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Two actors talk tour magic on 'Mamma Mia!'

The upbeat musical, featuring hit songs by ABBA, comes to Strand Theatre Thursday, March 3.

What does it take to be an actor in a touring production of "Mamma Mia?" Sarah Smith and Ryan M. Hunt, slated to perform the show at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center March 3, talked to us about what it’s like to be part of the long-running musical that blends romance, a Greek wedding and the hit songs of ABBA.

Getting in character

Hunt plays Bill Austin, a travel writer who has returned to the island after 20 years away.

The 36-year-old actor said he’d never seen “Mamma Mia!” until after he was cast. However, he’s been acting all his life and was used to playing a variety of characters.

“I’ve been lucky to have a very diverse career,” he said. “I never play a similar role twice, and I really like that.”

Hunt said his biggest challenge is to add a little extra nuance to a rather outgoing sort of character.

Smith’s character, Rosie Mulligan, is a successful business owner. She ends up having a strong connection to Hunt’s character, Smith said, meaning the two actors share a lot of stage time.

“I think she exemplifies feminism and kind of rejoices in that,” Smith said.

Bonding onstage

Smith and Hunt’s onstage romance has resulted in a real-life friendship, the two actors each said.

It’s a bond that grew especially close after the actors encountered some technical difficulties to a packed theater in Los Angeles. Smith was about to belt out a tune when Hunt, next to her onstage, realized something was wrong.

“Her microphone didn’t work for the scene,” Hunt said. “She does the lion’s share of the singing for the scene, and I know the song’s coming up and her mic is not coming on.”

Smith said she and hunt had to get creative, maneuvering themselves to the edge of the stage in search of the spare microphone kept there. A crew member handed her the microphone, and the audience cheered her on once they heard her voice.

For the rest of the scene, the microphone became a prop both actors shared, Smith said. During one moment, when she is supposed to unbutton Hunt’s shirt, Hunt instinctively took the mic so her hands were free.

“I'm so lucky to have Ryan as a partner," Smith said. "What could have been a really disastrous experience ended up being one of my favorite moments."

Part of something big

Smith knew "Mamma Mia!" has a devoted fan base, she said. But the 36-year-old actor didn't realize just how devoted they were until her her first preview performance in Athens, Georgia.

During one of her songs, there’s a moment where her character has a sudden epiphany and simply stands quietly onstage, Smith said.

“The audience went absolutely crazy, and I realized in that moment that it had nothing to do with me,” she said. “This audience knows what is coming, and is on board and ready for it.”

Hunt said one of the most rewarding parts of acting in "Mamma Mia!" is knowing that the audience is excited to be there and wants it to be a fun show.

“Sometimes we as performers forget that we’re here to help people forget about all of the bad stuff in their lives,” Hunt said. “Every night we get to the finale of the show, and the audience is having so much fun, that’s what I’m most proud of.”

If you go

What: "Mamma Mia!"

Where: Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N George St., York

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March. 3

Tickets: $54 to $85