home | art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
The musical Mama Mia! is accidentally postmodern. The
structure of the work is fascinating, rather than the "work" itself. As a best
hits cavalcade for the 1970s pop sounds of the Swedish mega-group, ABBA, its a
lively evening of nostalgia. But the storyline of the show is so uninvolving that what
becomes more interesting is the jigsaw puzzle of it, the way this medley of unlikely,
bubblegummy songs find their way into a story.
For anyone who lived (not just lived through) the 70s and 80s, who misses disco in this age of hip hop, Mama Mia is great fun, like a Vegas theme concert. The book, by Catherine Johnson, centers a doozy of a 70s person as the lead of her show. Donna Sheridan (Jeanine Morick) is an expat party-girl turned middle-aged single Mom on a Greek Island, running her own inn.
There is a wedding. Donna's 20-year-old daughter, Sophie, is marrying her boyfriend, Sky, in a day. Mom has invited her best two female friends from the old days while Sophie has invited a singing and dancing bridal party, as well as the three men who might be her father. It is a musical celebrating middle age as much as anything. The story of Donna, who has never left the 70s, makes you feel sorry for her and a little older yourself. This glitzified production doesnt make that bygone time and its catchy pop music more appealing so much as leading to the realization that things havent gotten any better.
Everyone gets their chance to belt out one or two of the ABBA tunes. The hits, like "Chiquitita," "Dancing Queen," and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" predominate. The songs are staged with lots of kidding campy humor, with show-within-a-show theatrics as the bridal party plays, the best friends cut up, and the three potential fathers get to campaign for office. Donna belts her way through a lot of the show, as she is forced to confront the three old lovers on the busiest day of her life, and the men individually realize why they are there.
The manipulative daughter, Sophie, manages to remain sweet and likable, despite all her machinations, because she is the bride, this is the biggest day of her life, and she needs a Dad to walk her down the aisle. There are about three seconds of existential psychodrama when blond-haired Sophie, played like "Laurie" in Oklahoma, by Chilina Kennedy, wonders about her missing father figure. She was probably disappointed in the three cartoon characters who showed up to play.
The three ex-lovers represent the last chance for the partyloving Mom. Shes depicted as a sleazy Hepburn, the kind of powerful woman who has been waiting to crumble in the arms of a strong and handsome man, but sleeping around in the intervening decades. One of the Dads turns out to be gay, the second is a comic with relationship phobia, and the third has a couple of kids. Bummer! Whats a woman to do?
There is a period in Act Two when the songs begin to pop out so fast there is barely enough time to bring on another singer. Things get a little farcical. Still, as the 20-minute medley that takes the place of bows for the cast, at the end, demonstrates, this is really about ABBA. "Lay all your Love on Me," "Mamma Mia," "The "Name of the Game" is "Money, Money, Money."
March 1, 2004 - Michael Wade Simpson