Lauren Kennedy, who stars in N.C. Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!”, loved ABBA when she was a teenager and still recalls dancing in a friend’s basement to the now classic tunes. Rehearsing for the show brought a revelation that many in the audience will share.
“It’s in my fiber, in a weird way,” said the Raleigh native. “I knew all the lyrics, and I didn’t even know I knew all the lyrics.”
Using the framework of ABBA’s hits, “Mamma Mia!” tells the hilarious story of a young woman’s search for her birth father. This sunny tale unfolds on a Greek island where, on the eve of her wedding, a daughter invites three men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago.
Kennedy stars as Donna, the former lead singer of Donna and the Dynamos and mother of the bride-to-be, Sophie. As the producing artistic director for Theatre Raleigh, Kennedy admits she has a lot in common with the show’s lead role.
“I feel like I understand it so well, and I’m hoping that other people will think there’s that ease as well,” she said. “I’m constantly showing up to work not glamorous at all – no makeup, wearing overalls or sweatpants — and rolling up my sleeves and getting stuff done.
“Then I get opportunities like this to go on stage and sort of relive my youth, just like Donna is.”
The performer, who has starred as Eva in “Evita” and Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” among many roles with N.C. Theatre, has also appeared on Broadway as the Lady of the Lake in “Spamalot” and Fantine in “Les Misérables.”
“I’m just pulling right from my personal life,” said Kennedy. “I have a daughter who’s 14, and all those feelings I have about leaving New York and coming to Raleigh to create more of a stable life for her here, to be around family and to get to live my dream as well, it’s such an intense and beautiful parallel for me.”
The show is also immensely fun, she says. In addition to the infectious music and the bigger-than-life costumes, Kennedy gets to perform with her real-life husband Charlie Brady. He plays Sam, one of Sophie’s three possible fathers.
Since the musical was introduced in 1999, audiences have shared Kennedy’s appreciation for the nostalgic musical interludes and the unlikely situations, but she says the show’s deeper truths also resonate.
“Anybody who’s a mother will connect with the show intensely,” she said. “It’s what you do, what you sacrifice to be a mother, and Donna really sacrificed her life to raise her daughter. Yes, it’s told through “Mamma Mia!”, and it’s really silly and out there, but the subject matter is actually pretty intense if you think about it.”
The script is also a tribute to friendships that stand the test of time. One of Kennedy’s favorite musical sequences, “Dancing Queen,” is performed by Donna and her two longtime gal-pals, played by Stephanie Pope (Rosie) and Lulu Picart (Tanya).
“I know it’s a cliched answer, but it was so iconic to me and the way they’ve staged it is so fun,” said Kennedy. “I’m really enjoying working with the other ladies — being on stage with them, just being idiots, doing cartwheels and being pseudo-fabulous.
“That’s a highlight for me in the show.”
“Mamma Mia!” opens 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 17, at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster or by calling (919) 831-6941. nctheatre.com