REVIEW: 'Mamma Mia!' through Feb. 22, BDT Stage, Boulder



I have tremendous respect and regard for the creative team and performing ensemble at BDT Stage. So believe me when I say, if this top-notch, talented troupe can't make the ABBA pop musical "Mamma Mia!" work, no one can.

Except for perhaps movie stars with no musical theatre training who lean on their celebrity appeal, and an audience who doesn't care about story, character, theme, songs being relevant to the action, or anything else other than seeing someone recognizably famous.

Like the movie. And even that wasn't very good, despite raking in $609 million.

If "Mamma Mia" doesn't quite take flight (at least for me), it's not for lack of talent and effort.

Put aside whatever reason BDT Stage has for choosing an oddly unromantic, summer wedding on a Greek Island musical requiring a perpetually underdressed chorus, to carry them through the holiday season and a Colorado winter.

In my opinion, the music is mostly vapid bubblegum disco-pop, with only a suggestion of an emotional foundation. The lyrics never seem to have any relevance to the context, action, or even the characters. The songs were originally meant to stand alone, not carry an extended plot or character arc. It actually does them a disservice to try.

Joanie Brosseau-Rubald, Tracy Warren, and Alicia K. Meyers
The story is a downer, no matter how hard the cast tries to pump up the enthusiasm. Donna (Tracy Warren) is a stressed-out single mom, trying to make ends meet with her small Mediterranean resort hotel. Her chirpy daughter Sophie (Christy Oberndorf) is getting married to a rather milquetoast Wall Street dropout (Chas Lederer) the next day, and there's so much still to be done. The mostly useless employees are nowhere to be found, except when they get a cue for an upcoming musical number.

The last thing Donna needs is three middle-aged men, who all had sexual liaisons with her one fateful summer of love twenty-one years ago, arriving all at once to crash the ceremony.

Sophie found their names in her mother's diary and, feeling that resolving her daddy issues was more important than her upcoming marriage, invited them without consulting her mom or her fiance. For most of the show, Donna is too stressed and unhappy to figure out the "coincidence" of their simultaneous and untimely appearance.

Sam (Scott Severtson) is the only one who is father material. He's calm and wise as if Mike Brady suddenly found out he had spawned a love child who needed two decades of paternal Brady Bunch nurturing in a single day. Bill (Scott Beyette) is a globetrotting travel writer who is uncharacteristically shy around forward women, and Harry (Bob Hoppe), is a British banker who obviously doesn't fancy women at all. The pair are clearly more the eccentric, lovable uncle types. All three embrace the possibility of Sophie's paternity, but only Sam has any interest whatsoever in rekindling a romance with the sad, off-putting Donna.

Lillian Buonocore, Christy Oberndorf, and Sarah Hackshaw
Donna's only relief and consolation are her former backup singers from when disco was a thing, who also drop in for the wedding. Tanya (Alicia K. Meyers) toys with men, devours them, and takes their money. Rosie (Joanie Brosseau-Rubald) is still as quirky and fidgety as she was in her twenties when the Suzanne Somers "baby doll" routine was all the rage. The trio reminisces over their halcyon days of singing upbeat, silly songs in nightclubs and never considering middle age.

Perhaps six of the show's nearly two-dozen songs were big hits during ABBA's brief chart-topping days, including "Thank You For The Music," "Chiquitita," "Dancing Queen," and the power ballad "The Winner Takes It All."  Many of the also-rans involve repeating the same word over and over, like "Honey, Honey," "Money, Money, Money," "Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie," and "I Do, I Do, I Do."

The staging, by Alicia K. Meyers and Matthew D. Peters, conveys the story better than the songs do, though actors who aren't singing spend a lot of time posing and looking off into the distance, trying to dredge up emotions. The mechanical, punchy choreography reminded me of a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots match.

The performers are consummate professionals one and all, but this show really needs to bank on the celebrity appeal of say, a Spice Girls reunion. These dedicated troupers give it everything they've got, which is more than the musical deserves.

To be fair, most of the patrons have seen the film, know what to expect, and are happy to overlook the show's structural problems, as long as those innocuous and nostalgic disco-pop songs keep coming.

Mostly, though, I found the plot, characters, and themes meaningless. The atrocious ending resolution when wedding bells ring falsely and a Greek Orthodox priest from Fantasy Island simply shrugs off everyone's casual approach to the sacrament of matrimony suggests that none of this really mattered all that much anyway.

Then came the brilliant extended curtain call, which delivered EVERYTHING "Mamma Mia!" could and should have been all along. The show-stopping, high-energy medley of ABBA's most memorable pop tunes, accompanied by multiple mirror balls, bright neon sparkly Lycra costumes, and unrestrained joy practically lifted the audience out of their seats. The cast, freed from the maudlin plot and characters, rejoiced and celebrated the music itself. This was the most gloriously realized curtain call I've seen since Candlelight's "The Music Man" or the Arvada Center's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

The sequence showcased what the BDT ensemble can really do, and it was perfect.

Tickets for "Mamma Mia!" are on sale now starting at just $50, which includes the performance and dinner served by the stars of the show. Full bar, appetizers, and desserts are available for purchase. All tickets for preview performances (Oct 5 - 10, 2019) are just $45. Discounts are available for groups of 12 or more. Tickets can be purchased at www.bdtstage.com or by calling the Box Office at 303-449-6000, or in person at 5501 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. Box Office hours are Tuesday 10am-3pm, Wed-Sat 10am-10pm, and Sunday 9am-10pm.

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 CLICK HERE to rent or buy the 2008 film version of "Mamma Mia!" starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth.



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