THEATER | Swedish rhapsody: “Mamma Mia!” at the Orpheum


Mamma Mia! opened on Tuesday for a six-day run at the Orpheum Theatre. I had not seen the stage production or the movie and did not even know the story line. It was clear from the beginning of the show that in that respect I was in the minority: the audience enthusiastically applauded each song.

Mamma Mia! tells the story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Liana Hunt) who is being married in three months. All she needs to make her wedding perfect is to have her father there to walk her down the aisle. Unfortunately she has no idea who her father is, and her mother has always refused to talk about it. When Sophie finds her mother’s diary she realizes that there are actually three men who could be her father. She decides to write and invite them all to the wedding—taking place on an island off Greece, an island where her mother owns a small hotel. Of course the usual misunderstandings, awkward moments, and twists follow—all leading to the expected happy ending for everyone.

I felt that the show started off a little slow with the opening scene of Sophie mailing letters to her three “Dad” candidates. Hunt, as Sophie, played the character perfectly. I was not surprised to discover that she has also played Belle in Beauty and the Beast since Sophie reminded me of Belle: young and innocent, but with strong convictions. I did think that Hunt’s singing voice was too weak to carry her solos, but that could possibly be blamed on her microphone. There was also very little chemistry between Sophie and her fiancé Sky (David Raimo). Raimo played the role with a campy feel—which fit in perfectly with the work of the rest of the ensemble but did not allow him to fill the romantic role of the groom-to-be. On Tuesday night the role of Sophie’s mother Donna was played by Jane Cooke, the understudy for the part. Cooke did not miss a beat and certainly held her own. The only thing I noticed is that her small stature and red hair were not a good match for Hunt, who is brown-haired and taller.

The rest of the cast was strong and carried off their roles well. My favorite two were Tanya (Rachel Tyler and Rosie (Kittra Wynn Coomer), the long-time friends of Donna who arrived for the wedding. Tyler and Coomer are both really funny—they have a flair for comedy.

mamma mia!, playing through march 14 at the orpheum theatre. for tickets ($28-$98) and information, see

The music and lyrics for Mamma Mia! were written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the two “Bs” in ABBA. Mamma Mia! was one of the first “jukebox musicals” (stories loosely written around the hits of a proven musical group); it was first performed in 1999. Before Mamma Mia!, Andersson and Ulvaeus had collaborated with lyricist Tim Rice on another musical, Chess. Tim Rice also wrote the lyrics for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and I could certainly see things in Mamma Mia! that reminded me of Joseph—particularly the neon colors in the costumes, and the campy songs and jokes. I particularly enjoyed the men of the ensemble in neon purple swimsuits, snorkels, and flippers singing and dancing as they are heading out to dive for the magical pearl necklace in a sunken shipwreck—an island pre-wedding tradition. The entire ensemble did a wonderful job. They effortlessly carried off many of the smaller roles and moved the sets around during respites from their energetic and enthusiastic singing and dancing.

I felt at first that the show was pretty simple and was following stereotypical story lines. When the three “dads” arrive, Sophie tells them that she wants to keep their presence a secret until the wedding. I could see this leading to the expected chance meetings and slapstick comedy as they try to avoid each other and then discover that they were all involved with the same woman. This fear was put to rest immediately when Donna unexpectedly walked in and all three men decided to confront her. This simple change in story line saved the whole show for me and turned it into a fun frolic where I never knew what to expect. Then the arrival on stage of Tyler and Coomer as Tanya and Rosie sealed the deal.

I would recommend Mamma Mia! to everyone. Sit back and watch the show build from a quiet beginning to a crashing crescendo of song and dance that will have you on your feet at the end.