“I have been a fan of Abba for years, but for a long time I wasn’t sure how to tell people that,” confesses Jon Gallo, Bay Area pianist and musical director of Mountain Play’s colossal new production of Mamma Mia!,hitting Mt. Tamalpais with a five-weekend run beginning this weekend. “I didn’t tell many people how I felt about Abba until I saw an interview with Danny Elfman, the composer. He was asked what his greatest ‘guilty pleasure’ was, and he said it was listening to the entire Abba collection. I felt a little more validated after that. If a composer as smart and inventive as Danny Elfman can be open about liking Abba, then maybe I should step up and admit I like Abba, too.”
With a laugh, Gallo says that it’s a good thing, too, since Mamma Mia! showcases 23 of Abba’s greatest hits, including “Waterloo,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Money Money Money,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Dancing Queen” and, of course, “Mamma Mia!” The play’s story is admittedly a bit thin, following a free-spirited woman named Donna, who runs a tavern on a Greek island, when she’s suddenly faced with her bohemian past after her daughter, Sophie, invites all three of her possible fathers to give her away at her upcoming wedding.
“OK, this show may not be Shakespeare,” Gallo says, “but you can’t say it’s not a whole bunch of fun. It’s a feel-good story, and that’s a good thing.”
One certainly can’t deny that Mamma Mia! the musical, is a certified world-wide phenomenon.
“Ever since it first appeared,” Gallo says, “Mamma Mia! has developed this huge following of people who gather together to see every production they can. That’s because the songs are so fantastic. I guarantee you, even if you’ve seen Mamma Mia! a dozen times, you will never have seen a production like this one.”
Gallo is a founding member and resident music director of San Francisco’s Bay Area Musicals, a three-year-old company that focuses on presenting lavish musical theater productions with a sense of panache, grandeur and professional expertise. He graduated from Cal Poly, where he studied piano performance. For six years, he’s served as musical director at the Performing Arts Academy in Marin, and is a music teacher at Mount Tamalpais School.
This is his first show as musical director of the Mountain Play, a Marin County institution for more than 100 years. Staged in the massive 4,000-seat Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, the annual Mountain Play show is famous for its enormous casts, its ambitious production values and its lavish costumes, choreography and orchestral support. This summer’s production of Mamma Mia!—written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, and premiered in London in 1999—is directed by Jay Manley, choreographed by Zoe Swenson-Graham, and features performances by Dyan McBride (Donna), Carrie Lyn Brandon (Sophie), Susan Zelinsky and Jennifer McGeorge (Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s best friends), and Tyler McKenna, Sean O’Brien, and David Schiller (Sam, Harry and Bill, Donna’s three former lovers), plus many more.
According to Gallo, if the 30-person cast was not initially all fans of the music of Abba, they are now.
“I honestly think most people have come to have a relationship with Abba’s music. Regardless of how they feel about ‘Dancing Queen,’ there’s no getting around the fact that this is fun, fun music to sing.”
(Click HERE to read the full story in the ‘Pacific Sun’)