Please be alerted to the fact that this delightful stage production is NOTHING like the unappealing movie that went under the same name. We understand that Pierce Brosnon took an oath never to sing again – not even in the shower.
The 1970 ABBA sound exploded its way into the 21st century at the Orpheum Theatre opening night with the transported, joyful London musical “Mamma Mia!” The plot is interwoven around 22 ABBA hits and is an upbeat delight. The star of this show is without a doubt the music. (The show was written to the music and songs not the usual other way around.)
Disneyland can move over: the Orpheum Theatre has just become “The Happiest Place On Earth” with “Mamma Mia!” The ABBA lovefest gets younger every time and detonates itself for a nostalgic audience. For “flower children” who were weaned on ABBA music, this is an elated time revisited. The yuppies and Generation X population – those born after the ABBA infusion – thought they had discovered something new and became dedicated apostles of the ageless group.
The entire cast in this touring company is energetic perfection. The leads are pros and belt out the music with a feeling that they are loving every minute. There is nothing like watching a production where the cast is having as much fun as the audience. It’s infectious.
This show is an example of the old adages that “less is more” and “it’s not what you do it’s how you do it”. No monstrous special effects, glitzy costumes or scenery. Just plain, well-trained talent. Choreography by Anthony Van Laast is spontaneous, unpredictable and delightful. Lighting by Howard Harrison is creative and subtle and transports simple sets by Mark Thompson to the situation at hand.
The simple, sweet story takes place on a Greek island and revolves around a wedding day. The bride, Sophie, wants her father to give her away. The problem? There are three possible fathers so Sophie quietly invites all three under false pretenses. Her mama, Donna, must reluctantly confront the three men she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
The story is really only a vehicle to bring 22 ABBA hits like “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “Money, Money, Money”, “Dancing Queen”, “Mamma Mia!” and a slew of others into the unlikely tale. The transitions are well done, and the sometimes campy production moves at speedway pace.
In 1974, a Swedish group in Brighton, England won the Eurovision Song Contest and beat out Olivia Newton-John with a song called “Waterloo”. The name ABBA comes from the first letter of the first names of the original group. At one time the chart-topping group had been offered “a billion” dollars to reunite after 25 years for a 100-concert national tour. They politely declined.
“Mamma Mia!” has gone on to visit more than 50 foreign cities and has been seen by more than 50 million people worldwide.
The book by Catherine Johnson with Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus bring the music and lyrics to “Mamma Mia!” and gets the older crowd mesmerized with the sound of their past.
The San Jose opening night audience got so involved with the 15-minute reprise at the closing, a blanket of happiness enveloped the theater. In a time when we don’t know if we should laugh or cry, this is just the ticket.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco
Through: March 5
Details: 888-746-1799 or shnsf.com.