It’s been said before and it’ll be said again: jukebox musicals don’t work. This isn’t to say they aren’t successful, they are, they just aren’t good. A prime example of a mediocre jukebox musical that’s still a smash hit is Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of 70’s pop group ABBA. The musical, which has been on Broadway since 2001, comes to the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis February 18th-23rd on another national tour. Although colorful and energizing, Mamma Mia! lacks a connection between the sentimental songs of ABBA and the story.
Mamma Mia!, as described by its website, is the story of “A mother. A daughter. 3 possible dads. And a trip down the aisle you’ll never forget!” That’s truly how simple it is. Following jukebox musical suit, Mamma Mia! is centered more around semi-fitting songs than plot. The first act features most of the up-beat well-known ABBA songs such as “Mamma Mia”, “Honey, Honey”, “Money, Money, Money”, and “Dancing Queen”. They’re all entertaining, of course, but are more of a side note than an actual means of progressing the story line. The second act, on the other hand, is a long line of ballads (“The Name of the Game”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “Our Last Summer”, to name a few) with little relevance to the feelings of the characters or the events of the show. This makes for a boring, unattached half an hour, finally pulling the audience back in with the comical rendition of “Take a Chance on Me” by Rosie (the mother’s best friend, played by Carly Sakolove) and Bill (a possible dad, played by Michael Colavolpe).
The performers are for the most part very talented, but they cannot be heard over the pit, making the connection between song and story even harder to find. Georgia Kate Haege plays the mother, Donna, and does quite an impressive job. In a show full of over the top cheesy characters, Haege seems to find the happy, tolerable, medium. Donna’s friends Tanya and Rosie, played by Gabrielle Mirabella and Sakolove, provide the comic relief that falls short in many of the other characters. Their performance of “Chiquitita” is one I’m actually happy to “never forget!”.
More stand-out than many of the leads is the chorus. Beyond the performances, what really makes the chorus numbers exciting are the costumes and lighting. The costumes, designed by Scott Traugott, have an island vibe (Mamma Mia takes place on a Greek island) and are very colorful. Although somewhat campy, this adds to the fun. The lighting, designed by Howard Harrison, is dramatic and perfectly matches the costumes, emulating a concert during the chorus numbers. The presence of these elements captures the feelings associated with many ABBA songs, but takes away from the story line. Many times the chorus appears and, although it is enjoyable, it doesn’t make sense contextually.
Perhaps the best part of the evening is the encore: post-bows, the cast sings and dances to “Dancing Queen”, “Mamma Mia”, and “Waterloo“. The crowd can finally get up and do what they’ve wanted to do all night: sing and dance along. Whether hearing covers of three nostalgic pop songs is worth sitting through two hours of mediocre theater is up to you, though.