Whether you’re a “Dancing Queen,” a Super Trouper,” or “Chiquitita,” the 70s and 80s Swedish sensation, ABBA, is contagious. Even Republican Trumpians aren’t immune to these Europop superstars.
So Seattle is elated to hear that the musical comedy, “Mamma Mia!” is back, playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre February 2-25th. But it’s not a played-out, tired-out touring show. It’s a brand new production, directed by Seattle’s very own Bill Berry and starring some of Seattle’s favorite performers. The 5th Avenue Theatre is the first theater company in the Pacific Northwest to be granted the rights to create a brand new original version of the musical.
The jukebox musical, features hit songs by the Swedish pop group, ABBA, with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, and book by Catherine Johnson.
You can say many things about “Mamma Mia!” and in 2001, the New York critics did: “. . . hokey, implausible and silly” (New York 1).
“. . . the theatrical equivalent of comfort food.” (New York Times).
“ . . . a delivery system for pop-culture.” (Time Out New York).
Still, audiences loved it, and for good reason. “Mamma Mia!” is infectious fun.
Paolo Montalban, best known for his portrayal of Prince Christopher opposite Brandy in the 1997 film version of “Cinderella,” makes his 5th Avenue Theatre debut as Sam, while Broadway’s Kendra Kassebaum returns to 5th Avenue Theatre as Donna. Seattle audiences will remember her performance as Mother in this season’s “Ragtime.” The two will be joined by 5th Avenue favorites, including Lisa Estridge, Sarah Rudinoff and Matt Wolfe.
The setting is the Greek island of Kalokairi, where 20-year-old Sophie (Eliza Palasz), who grew up in her mother’s taverna, is preparing to marry her fiancé, Sky (Jordan Iosua Taylor). She wants her father to walk her down the aisle. Only problem, she doesn’t know who he is. When she snoops in her mother’s old diary, she discovers that Mama was a naughty girl. Entries describe intimate dates with three men—surely one of these men must be her father. So she sends each one a wedding invite, signing her mother Donna’s name…without telling her.
On the day before Sophie‘s wedding, the guests begin to arrive. First two–Donna’s long-term best friends, Tanya, a rich woman who’s been married and divorced three times (She never met a young man or cocktail she didn’t want to sip.), and Rosie, an unmarried, unbridled woman. Back in the day, the three of them worked together in the girl group, “Donna and the Dynamos.”
Later that day, much to Donna’s shock, Sophie‘s three possible fathers arrive: Sam (an American architect), Harry (a British banker), and Bill (an Australian writer and adventurer). And then the musical chairs of “Who’s your daddy” begin…
No doubt you’ve danced to an ABBA song at a club or sung at a karaoke bar. Or maybe even in an elevator. Hits like “Super Trouper,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” “Dancing Queen,” “Chiquitita,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Money, Money, Money,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez-Vous,” “SOS,” and the title tune… “Mamma Mia!”
In 2001, the Shubert organization was in a conundrum. With “Cats” taking its final, “Meow,” they had to decide what show to move into the Winter Garden (a Shubert theater); they weren’t convinced that ABBA’s pop musical, “Mamma Mia!”, would be a success. The story goes that when one Shubert executive expressed his doubts to his wife, she told him not to be foolish—it would be a huge hit. And she was right.
Although the reviews were mixed, die-hard ABBA fans poured into the theater. It ran 14 years on Broadway and closed September 12, 2015. Over 60 million people have seen “Mamma Mia!,” which has grossed $2 billion worldwide since its 1999 debut. And it’s played in over 50 countries.
In July 2008, a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Stellan Skarsgård and Julie Walters was released. It was such a hit (code for “made gobs of money”), that a sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” will release July 20, 2018. It tells tell the story of how Donna met each of the three men who are potentially Sophie‘s father. Many of the same actors have signed on, and—get this—Cher plays a grandmother.
Countless ABBA songs have been used in film soundtracks, including “Christine” (1983), “Muriel’s Wedding” (1994), “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), “Summer of Sam” (1999), “The Martian” (2015) , and this year’s Oscar nominee for Best Picture, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”(2017), to name a few.
Same goes for television: “The ‘70’s Show,” “Ally Mcbeal,” “Cold Case,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Goldbergs,” and “The Simpsons.” The list could go on . . . and on.
Hardcore film fanatics of a certain age point out that Johnson’s book reminds them of the 1968 film, “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” starring Gina Lollobrigida as a woman who is receiving maintenance payments from three former WWII soldiers who all believe themselves to be the father of her daughter.
Some theater fans of rarified taste wouldn’t be caught dead at “Mamma Mia!” Too bad. While not the greatest show ever, it’s great fun. The costumes are outrageous, and the ensemble numbers are fabulous. At the theater, you’re apt to be sitting by someone who mouths the lyrics or sings along—hopefully, softly. Some people, probably those of rarified taste, even dance in the aisles.
Paolo Montalban (Sam), 5th Avenue debut
Kendra Kassebaum (Donna)
Lisa Estridge (Tanya)
Sarah Rudinoff (Rosie)
Matt Wolfe (Bill)
Cobey Mandarino (Harry), 5th Avenue debut
Eliza Palasz (Sophie), 5th Avenue debut
Jordan Iosua Taylor (Sky), 5th Avenue debut
The Production Team
Book: Catherine Johnson
Music & Lyrics: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus
Director, Bill Berry, 5th Avenue Theatre Producing Artistic Director
Choreographer; Bob Richard
“Mamma Mia!” runs February 2–25 at 5th Avenue Theatre; tickets start at $29; they can be purchased at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900 or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in Downtown Seattle.