Broadway’s hit sensation Mamma Mia! started its week long run (November 2-6) at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre last night. They brought the spandex, the ABBA anthems and enough estrogen to sink a ship.
Mamma Mia! is a musical whose story is carefully constructed around ABBA songs. Yes the Swedish pop group who kept disco balls spinning through the 70s. It tells the story of Sophie (Chloe Tucker) who is busily preparing for her wedding weekend on the Greek island of Calicos by stirring up all kinds of mischief. You see her fiercely independent mother Donna (Kaye Tuckerman), who has never been married and wears that fact like a badge of honor, has never revealed to Sophie exactly who her father is. Sophie stumbles across a long lost diary of her mom’s dating back to the year before she was born. Not only does she discover her mom was a slut — er, I think they were referred to as sexually adventurous in the 70s — but she pinpoints the three men who her mom “dot dot dotted” with. Sophie decides to embark on this ill advised father finding expedition on one of the biggest days of her and her mother’s lives. What could possibly go wrong?
As you can probably guess, Donna remembers some of these gents with fondness yet others as scoundrels. Upon their arrival, Sophie tells the trio she’s invited them because her mom is always spilling out tales about her friends from the old days while mom believes they all just randomly popped up on this remote island after 21 years out of some strange consequence. The simple fact that mom’s suitors don’t put their mental calculators to work on first glance of seeing Donna’s daughter or Donna’s buying into this whopper of a story tells me this is one dense island of people or our stories’ basic tenants has some gaping flaws.
Donna’s best friends, Tanya (Alison Ewing) and Rosie (Mary Callanan), have also come in on the ferry for the wedding, and they are drunk on nostalgia. They resurrect the costumes and the memories from their old band Donna and the Dynamos, readying a special one-off performance for Sophie’s big night. With wedding cake pungent in the air and hormones brimming over the edge, its just a matter of time before sparks fly between our new guests which can be a good or bad thing depending on who is starting the fire.
Mamma Mia! is a fun tale of girl power that reintroduced us to the jukebox musical when it first hit the West End in 1999. It has run on Broadway for 10 years recently over taking Miss Saigon as the 10th longest running musical. Mamma Mia! won the Tony and Oliver awards for Best Musical on its debut a decade ago. It was adapted to film in 2008, staring the talents of Meryl Streep and Colin Firth.
You can’t have a true discussion of Mamma Mia! without turning your attention to the vocal stylings of ABBA. ABBA’s songs are the foundation of this musical. Mamma Mia! incorporates all the fan favorites like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “SOS” and of course our title track. Mostly, these songs enhance the story to move it along in a fun way. At times, certain songs feel a bit shoehorned into a context that doesn’t quite fit the storyline. Overall though, its a clever weaving of compositions to underpin this story.
The set design is very minimal. There is a wave background that helps move our days to night and two backdrops serve as the Greek taverna that Donna runs. They get a lot of mileage from these. My only question is why the generic backdrop? The Greek Isles are one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Why not give us the picturesque view of cave house clinging to the cliffs of Santorini? Make it evident why Donna and Sophie have shielded themselves from the mainland to spend their lives in this oceanic paradise.
Mamma Mia’s! touring company features a solid set of actors. Kaye Tuckerman (Donna) really belts out the songs and Mary Callanan, who plays Rosie, was an audience favorite as Donna’s spunky friend who is determined to woo the Ozzie Bill Austin (John-Michael Zuerlein). I guess there is a 20-year statute of limitations on sloppy seconds. Strangely, the only person who had vocal troubles during the performance was Christian Whelan who played Sam Carmichael. Maybe it was just an off night, but his voice didn’t seem on key at times.
Mamma Mia! is a fun musical that is heavy on estrogen and drugged up on ABBA’s finest. It has some story weaknesses that most likely originate from trying to squeeze one band’s catalog of music into a single musical. They aren’t glaring though as you can brush over these problem areas to sufficiently wrap yourself in Sophie’s search for her father, rooting through the men of her mother’s past. In the process, she finds what she was looking for all along.
Join Sophie in her search for the man to march her down the aisle in this lively evening full of singing, dancing and laughing. Be sure to stick around for the finale that follows the cast’s final bows. In full 70s jumpsuits, Donna and the Dynamos give an extended concert, performing some of the nights biggest hits with special guests.
Author: Mark Runyon