By Gary Murray
Starring Kaye Tuckerman, Chloe Tucker, Mary Callanan, Allison Ewing, Paul Deboy and Christian Whelan
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
ABBA is one of the most successful musical groups in the world. Back in the 1970’s they were the biggest import from Sweden, a monster act that generated 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.
But the music of ABBA didn’t stop. The pop and disco tunes have been a staple of radio in the decades following their reign. Producer Judy Craymer and director Catherine Johnson have crafted the tunes of ABBA in a worldwide phenomenon called Mamma Mia!
The story starts with a prologue three months before a major event at an island off the coast of Greece. Young Sophie (Chloe Tucker) is planning to get married in a few months. Though she loves her free-spirited mother Donna (Kaye Tuckerman), Sophie wants to know the identity of her father. Mother has never mentioned who sired her and 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.
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. Donna’s two best buddies and back-up singers Tanya (Alison Ewing) and Rosie (Mary Callanan) 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. None have had the best experiences in the last two decades since being in Donna’s life but all still have fond memories of the time at the island. 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 that brought the audience to their feet. It becomes a much more comic version of the song.
As the play goes along, webs of deceit begin to spin. Sophie’s motives become clearer and her man Sky (Happy Mahaney) is disappointed by the actions of his future bride. He is hurt that she cannot accept things for the way they are.
Old tensions build as Sophie learns the details of each man. The night before the wedding, each man suspects that he is the father and insists on giving away the bride. It becomes a biggest dilemma than Sophie imagined.
The Second Act 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 is a fun little diversion that puts a bit of whimsy into the work.
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”. Much like a Shakespearean play, the different elements tie up into a perfect little bow. After the play, there is an encore of ABBA tunes which include “Mamma Mia!”, “Dancing Queen” and my person favorite “Waterloo”.
The songs are staples of oldies radio and as familiar as American Standards from hit old style Broadway shows. The audience sang along with the cast as if they were at a beloved classic rock concert. The framing of a musical makes the songs fit into a different form but the tunes come across as if one were visiting an old friend.
Mary Callanan and Allison Ewing stole every moment they were on stage. As secondary characters, the two talented actresses find perfect moments to steal laughs and catch the limelight. They play off of each other with colorful aplomb.
Chloe Tucker is the lynchpin and the most important character of the work. She has to keep all the elements in the air while trying to keep everyone happy. The young woman is a one person dynamo, a crackerjack performer who makes the role her own. This is the kind of role that should be noticed all the way to the Great White Way.
Kaye Tuckerman looks way too young to have an adult daughter but the role requires a stamina that an older performer would not possess. This woman can belt out tune after tune with a forcefulness seldom seen on the Music Hall stage. My only complaint with the entire work is the opening costume of Tuckerman. It looked like a reject from Tom Sawyer, not something worn on a Greek paradise.
Mamma Mia! is a joy to experience and one of the best times one can have in the theater. It is a must see performance that only plays for a week at The Music Hall at Fair Park. Rush and see it before it takes off to another city.