Monday, November 23, 2009

Mamma Mia!

Whoo hoo! The maiden post of a new blog is so fun. But it's also the toughest. It's the defining moment -- setting the tone for the entire future of the blog. For a while, I didn't know what I wanted to review first. I mean, I had so many options...musicals I loved, musicals I hated, musicals I wanted desperately to see... But this past weekend I had just the experience to help me decide...

On Saturday, I got the chance to go see a Broadway musical performed live on stage all the way up in Huntsville, Alabama (quite a drive from here in Small Town). The musical was Mamma Mia! and it was just absolutely fabulous -- I can't tell you how glad I am that I got to go see it. That's why I chose it for this maiden review.

First things first, hmm? Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical featuring the music of the 70s (and some 80s) pop group, ABBA. It first opened at the West End in 1999. The show has since been seen in 4o more countries in 11 languages. It was recently (2008) adapted into a movie that was also pretty good, though it lost a lot of the stage show's pure awesomeness. That's why I'll be focusing on the original version rather than the film adaptation.

Now, I'll tell you as much about the plot as you need to get by -- without spoiling all of the fun for you, of course...
Mamma Mia! is set on a small Greek island in 1999. It begins with Sophie, a twenty year old local girl engaged to be married soon to the dreamy Sky, as she sends invitations to three men -- each of whom, she has recently discovered from her mother's diary of the summer she got pregnant, might be her father. Sophie's mom, by the way, is Donna Sheridan: owner and operator of a local taverna (which apparently is a Greek bed and breakfast) and former "girl power band" lead singer. And speaking of her band, her two bandmates and best friends -- Rosie (a wild, carefree, and single cook-book author) and Tanya (a rich and sexy woman who's been married and divorced several times) -- also show up the day before the wedding. Just when you think the small taverna couldn't hold another soul, all three of Sophie's possible fathers arrive. There's Sam Carmichael, an American architect who broke Donna's heart; then you've got Harry "Headbanger" Bright, a British banker; lastly, there's Bill Austin, an Australian writer and adventurer. Sophie manages to convince them not to tell her mother that she invited them and keep the gentlemen in the dark as to just why they were invited -- utterly distraught that she doesn't know which of them is her father even as she finds she can't help but love all three of her potential dads. Naturally, as soon as Donna finds three of her exes in her home the day before one of their daughter's wedding, she practically has a break-down and has to be comforted by Rosie and Tanya. The rest of the first act is devoted to Sophie trying to figure out who her father is whilst her mother attempts not to lose her sanity or her dignity. The second act is the day of Sophie's wedding when both she and her mother are trying to keep the day from falling apart completely right up until the wedding itself in which we have the exciting conclusion.

The music of Mamma Mia! is simply wonderful, of course. Even if you aren't a fan of ABBA, you'll like it. From the gut-wrenching ballads like "The Winner Takes it All" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" to the upbeat numbers such as "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia!", there isn't a single song I dislike. And the best part? They're woven carefully into the story with none of the awkward AND-NOW-WE'RE-SINGING! moments. All the songs tell a crucial part of the story and each one brings you a little further in. Some are deeply touching (when Harry and Sophie sing "Thank You for the Music" and Bill and Sam soon join in, your heart is fluttering at how sweet it is) and some are just plain hilarious (the funniest part of the whole thing is when Tanya sings "Does Your Mother Know?" to one of Sky's infatuated groomsmen, Pepper; or, wait, is the funniest when Rosie sings "Take a Chance on Me" to Bill..?). Mostly there's a lot of excellent harmonizing between pretty much every conceivable combination of the main characters as well as the sizable chorus.

I often say that there are four categories a musical can fall into. There're the ones with good music strung together by a bad plot; there're the (fairly rare) ones that have a good plot carrying lame music; there're the perfect ones that have good music and a good plot; and then there're the thoroughly disgusting ones with bad music and a bad plot. Oh, and then there are dance musicals and performance musicals, which are an entirely different animal that I'll get into later. My point is that Mamma Mia! is one of the totally awesome musicals that has a great, engaging plot tying together a lot of wonderful songs. This is the ideal balance and the recipe for a musical to last, which probably explains why it's such a success. And why I love it so much than I give it a full five stars. Whoah, that's the first of my reviews to get a perfect score! *pops out the champagne and confetti* But it deserves it entirely -- there's not a single drawback to this musical. I mean, the entire audience was standing up singing and dancing and clapping for the curtain call -- and the audiences do that every time. You just don't get any better than that. It isn't even a little bit depressing like other awesome musicals tend to be (West Side Story, Phantom, Les Mis, Wicked, Moulin Rouge...).

Anyways, this concludes my review. Hope you enjoyed it and please do leave me a comment!