For more than 35 years the hit songs from ABBA have been a cultural mainstay of the music scene around the world, even inspiring a hugely popular musical that has been seen by more than 54 million people and grossed over two billion dollars worldwide. There was a film adaptation in 2008 with the incomparable Meryl Streep, a London production, Broadway production, Las Vegas production and the National Touring production, which is currently making a stop over at the Buell Theatre in Denver.
For those that loved ABBA, “Mamma Mia” is a rollicking hit that will keep them singing and dancing in the aisles from the moment the live band strikes it’s first note. If you aren’t a big fan of ABBA, however, then you may not find this musical to offer much other than some strong dance numbers and truly sparkly sequined costumes. Such is the trouble with the many jukebox musicals that have been growing in popularity over the years.
A jukebox musical is loosely defined as any musical production that uses previously released songs as the score, often using a loose plot to string hit after hit together into one (mostly) cohesive show. Shows like “Jersey Boys,” “Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story” and “Rock of Ages” are perfect examples. “Mamma Mia” does just that – as it tells the story of Sophie, a young woman who is about to get married and her mother, a former singer for a girl group known as Donna and the Dynamos. In the first few minutes of the show, the audience learns that Sophie doesn’t know who her father is, and invites the three possibilities from her mother’s past to her weekend wedding in hopes of having one of them walk her down the aisle. Along the way, Donna reunites with her gal pals from her glory days in the all girl band, and they sing several songs at various points in the production. Each loosely scripted moment serves it’s main purpose well – to introduce the next ABBA hit.
As far as plot goes, that’s about it. When it comes to story line, much like any jukebox musical, there isn’t a lot to draw emotion or really any impact from. But that isn’t why you see a show like this. You go because you love the band, and if you love ABBA, then you’ll love the production. With such hits as “Super Trouper,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “The Winner Takes it All” and “Money, Money, Money” there are plenty of ABBA hits to keep fans happy. Of course the signature jumpsuits make a few appearances, and the finale gets the whole house up on its feet singing and dancing along to several catchy tunes.
The voices, for the most part, handle the music well, though there are a few standouts and a few disappointments. Chelsea William’s Sophie is sweet and pitch-perfect, while Georgia Kate Haege’s Donna is strong, if emotionally detached. P. Tucker Worley, returning to his hometown of Denver, is a particular standout as Pepper, bringing a great deal of physical comedy to the stage, as are both Gabrielle Mirabella and Carly Sakolove as Tanya and Rosie, the two returning Dynamos that reunite with Donna for the wedding.
“Mamma Mia” is a great deal of fun for anyone that remembers hitting the dance floor every time “Dancing Queen” came up on the jukebox. It’s a lot of fun to re-live those favorite songs, and to see them performed in a different way, with the energy and production values that come with a live musical production. However, those looking for substance may want to look elsewhere for their musical entertainment.