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Cast takes a chance on Salt Lake City by returning for PTC's 'Mamma Mia'

SALT LAKE CITY — As a fully professional theater company that produces seven shows a season, Pioneer Theatre Company is a revolving door for actors and actresses from across the country.

For some actors, scheduling conflicts and each season's casting requirements keep them from returning to the bright lights of Lees Main Stage at the Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre. But for 22 of the 26 cast members in the company's May 11-26 "Mamma Mia!" production, performing at the theater will be a homecoming of sorts, as all but four of "Mamma Mia's" cast has previously performed in at least one other PTC production.

Aidan Wharton as Sky, left, and Kathryn Brunner as Sophie in Pioneer Theatre Company's

Brent Uberty

Aidan Wharton as Sky, left, and Kathryn Brunner as Sophie in Pioneer Theatre Company's "Mamma Mia!" The show runs May 11-26.

"It's kind of extraordinary. I've never had that experience before," said Brian Sutherland, who plays Sam Carmichael in the show. "It's a testament to how well they run the theater — people want to come back here."

Based out of New York City, Sutherland first performed at PTC in 1986 in a production of "Kiss Me Kate," and made his return 28 years later with the 2014 production of "Peter and the Starcatcher." Sutherland had friends working as director (Jenn Thompson) and choreographer (Patricia Wilcox) on the production — and he knew PTC's artistic director from working with her years before in Indiana — which he said made "Peter and the Starcatcher" a "family event" of sorts.

"It's the rare experience in show business where you get to work with people who are your friends … so whenever I get that chance, I kind of leap at it," Sutherland said.

Colleen Sexton, who plays Donna Sheridan and appeared in last year's concert version of "Chess," was also drawn back to PTC by the thought of her possible collaborators.

"Everything about (PTC) — the stage, the crew, the costumers, the sound people, the whole creative staff — is just so wonderful," she said. "They work so hard."

Sexton's desire to audition for "Mamma Mia!" speaks to the music's popularity. The show is filled with classic ABBA tunes such as "Dancing Queen," "S.O.S." and "Take a Chance on Me." In 2008, midway through the jukebox musical's 14-year run, it got a big-screen adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, which grossed more than $471 million worldwide and spawned a sequel slated for release this July.

Music Theatre International began licensing the show to professional regional theaters after its Broadway run ended in 2015. (MTI just opened up licensing to amateur theater companies at the end of April, which means we'll be seeing even more "Mamma Mia!" in the years to come.)

The musical, with music and lyrics by ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and book by Catherine Johnson, tells the story of a young woman who wants to invite the father she's never known to her wedding. But since she doesn't know which of her mother's three former boyfriends is her father, she invites all three, resulting in a complicated blast from the past for her mother.

Sexton said the cast of characters — from the three potential fathers to the "strong-willed" single mom Donna — are part of what makes the show relatable.

Coleen Sexton as Donna in Pioneer Theatre Company's

Brent Uberty

Coleen Sexton as Donna in Pioneer Theatre Company's "Mamma Mia!"

"Every character is different," she said. "Each one of them brings something special to the show."

Aside from the characters, Sutherland said, "Mamma Mia!" draws audiences for two other basic reasons: its lighthearted spirit and recognizable music.

"It's a really light and frothy just kind of feel-good piece … (and) there is something familiar and very comforting about all that music," he said.

The lighthearted end "Mamma Mia!" brings to PTC's season — which included dramas "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and "Twelfth Night," as well as the world premiere of "/i/" — is a testament to the company's eclecticism, a quality Sutherland admires about PTC.

"When (a theater company) is doing that and making a successful run at it and giving (audiences) that kind of experience, I think it's beneficial for everybody," he said. "(It's) another reason that goes on to the list where I would gladly come back to Pioneer. They're just the rare theater that's doing it beautifully on all levels."

If you go …

What: Pioneer Theatre Company's "Mamma Mia!"

When: May 11-26, dates and times vary

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East

How much: $42-$69

Phone: 801-581-6961

Web: pioneertheatre.org