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Bombs, fear and "Mamma Mia!"

Hundreds packed into a Karachi theater to see a local cast perform the hit Broadway musical.

In "Mamma Mia!," Choudhry captivated audiences with her vocal range and adaptation of the lead role.

A theater industry by Western standards may be a long way off, but Made for Stage productions, which focuses on commercial, entertaining theater, is working hard to increase its visibility. Its chief sponsorship for "Mamma Mia!" came from McDonald's.

During Zia's time, the only performing arts that were allowed were folk dance and music. Many Pakistani artists were either silenced or went into exile. It’s only in recent years that an effort has been made to make up for lost time.

The National Academy for Performing Arts, Karachi’s main theater academy, largely focuses on more serious performances than "Mamma Mia!" Its latest work was an Urdu language translation of Anton Chekhov’s "The Seagull."

Even if the scale and scope of "Mamma Mia!" was larger, Karachi, a city of anywhere between 9 and 15 million residents (depending whose statistics you believe), a performance in English priced at 1,500 rupees (about $20) can hardly be called a mainstream success.

To the audiences that poured in to watch "Mamma Mia!" every night for 15 nights, that seemed largely irrelevant. A happy humming cacophony of Abba tunes could be distinctly heard in the Karachi sky.

Even the city on alert with Tehrik-e-Taliban setting off bombs in public spaces across the country, didn’t dampen spirits.

Changing the mood in Pakistan — that is partly what drove Butt and her team as they staged "Mamma Mia!"

"Given all this negativity that is reigning supreme in our country, we need pockets of vibrant life and joy," Choudhry said. "On one level it destroys that negativity, it breaks its hold ... I’ve absolutely no issues if the Taliban are around the corner. It makes me want to get on stage even more and shake it out."