Marriott's 'Mamma Mia!' is ABBA-solute fun
“Honey, Honey.” “Money, Money, Money.” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.” What do they all have in common? If you grew up in the ’70s and early ’80s, you know it’s more than just redundancy – those are all hits from the superstar Swedish pop group ABBA, and they’re among the 20-plus ABBA songs seamlessly integrated into the musical “Mamma Mia!,” playing through April 16 at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. If you’re looking for a fun night of pop/disco music with a sweet storyline, get your tickets now. As the woman sitting next to us said after the show, “That was great!”
OK, confession time. I was a fan of ABBA’s music during my time in high school and college, so perhaps I was a bit predisposed to enjoy this performance, the first time I’ve seen it performed live. But I also had a vivid memory of how those songs sounded as performed by the original group, and I’d seen the 2008 Meryl Streep/Pierce Brosnan movie version, so the Marriott show would have to live up to the expectations from my distant memory and surpass the quality of the so-so film. In both cases, it did.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, Sophie Sheridan (Tiffany Tatreau) is a 20-year-old bride-to-be who’s been raised on a small Greek island by her mother, Donna (Danni Smith), a strong-willed taverna/inn owner who’s never told Sophie the identity of Sophie’s father. Sophie would love for her father to walk her down the aisle, and she’s determined (from a diary of her mother’s she found) that it’s one of three men, all of whom she’s invited to the wedding. The invitations, sent in her mother’s name without Donna’s knowledge, have gone to Sam Carmichael (Peter Saide), an American architect Donna fell hard for 21 years earlier – that is, until he left to go back to his fiancée in the U.S.; Harry Bright (Karl Hamilton), a British banker she had a rebound fling with; and Bill Austin (Derek Hasenstab), an Australian writer and adventurer, whom she also was intimate with around the same time. Donna’s two best friends and former backup singers in a “Donna and the Dynamos” band also are on hand. Tanya (Meghan Murphy) is a three-times married flirt, and Rosie (Cassie Slater) is glad she’s stayed single over the years. It’s the day before the wedding when all arrive at Donna’s taverna. Whether Sophie identifies her dad is only part of the story as relationships between these characters change and secrets are revealed.
That synopsis sounds ultra-serious. While the show has some appropriately dramatic moments, honestly, it’s mostly just fun. From the opening announcements where the audience is told to “get ready to party like it’s 1979” to cleverly staged musical numbers (e.g., the song “Mamma Mia” itself, with backup singers poking their heads out of shuttered windows behind three sections of the in-the-round theater, and “Take a Chance on Me,” in which two of the adults acknowledge their attraction to each other) to Tanya’s creative rejection of a young taverna employee (“Does Your Mother Know”), this production kept my interest and put a big smile on my face. The finale by the entire ensemble, decked out in gold and silver spandex outfits, brought the audience to their feet, clapping in rhythm and appreciation.
I noticed two minor flaws in an otherwise excellent show under the direction of the multi-talented Rachel Rockwell, whose experience with “Mamma Mia!” isn’t just behind the scenes, since she previously performed in a national tour. First, Smith, as Donna, looks a bit too young to realistically believe she had a child 20 years earlier. Second, Tatreau’s voice on a couple of occasions was a bit nasal/grating. However, both issues were outweighed by two pluses: the power and beauty of Smith’s voice, and the strength of Tatreau’s characterization throughout the two days in which this story takes place. When Smith and Tatreau have a sweet duet on “Slipping Through My Fingers,” as Donna helps Sophie get ready for the wedding, it’s a touching moment of mother/daughter connection that feels very real.
Add in a very strong ensemble of 20 more talented actors, a script in which the song lyrics seem to fit very well for each spot in the show and music re-created to sound a lot like the original songs, and you have a show that’s well worth seeing. Whether you’re a “Dancing Queen” or just a “Super Trouper” willing to escort one to this production, trust me – you won’t be sending out an “S.O.S.” when the show is over. You’ll just be saying, “Thank You for the Music” and thank you for this musical.