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"Mamma Mia!" actor Mario Matthews never tires of ABBA, AIDS fight and performing

SAN DIEGO – Most girls dream of having their father walk them down the aisle, but what happens when you have three possible dads? If you are Sophie, you invite them all to the wedding and under no circumstance do you tell mom.

Fans of “Mamma Mia!” already know how this love story plays out, but in case you do not, catch one of eight performances at the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego from May 31 through June 5.

Openly gay cast member Mario Matthews says you will be an ABBA fan by the end of the night, and leave the theater with a spring in your step and joy in your heart.

Matthews speaks with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about his career, his more than 700 “Mamma Mia!” performances, and how he and fellow cast members contribute to fighting AIDS.

The Road to Calicos

As part of the ensemble, Matthews sings and dances in almost every musical number. He laughs before admitting that prior to joining the cast he was not one of the biggest “Mamma Mia!” fans.

“I had not really seen the show, but I had a lot of assumptions and did not think it was my thing,” Matthews said. “When I saw it I realized it is a really fun show. There is a ton of ABBA songs, and they work. As cast members, we love it. You can always find little nuisances, and in different parts we are given liberties, like poses or eight counts of dance beats to do what we feel.”

Matthews credits the minor liberties for being able to maintain his stamina night after night and deliver a dynamic performance for each audience. He was cast after his third audition and has been on tour since 2007, but he has yet to grow weary of the soundtrack.

He laughs at the thought of ABBA songs randomly popping into his head when is not working, because he says it does not happen.

“I’ll be at the grocery store though after a long week of work, or I’ll step into a gay bar, and ‘Dancing Queen’ always seems to come on,” Matthews said. “It can be fun though. It is one of those feel good songs and everyone seems to know the words.”

Although life on the road can take its toll, Matthews has really enjoyed the traveling.

“I do not know why, but when you compare the tour audiences to the Broadway audiences, it is just not the same. It is phenomenal across the country. The response is always overwhelming. People always get up and dance in the aisles. Just last week there was a cute little girl doing it,” he said, adding that those moments make it worthwhile.

Despite the hard work, for a kid who has been singing and dancing since he was 5, this type of role is a dream come true.

“My parents worked regular nine to five jobs, but my younger brother, sister and I have all pursued our own artistic niche. I have always loved singing, dancing, and music. To this day my mom has no idea where I get my signing voice from,” he said.

As a child in Oklahoma, Matthews would serenade the neighborhood from his porch with songs that he cannot recall. The audience then may have been imaginary, but it is real now. He has sung his heart out all over North America and across the Atlantic.

“My favorite ‘Mamma Mia!’ stop has been Toronto because we lived in the city for two months, and San Francisco was also a lot of fun,” he said. “I have been lucky. My first job when I got to NYC was with the international cast of ‘Fame’ and that took me to South Korea for two months as well.”

For now, Matthews will stay on the road with “Mamma Mia!” but his aspirations are to eventually transition into TV and film.

Close to home

Matthews is passionate about raising awareness for two causes - mitochondrial disorders and AIDS. He is one of four children, but during his childhood, he lost a brother to mitochondrial disease.

“When it hits close to home like that you want to continue fighting for a cure,” Matthews said. “At the time my brother passed the disease occurred mostly in children, but now it is happening in adults. So I try to do what I can to raise awareness and spread the word that a cure can be found.”

One day, he believes there will find a cure for AIDS as well. Matthews is extremely proud of being able to contribute to the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS foundation .

“Finding a cure for AIDS is really dear to our heart,” he said. “Twice a year we raise money for the foundation by donating proceeds from the shows, the gift shop, and donations from the audience. Over the last seven years on our tour, we have raised more than $2.8 million for the cause.”

Although San Diego’s “Mamma Mia!” performances are not part of the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS foundation programs, they are still worth supporting, especially if you have ever been in love.

“Yes the bottom line in ‘Mamma Mia!’ is a mother-daughter story with three possible dads, but in the end it’s about finding love,” Matthews said. “Everyone can relate to love, whether it love of yourself, someone else, the love of music – all of it is relatable.”

Mamma Mia!

Matthews said the one scene he still gets excited for is the closing number in Act I – “Voulez Vous.” To watch him perform it, purchase your tickets online .