If you want the opportunity to flash back to the days of spandex, or if you want to experience it for the first time, then you need to see the musical Mamma Mia! at the Forrest Theatre. Mamma Mia! is not your grandparents’ musical, featuring 22 songs by the 1970s Swedish pop group ABBA, without high kicks, tap dancing or belted Broadway tunes.
Instead, it’s a musical set in the present day, featuring well-cast characters searching for their identities by looking to both the past and the future. It’s hard to believe the plot was written long after the songs, since both elements complement each other to create a genuine and realistic production.
As she plans her wedding, 20-year-old Sophie discovers her mother’s diary from the year of her pregnancy. In the diary, Sophie finds the names of three men who could be her father. Without telling her mother, she mails each of the men an invitation to her wedding. All three then show up on the Greek island where Sophie and her mother live. From that beginning, you might assume that the show is about Sophie and her quest to discover the identity of her father. What quickly emerges is an even stronger storyline in which her mother, Donna, examines her life and comes to terms with the men she hasn’t seen in more than 20 years. While Donna’s three former boyfriends help pull the show along, the action, emotion and dialogue belong to the women.
Two of Donna’s friends also visit the island to attend Sophie’s wedding, and both supporting characters are indispensable to the show. The three women used to be part of a girl band, enabling the retrospective use of songs like “Dancing Queen,” and “Super Trouper.”
The giggles, stress and humor among Donna and her friends help draw members of the audience into their social circle. It is almost like being at a friend’s house where you’re treated like family and invited in on all the old family jokes.
Last-minute twists unpredictably resolve the stories into happy endings.
Through quick rotations of the stage, the scenes alternate between inside the hotel that Donna runs, and on the hotel’s taverna. The costumes range from present-day casual to neon-colored, shimmering spandex. The balance between the band and the singers could be improved. At times it is difficult to hear the lyrics over the band, so you might be at a disadvantage if you’re not familiar with ABBA’s songs. But the songs meld smoothly with the storylines, and also include “Money Money Money,” “Chiquitita” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” While people weren’t exactly dancing in the aisles as the show’s advertisements lead you to believe, the crowd was definitely energized by the music.
Don’t be afraid to get a ticket for the cheaper seats in the second level of the theatre. The staging, set and dancing do not require sitting close to the stage. Plus, sitting in the second level gives you the opportunity to see the restored theatre in all its gilded glory. Mamma Mia! plays at the Forrest Theatre, located at 1114 Walnut St. through Nov. 4.
Mindy Ehrhart can be reached at email@example.com.