Dee Hoty was appearing on Broadway in Footloose when a friend returned from a London vacation and told her what her next job would be. “She said, ‘You won’t believe it. It’s a show with all Abba music, called Mamma Mia!,’” Hoty remembers. “I went, ‘Get outta here. Abba? Are you kidding me?’ And she said, ‘I know, I know. But we were sucked out of our seats — laughing, jumping, bopping, dancing. I’ve never had so much fun. And the role of Donna is your next part.’ I thought, ‘Okay. Whatever.’”
That incredulous response would likely be the reaction of most theatregoers familiar with Hoty’s work. She is best known for playing witty, worldly women, most memorably in City of Angels as Alaura Kingsley and in the 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse production of Follies as Phyllis Stone. Her innate elegance and exquisite cheekbones scream upscale, sophisticated lady. Yet, just as her friend predicted, Hoty has embraced the role of former-rock-singer-turned-earth-mother-living- on-a-Greek-Island, leading one of two national Mamma Mia! tours for over a year.
“When was the last time you got to jump around with your girlfriends and sing into a hairbrush?” asks the three-time Tony nominee. “In many ways, the role is a departure for me. But it’s a great role. And let’s face it: They don’t write much for women of a certain age anymore. They’re not writing Mame and Hello, Dolly! anymore. I’m not quite sure why that is because I think women are so much more interesting when they’re past 40.”
Initially, Hoty was asked to audition for the part of Tanya, Donna’s thrice married, bejeweled, wisecracking friend. “But Donna was much more interesting to me,” says Hoty, “because I never get to play someone closer to myself. I don’t mean that I’m like the character. But there’s something very genuine about her, and one of the hardest things to do onstage is to be real and honest and not hide behind too much jewelry and a big bouffant hairdo. It’s just more of a challenge.”
Of all the songs she sings in the show, the one that means the most to Hoty is “Slipping Through My Fingers.” “You don’t have to have a child to feel the emotion,” she says. “You could be singing of your own life. You turn around and you’re 20, you turn around and you’re old. I have always found that remarkable; even as a child, I think I knew that you don’t pass this way again. Life is so precious — look what happened to us in the last year.” Hoty discovered that the life-affirming joy of Mamma Mia! was even more appreciated following Septem-er 11. “There have always been people at the stage door and autograph seekers and fan mail,” she says. “But right after Sept. 11, for several months what we heard was ‘Thank you. Thank you for doing this. This is what we need now.’ It’s been such a gift to be an actor this year.”