MAMMA MIA!–The Musical

MAMMA MIA!

By Gary Murray

Starring Geogia Kate Haege and Chelsea Williams

Book by Catherine Johnson

Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA and some songs with Stig Anderson

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

 

This is the fourth time I’ve seen the play Mamma Mia! and it never gets old.  With music from one of the most successful musical groups in the world ABBA, this is the jukebox musical of jukebox musicals.  It is the kind of musical where audience members sing-along from the first note.  It is a part of the Dallas year-long Summer Musical Season and plays at the Music Hall at Fair Park.

Back in the 1970’s ABBA was the biggest import from Sweden, a monster act that generated global success.   By winning a European singing competition, the group began a massive run of world-wide hits.  But, by the 1980’s, tastes had changed and the group stopped.  Leaders Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus still work together just not with the other members of the group.   They created the musical Chess but Mamma Mia! is the warhorse that keeps their music front and center for a new audience.

The story of Mamma Mia! feels like a Shakespearian Comedy and starts with a prologue three months before a major event. The setting is an island off the coast of Greece.   It is an ideal place, full of lazy days and smoldering romance.  

Twenty year old Sophie Sheridan (Chelsea Williams) is planning to get married in a few months.  Though she loves her spirited mother Donna (Georgia Kate Haege), Sophie wants to know the identity of her father.   Mother has never mentioned who sired her and (by reading Mom’s diary–dot…dot…dot…) Sophie has narrowed it down to three different men.  While singing “Honey, Honey”, she decides to invite all three to her wedding so she can figure out who her biological father is.  She figures that the minute she sees the man, she will know who her father is.

The main part of the play takes place during the wedding weekend.  Donna is getting her small hotel ready for the nuptial, a wedding she does not accept.  She was a free-wheeling woman, a rock and roll diva, and does not understand Sophie and her desire to marry and marry so young. 

Donna’s two best buddies and back-up singers Tanya (Gabrielle Mirabella) and Rosie (Carla Sakolove) are in town for the wedding.  This trio belt out “Money, Money, Money”.  We get the idea that these women were a trio of men-eaters a few years back.

Eventually the three men show up, all a bit surprised that they are invited back to the island.  All still have fond memories of the time at the island and even fonder memories of a night spend with Donna.   None have had the best experiences in the last two decades since being in Donna’s life but have trudged along.  This melancholia is represented by “Thank You for the Music”, a very tuneful little song. 

The biggest part of Act One is Donna and the Dynamos singing “Dancing Queen”.  The three singers take the massive disco hit and give it a Broadway spin but it feels more as if they are going for rote than delivering this colossal song.  It should have been the show-stopper and just didn’t measure up.

As the play goes along, webs of deceit begin to spin.  Sophie’s motives become clearer and her man Sky (Chris Stevens) is disappointed by the actions of his future bride.  He is hurt that she cannot accept things for the way they are.   Under the performance of Chelsea Williams, this becomes her talent showcase.

The Second Act is where the play finally takes off.  The other actors finally find some spark and it starts with a cleaver dream sequence where Sophie has to confront everything that has happened in the last day.  “Under Attack’ is the song done with the cast in snorkeling gear.  It becomes a flashy diversion number.

The play builds to the wedding and the confrontation of all the major themes of paternity.  Along the way, we get the hits “SOS”.  “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Does Your Mother Know”.  Of the three, “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” was the true show-stopping moment.  It delivers the knock-out punch that the work so desperately needed in the First Act.

Much like a Shakespearean Comedy play, the different elements tie up into a perfect little bow.  After the play, there is an encore of ABBA tunes which include “Dancing Queen” and my person favorite “Waterloo”.

Of the entire cast, the true standout is Chelsea Williams.  This young actress brings both strong acting chops and a solid voice to the show.  Over and over again, she saves the play from becoming maudlin.  This actress has the ability to be a Broadway sensation and some casting agent in NYC needs to take a look at her.  Her singing is strong and pure and she makes the most of the emotional scenes.  She is the biggest reason to see this show.

Geogia Kate Haege, Gabrielle Mirabella and Carla Sakolove all seem to be having fun with their roles but they also perform them as if they have done it a million times before.  Some fresh tuning with the cast would make the entire experience feel more spontaneous and less rote.

The set is basically the same set used in previous versions, with spinning moving pieces.  The lighting has been updated and it feels much more like rock concert lighting than play lighting.  It is bright and fulfilling. 

Mamma Mia! – The Musical is a joy to experience and one of the best times one can have in the theater.  This version almost lives up to that legacy.   It has always been a must-see musical event and this version is a joyous entertainment that will keep theater patrons satiated until September.

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