What wasn’t to like about McCain’s ‘Mamma Mia’?

G.W. Clift

By A Contributor

A sell-out crowd in K-State’s McCain Auditorium enjoyed a good touring company production of “Mamma Mia,” the musical built of old ABBA songs.

The something like thirty on-stage performers gave us first-rate interpretations of the title song, “Take a Chance on Me,” “Voulez-Vous,” “S.O.S.,” and, eventually—as a rehearsed part of the curtain calls—”Waterloo.” It seemed interesting to me that “Take a Chance on Me” and “Waterloo” got relatively brief treatments while “Dancing Queen” was played and reprised and reprised.

After all, those three songs are the ones written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (who with their fiancees made up the popular vocal group ABBA) which folks deaf since 1980 would likely recognize if they suddenly regained their hearing for the Monday evening performance. And the explanation can’t be that “Dancing Queen” made more sense in the context of the show’s story. None of the songs really seem to be about the show.

That plot was, like the songs, inspired pop stuff. Donna (played very well here and with a little menace by Kaye Tuckerrman) is a middle-aged former pop singer who built and runs a small hotel on a Greek island. Here she has raised her daughter, Sophie (Chloe Tucker), a free-spirit who has decided to marry Sky (Happy Mahaney) in a big white wedding.

Sophie’s only regret in life is that she hasn’t known her father. But her mother’s diary tells her that Dad could be one of three men—American Sam (Christian Whelan), Englishman Harry (Paul Deboy), or Aussie Bill (John-Michael Zuerlein). The girl invites all three to the wedding, expecting to be able to identify the one who is her daddy by looking at them. She can’t tell.

But each one of them realizes that he could be the father. And so Sam, who is still in love with Donna, Harry, who is a now homosexual London banker, and Bill, an adventure traveler attracted to Donna’s friend Rosie, all three tell Sophie that they will expect to walk her down the aisle at the church service.

Side developments include a curious continuing argument between Sky and Sophie about the invitations and her real motivation for the wedding and the social business involved in the arrival of Donna’s former back-up singers, Rosie (Mary Callanan) and the oft-divorced Tanya (Alison Ewing who got the most out of her relatively fat part).

The story’s ending isn’t as surprising as are the observations made about women, marriage, and generational changes. But this isn’t serious drama. “Mamma Mia’s” story is just froth surrounding a retrospective of old Benny and Bjorn songs, only three or four of which are distinguished, though those are delightful pop. Throw in David Bowie space outfits (for recalling the late 70s?) and some effective dancing, even in skin-diving flippers, and you’ve got a pretty amusing theatrical entertainment.

The set was a decently adaptable one of two independently rotation open-faced boxes of white adobe, and it was backed with a lowered treetop or with slides of the sky depending on the circumstances. The lighting and costumes looked a lot better on stage than they had in the video previews. The band was apparently six musicians, though I only saw conductor and synthesizer player Bill Congdon and the whole of what came out of the pit sounded electronically processed. The cast was busy with off-stage singing even when they weren’t doing something visible.

And what were they singing? Vintage Benny and Bjorn pop music. So, what wasn’t to like? I suppose audience members could have gotten a little tired of “Dancing Queen.” But we could have predicted that danger before we went into the theater.

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