Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast
At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago
A phenomenon, the global smash hit keeps the disco beat.
Mamma Mia! is an amazing show in that it is immensely popular with a pop-rock score by ABBA hit songs. In a curious way, I enjoyed the event more for its charm and its feel-good elements. I was mesmerized by how much audiences enjoyed Mamma Mia! They simply went wild with enthusiasm throughout. Amazing, since it is full of average rock songs and the story is fine but not overwhelming. I guess audiences come to hear ABBA songs performed on nice sets by talented actors. The power of nostalgia on display.
Why such overpowering response to such slightly above average material is, indeed, one of life’s little mysteries. I’ll not try to render a guess as to why, I’ll simply state that Mamma Mia! entertains audiences, period. I’ll also state that as a piece of musical theatre, Mamma Mia! has merit. It has wonderful sets with gorgeous lighting, interesting costumes and a white rotating piece that is both a Greek villa and a hotel room.
Synopsis: a mother, a daughter, three possible dads. A mother confronts her past as three men converge on a Greek Island to attend a wedding. They realize that one of them could be Sophie’s father. The mother doesn’t know that the daughter invited them so she could have her ‘real’ father in her life. With 22 ABBA songs cleverly interspersed by playwright Catherine Johnson, Mamma Mia! works magic on all who see it. It simply captivates us. This lightweight fare is a delight for everyone, especially those between 40 and 50 years old. ABBA was their group. ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘Honey, Honey,’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’ recall the 70’s when romance, sensuality and adventure reigned. I never did disco so ABBA was only background noise for me. But I guess I may have missed something since folks simply love ABBA.
The cast features Kaye Tuckerman as Donna Sheridan (the Mamma). Tuckerman is a knockout who smoothly moves through her songs with style and energy.
Paul Deboy, John-Michael Zuerlein and Christian Whelan are fine as the three maybe fathers. Chloe Tucker as Sophie was charming packs a powerful enough voice to be heard over the too loud orchestra. I like the work of Mary Callanan as Rosie and Alison Ewing as Tanya.
Mamma Mia! looks terrific with neat lighting effects and much credible choreography by Anthony Van Laast. The mini disco concert at the show’s end was breathtaking as the principles donned Elvis-like jumpsuits complete with large bellbottoms and fringe. The silver, yellow and orange colors jump into our eyes almost causing sensual overload as the songs blare through the gigantic speakers. Everyone left the theatre grooving. Try Mamma Mia!, you feel good that you did. It is light-weight but fun. Hurry, it’s only here for a few days.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 24, 2012
For more info checkout the Mama Mia! page at theatreinchicago.com