Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you?
When I learned that California Musical Theater was bringing back "Mamma Mia" for the third time in five years, I wondered why. When I saw the line up to get into the Community Center and learned that the show is all but sold out, I guessed why.
When I sat through the show again, I knew why. Yeah, it’s the same old show we saw a couple of years ago, but it’s a darn entertaining one–and any musical that can get an entire audience on its feet clapping and waving their arms in the air is worth seeing again and again. (In fact, the man sitting next to me, who looked like he was in his 70s, said he had already seen it 14 times!)
Though the Swedish singing group ABBA, which burst onto the scene when its song ‘Waterloo" won the Eurovision Song Contest in England in 1974, was "bigger than the Beatles" in Australia when it did its first World tour in 1977, it only had one song ("Dancing Queen") which made it to the top of the charts in the United States. Though big stars everywhere else, the group enjoyed only modest success in this country until the release of its album "ABBA Gold" (after the group had broken up) in the 1990s, when everyone realized that they actually knew most of the songs–they just hadn’t appreciated them before!
In 1999 Catherine Johnson decided to take 22 of the best known ABBA songs (written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus) and weave a story around the lyrics. "Mamma Mia" was born.
In March of 2002, "Mama Mia" became the highest grossing show in North America, taking $3.7 million in a single week. The original cast recording is consistently in the Top 20 of the Billboard Catalog Charts, selling more than 4,000 copies a week in the U.S. alone. It is celebrating six sold-out years at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway and is currently playing record-breaking engagements in Las Vegas and on National Tour in the United States. The original West End production has played more than 3,500 performances and an international tour has played in more than 30 foreign cities. A feature film based on the stage show will be released in July 2008.
The show centers on Donna Sheridan (played by understudy Annie Edgerton on opening night), a single mother raising her daughter Sophie (Rose Sezniak) in a small hotel on "an idyllic Greek island."
Twenty-year old Sophie has decided to marry Sky (Geoffrey Hemingway) and wants her father to give her away. The only problem is–nobody (including Donna) knows who Sophie’s father is. Unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie sends invitations to the three men with whom Donna had a romantic liaison twenty-one years before and the girl hopes to figure out which of them is her real father before the wedding takes place.
Mayhem and merriment ensue.
You don't need a lot of plot in this musical. The songs, which will have the most reluctant toe tapping, and the dazzling choreography by Anthony Van Laast (never let it be said that one cannot tap dance while wearing swim fins) provide all that's necessary for a not to be missed night of theater.
There's not a weak performance in the group. Particularly outstanding are Donna's former singing partners, Tanya (Michelle Elizabeth Dawson) and Rosie (Kittra Wynn Coomer), delightful comediennes. It's hard to know which is funnier--watching the tall, distinguished, somewhat bored Tanya take a pratfall or the more robust Rosie trying to fit into her old costume.
Sophie's possible fathers are also a wonderful set of performers. Michael Aaron Lindner was Harry Bright (whose ability--or desire--to father any child we question immediately),Martin Kildare was the Aussie adventurer Bill Austin, and John Hemphill was Sam Carmichael, Donna’s true love, who left her 20 years ago to return to the states to marry his fiancée.
Laast’s choreography is a delight, incorporating things like having heads pop over a wall to join in when one character is supposedly singing a song alone, or, with assistance from lighting designer Howard Harrison, have the customers in the taverna join in on a chorus when they are bathed in light, but then return to the shadows for the rest of the song.
Much of the fun in this show comes from trying to decide which of the ABBA songs (printed in alphabetical, not chronological order in the program) is going to pop up next. The cast is also taking donations for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and will be collecting donations in the lobby after the show, offering several one-of-a-kind souvenirs and the opportunity to be photographed with two of the costumed stars of the show.
Do I recommend this show? Of course I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.