In “Mamma Mia!” Donna (Kira Lace Hawkins) is surprised when three of her former lovers show up for her daughter’s wedding.  Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
In “Mamma Mia!” Donna (Kira Lace Hawkins) is surprised when three of her former lovers show up for her daughter’s wedding. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
For the third consecutive year, Wagon Wheel Theatre veteran actress Kira Lace Hawkins is taking on a role played by three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep in the movies.

In 2017, at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts, Hawkins played the Witch in “Into The Woods,” which Streep played in the 2014 movie version. In 2018, Hawkins played Francesca Johnson in “The Bridges of Madison County,” which Streep played in the 1995 film version.

And now through July 27 at the Wagon Wheel, Hawkins is taking on the role of Donna Sheridan-Carmichael in “Mamma Mia!,” which Streep played in the 2008 movie.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Hawkins said Donna is the mother in the musical and her daughter, Sophie Sheridan, is getting married. It’s a big event that brings everyone to the island where they reside.

“She has these two girlfriends that come in, and then her daughter Sophie has these two girlfriends who come in, so we really have this kind of three older friends, three younger friends. We have three potential dads coming in that totally surprise Donna. She has no idea that her old flames are coming to the island,” Hawkins said.

Playing one of the potential fathers is Michael Pacholski, who audiences may remember as Jud Fry in “Oklahoma!”

“Sophie doesn’t know who her dad is,” Pacholski said. “She finds her mother’s diary and sees that she has three potential fathers. You have Sam Carmichael, who is American. I play Bill Austin; I’m the Australian adventurer. And then there’s also Harry Bright, who is from Britain, who used to be called Harry Headbanger and played guitar.”

Hawkins said the three men think Donna invited them and that their old friend wants to see them. They don’t suspect that Sophie sent out the invitations.

“And hilarity ensues,” Pacholski said with a big laugh.

Hawkins said the Broadway show and film version are quite similar.

“As far as movies to musicals go, this is one of the most similar to the movie that I’ve been a part of because it was a musical (first). So it’s not like they had to figure out how to put more songs in,” she said.

Pacholski said the show is full of music. And it’s all songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA that hit the top of the charts in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“It’s like an entire ABBA concert,” Hawkins said.

Pacholski said songs had to be cut from the first “Mamma Mia!” film. But a movie sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” was released in 2018 with more of ABBA’s songs.

Hawkins said there are some scenes that are different in the musical from the film. “But the same action still happens, and every character gets their individual storyline with Sophie and Donna. Sophie and Donna have a beautiful relationship,” Pacholski said.

Bailee Endebrock, who played Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain,” plays Sophie.

Hawkins agreed that ABBA being so popular 30-40 years ago helped make the musical popular.

“I think people 100% come to hear the music, maybe to kind of hear it live. It’s novel to hear different voices and to hear it live, and it’s really exciting,” she said.

Pacholski said, “Also, it adds another element. We haven’t sang with the orchestra yet (as of Monday), but the orchestra has been rehearsing and we can tell from in there, just listening to it, it’s going to be such a jam.”

All of the songs have such an energy that audiences will feel it in the house and in their seats, he said.

“I think ABBA was really known for – even when their songs are sad – it’s kind of like happy. Very welcoming,” Hawkins said.

Pacholski said, “It’s always like a power ballad through the emotions.”

Neither one grew up listening to ABBA, but Hawkins said she certainly knew some of the songs.

“I know that my grandpa is particularly a huge fan. So sometimes I would hear it going to my grandparents’,” Hawkins said.

Growing up as a competitive dancer, Pacholski said he heard ABBA music all of the time at competitions and other events.

“But I never personally listened to it,” he said.

Hawkins said it is “absolutely” as fun to sing the ABBA songs as it is to listen to them.

“I think that’s what makes these jukebox musicals so much fun because you’re so used to hearing it, and then to try to emulate that style and to try to bring the song to life in an authentic-to-ABBA way but also authentic to the character you’re trying to play. I think it is a really fun challenge,” Hawkins said.

Pacholski said, “Also cool is, because there’s a lot of action happening on stage within the songs, but there’s also a lot of ensemble backstage singing along.”

“More so than any other musical,” Hawkins said. “... I don’t think there’s a single song where there isn’t a chorus.”

Even if no one grew up listening to ABBA, Hawkins said people know their songs like “Dancing Queen,” “Winner Takes It All” and “Take A Chance On Me.”

“There are just those hits that are a part of our daily lives, really,” she said.

Pacholski said he listens to the oldies station as he drives the 20 minutes back and forth from the theater to where he’s staying for the summer and he hears “Winner Takes It All” almost daily.

“It’s still being played,” he said.

Hawkins said the electronic vibe is making a resurgence, and Pacholski said it stems from the same era as ABBA.

“It really does feel like a concert,” Hawkins said of “Mamma Mia!” “The sheer energy of listening to this music with this kind of audience, interaction – especially at the end of the show there’s a big megamix and everybody just gets to join in and sing. It feels like a concert.

“Also when it comes to musicals, there’s not much scene work, so it really goes fast. If your wife is bugging you about coming to a musical, this might be one to come to because it drives. It’s just entertainment nonstop from beginning to end. And fun dancing. So it’s really a fast-paced kind of deal.”

“Mamma Mia!” is at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts through July 27. Tickets can be purchased through the box office; by calling 574-267-8041 or 866-823-2618; or online at www.wagonwheelcenter.org.