ASHLAND — “Mamma Mia!” is two hours of musical blasts from the past, and a lot more.
Music that made the Swedish group ABBA famous in the 1980s takes on new meanings flowing in the wondrously infectious high-energy production of “Mamma Mia!” at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland.
Unlike the 40 million people who have reportedly seen a live performance of “Mamma Mia!” and the millions more who’ve seen film, my only knowledge of “Mamma Mia” was its music. But the play is more than just music. It’s also a story with songs about many forms of love, including heartbreak and disappointment and love reclaimed.
The story takes place in 1997 on a small Greek island that is Donna’s and Sophie’s home. Donna is a never-married single mom who is struggling financially and emotionally. There’s also some anxiety because Sophie, her 20-year-old daughter, is days away from marrying her fiance, Sky.
Sophie wants her father to walk her down the aisle, and that’s where things get complicated. Sophie doesn’t know who he is. After discovering and reading her mother’s hidden diary, she’s learned that 21 years earlier Donna had affairs with three men. (As one character in the play unapologetically explains, the ‘70s was “the age of no regret.”) Hoping that she’ll immediately with her true father — and without telling her mother, her husband-to-be, or the three gents — Sophie sends letters supposedly from Donna inviting all three to visit. And, because they all have fond memories, the three potential walk-her-down-the-aisle candidates make the trip.
Confusion and emotions reign.
Not having seen a previous “Mamma Mia,” my surprise was realizing that many of the songs have meanings. Yes, “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money,” and more are fun get-up-and-dance tunes. In all, the production includes more than 20 of ABBA’s iconic songs, including “Dancing Queen,””Voulez Vous,””Lay All Your Love on Me,” “The Name of the Game, “S.O.S.,” and, of course, “Mamma Mia!” In the context of the story, some are pleas for emotional help while others are outpourings of sadness and regret.
But “Mamma’s” truly single most emotional tearjerker is “The Winner Takes It All.” Amy Bodnar, a Broadway veteran, is physically perfect as Donna, the beautiful but love-wracked mom. It’s her performance of “Winner” that’s the play’s emotional and musical high point.
Bodnar is excellent, but it’s a strong case, especially with Wesley Carpenter as the perky Sophie, and Tim Fullerton and Adam Biner as Sam and Eddie, two of Donna’s former suitors. Fullerton’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is powerfully strong vocally and emotionally. The deeply talented cast includes newcomer Tiffany Cooper and several who’ve appeared in previous Cabaret productions, including Tony Carter, Lucas Blair, Shane Celine, Lea Sevola, Rebecca Campbell, Paul Michael Garcia, Jake Delaney and Alex Boyles.
A major factor in “Mamma”s” success are its always dazzling creative touches. After the emotionally charged “The Winner Takes It All,” for example, the mood and tempo shift with a silly fun “Take A Chance on Me.”
Credit director Valerie Rachelle for keeping the pace moving swiftly but smoothly. It’s a dazzling production, from its creatively and beautifully designed set to its incredible choreography — especially in “Voulez You” — and fun costuming, highlighted by some delightfully outlandish outfits for the three “dads” in a finale that struts, prances in a whip-up-the-audience frenzy. The blend is delicious. Rachelle and her team have created a show that, along with its raw emotional power, is also sexy, seductive, silly and fun. And, for anyone who loves ‘80s era golden oldies, the music is magic.
“Wow!” more than one smiling audience member who oohed and aahed during the standing ovation, “This ‘Mamma Mia!’ is more fun than the movie!”
Knowing me and knowing you, take a chance on “Mamma Mia!”