It is not the actual two hour long show that matters to the audience but the five minutes of curtain calls where the audience gets onto its feet and sings along with the actors on stage. Breaking down that barrier between stage and audience is always such a crowd pleaser and no matter what the audience may have experienced (or not experienced as the case may be) in the previous two hours, they will leave the theatre humming ABBA songs and thinking they had such an incredible theatre experience.
Unfortunately, they have been cheated. Hiding legitimate musical theatre behind tenuous connections between a few ABBA hits and a story simply does not work. What they walk away with is not musical theatre but some sort of ABBA tribute concert but with a “Broadway” style that takes some of the edge and fun from the originals.
The story is relatively simple – twenty year-old Sophie invites three men to her Greek island wedding after reading her mom’s diary with the hope of finding out which one is her real father. To add some real ABBA flair, two other guests arrive on the Island who just happen to be part of the mother’s old band “Donna and Dynamos”. Of course, this gives the three women permission to dress up in outlandish disco era costumes reminiscent of “Priscilla Queen of the Dessert” (another show that uses ABBA songs to much better effect).
I’ll take Bjorn Again (the international ABBA cover band) any day – at least the music is played the way it is meant and doesn’t mess it all up by trying to jam a “story” to fit the existing music.
I should also be fair. I attended the show with five other people ranging in age from 70+ to late 30s. I was the only one that didn’t enjoy it. I like ABBA and grew up with their music but Mamma Mia! just didn’t do it for me.
Part way through the show I sat thinking what would it be like to try to come up with a story based on the music of Elton John. And in the immortal words of ABBA all I could think of was “money, money, money”…