efforts on the part of its creators to craft the show as a self-consciously sugary pop indulgence.

"I think they took great pains to make it the kind of show that doesn't take itself too seriously," Sezniak said, "and that lets the audience feel it's OK to be silly."

Also featured in the show, as Sophie's fiance, is Geoff Hemingway, who's been with the current tour for a year and a half. And in a bit of serendipity not completely uncommon in long-standing national tours with tight-knit casts, Hemingway and Sezniak are dating offstage as well as in the show. Both will end their time on the road with the show's final performance in Buffalo on Feb. 15, after which they'll return to New York for a little R&R.

"We had this chemistry on the stage and we kind of found that it was there off the stage as well," Hemingway said. "It's as cliche as it gets, but it's funny." And in another curious coincidence, Hemingway's closest friend in real life also plays his closest friend in the show. "I really decided that I'm not a very good actor at all," Hemingway joked about the bizarre parallels between his life onstage and off. "Hopefully I won't have to do a show where I get shot."

"We get comments all the time about our chemistry and how great it is to watch us onstage," Sezniak said, "and I'm sure that's because it's based in truth."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW

WHAT: "Mamma Mia!"

WHEN: Tuesday through Feb. 15

WHERE: Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.

TICKETS: $27.50 to $62.50

INFO: 852-5000 or www.sheas.org

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