How do you explain a phenomenon like "Mamma Mia"? The stage musical has to date been translated into at least 16 languages and performed in more than 74 countries around the world. The original London production has surpassed 5,000 performances and is still playing thirteen years after its premier.
"Mamma Mia" made its Broadway debut at the Winter Garden Theatre (after finally evicting the felines) in 2001 and by the time this piece has been published, it will have surpassed 4,300 performances. The major film adaptation of "Mamma Mia" was released in the summer of 2008 and went on to become the world’s highest grossing musical of all time.
The movie starred three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep. Although Streep eventually won her third Oscar for last year’s "The Iron Lady," both Streep’s "Mamma Mia" and "Doubt" were released in 2008, seemingly setting her up for her third win that year; however, Kate Winslet took home the golden man. One can only dream of the "should-have-been" casting of fellow Oscar winner Cher in the BFF Tanya role. Cher was offered the role but had to turn it down due to other commitments.
So how do you explain all the above about a show whose plot can be summarized in a single sentence? The daughter of a single Mom is getting married and invites the three men who could possibly be her father to the wedding so he can give her away.
And finally, how can you explain that the entire score was composed from the catalog of worldwide uber-group ABBA who hadn’t recorded a single song together since they broke up 15 years before the stage musical debuted?
Like many of life’s more complicated questions, there is no answer. Sometimes the planets just align perfectly, or someone is able to capture lightening in a bottle and often as not, sometimes things just are.
What we do know is that going to see the stage musical "Mamma Mia" is an event akin to going to the world’s greatest party. We go to the theater foremost to be entertained, but also to laugh or to feel passion, romance, tragedy, etc. We go to see "Mamma Mia" to feel joy and to revel in the sublime ridiculousness of a musical-party that on paper initially must have seemed absurd but which in reality, no matter how many times you see it has you dancing in the aisles singing along with actors clad in knee high boots and bedazzled neon spandex.
The party "Mamma Mia" has been performing this past week at the Dallas Music Hall at Fair Park and is as joyous as ever. From the moment the overture (yes, an ABBA overture) begins, your toes start tapping, your grins get better and for 2.5 hours the cares of the world drop away.
Part of the magic of the show has always been a fresh, invigorating, contagious set of fully committed performers. And this week’s party doesn’t disappoint. Kaye Tuckerman as the single Mom, Donna, mother of bride-to-be Sophie, is most effective when her character feels the stress of her past confronting her. As Meryl did in the movie, Tuckerman scores and soars in the nearly climatic "The Winner Takes It All."
It’s always refreshing when cast members who play on-stage family look like they could be related. This is the case with the casting of Chloe Tucker as Sophie. Ironically, despite the Sophie character appearing on posters worldwide as the icon of "Mamma Mia," and despite the plot revolving around her wedding, the character of Sophie is the least developed of the major characters. But who cares? Tucker does as much with the role as she can.
Providing high comedy relief in a show that doesn’t really need it is Donna’s youthful, now middle-aged, friends: the boozy, pampered and plasticized Tanya and the down-to-earth author Rosie. In addition to some choice dialogue, they each get their moments in the spotlight: the enticing Alison Ewing as Tanya tantalizing the young ’uns with "Does Your Mamma Know" and the hilarious, tempting Mary Callahan as Rosie with "Take A Chance on Me." Both ladies know how to sparkle and work the stage.
That leaves us with the three possible Dad characters. Paul Deboy as the (now) gay Harry Bright is spot-on perfection. As the adventurer Bill Austin, studly John-Michael Zuerlein is a bit young for the part, but with his Hollywood-marquis good looks and his on-stage swagger, who am I to quibble?
At first, and for a couple reasons I was distracted by Jeff Applegate in the main male lead of Sam Carmichael. The first distraction is that Applegate is in a word: H-O-T! But even more distracting was that his Sam was at least a decade too young for the part giving the Sam and Donna interplay a cougarish quality never before suggested.
During intermission while studying the Playbill, I discovered that Applegate is the understudy for the Sam role, which explained the age difference. Applegate is deliciously superb and provides one of the most pleasurable moments in recent theater history: forever replacing the quote-unquote singing of the movie Sam, Pierce Brosnan, from my mind and restoring justice and testosterone to "SOS."
With music and lyrics by ABBA front men Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson, choreography by Anthony Van Laast and directed by Phyllida Lloyd (also the director of the movie), the "Mamma Mia" party goes on.