By McGee Nall
The Komedija Theatre, a two-minute walk north of the Cathedral of Zagreb, is guarded by concrete walls peppered with graffiti: a contrasting picture with the flock of locals arriving in their dresses and button-downs to see Mamma Mia. Few flat shoes can be spotted – almost every female walking into the theater is wearing heels. Taxis stop at Komedija’s entrance, and women leave the car as gracefully as if exiting a limousine on their way to shoot a Vogue fashion spread. The amount of people pouring into the lobby seems disproportionate with the small two-story structure, but attendees pile through the stone archways and into the 438-seat venue with enthusiasm nonetheless.
There’s an energy, a palpable adrenaline that can only be explained by something exciting and fun about to commence – something like a smash hit musical. After being on a national tour for a decade and being on Broadway for fourteen years, Mamma Mia! has been seen by millions of people. Only a handful, however, have seen the show in Zagreb. From May 6 through June 24, travelers have the opportunity to submerse themselves in the capital’s artistic culture by attending Mamma Mia! at the Komedija.
“Everybody is happy after the performance,” says Mira Medić, Komedija’s secretary, in response to Mamma Mia’s appeal to tourists. “The songs are speaking about life things, so everybody can find themselves in them.”
The show is cast by a professional, local ensemble employed by the theatre. Komedija, which means “comedy” in English, produces two to three comedies or musicals per year, such as Spamalot and Fiddler on the Roof. The venue also stages operettas and original works, their most recent original hit being Jalta Jalta. Playing a staggering 743 performances, Jalta Jalta is a musical about the 1945 conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. Theatregoers who have attended plays in New York or London might be surprised at Komedija’s affordable prices for Broadway-quality productions: Mamma Mia! tickets range from 60-120 Kn, or 10-18 USD.
Every show produced at one of Zagreb’s favorite theatres is in Croatian. Listening to actors sing and act in a different language may be intimidating for tourists. Musicals such as Mamma Mia, however, are fun and exciting ways for travelers to dive into the culture as they simultaneously sink into their seats.
After the curtain call, as hundreds pile into the street and walk towards the main square, a tween confidently steps in front of her mom to whip out her best disco moves, almost as if she was Donna Sheridan wearing those bell-bottoms in the iconic “Dancing Queen” number. Even though the songs were sung in Croatian, everyone – natives and tourists alike – leaves the theatre humming an ABBA song as they stroll home.