Tuesday night’s Opera House audience began tapping their feet during the overture to “Mamma Mia!”
And why not?
This giddy celebration of love lost and found, wrapped in the sweet pop tunes of the Swedish ‘70s band ABBA, is a delightful bit of escapism determined to send you home humming, if not dancing.
In case you somehow missed this musical, which bowed on Broadway in 2001, or the 2008 movie with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, “Mamma Mia!” follows Sophie Sheridan (Chloe Tucker) a 20-year-old who’s grown up on a Greek island with her feisty single mom, Donna (Kaye Tuckerman). Sophie is getting married, and although her mother has never identified her father, Sophie discovers a diary that names three possible men: a British banker named Harry Bright (Paul Deboy), an Australian travel writer named Bill Austin (John-Michael Zuerlein), and an American architect named Sam Carmichael (Christian Whelan). Sophie invites all three to the wedding in the hope she will figure out who the right one is and he will walk her down the aisle. To keep it interesting, it turns out that Donna was the leader of a girl group called Donna and the Dynamos, and her two former bandmates, the thrice-married Tanya (Alison Ewing) and the single cookbook author Rosie are also wedding guests. Rosie is played by Boston actress Mary Callanan, who received a rousing ovation from her hometown crowd and stole the show with “Take a Chance on Me.”
The credit for any believability or continuity in this story goes to book author Catherine Johnson, who weaves nearly two dozen ABBA songs into the plot. “Money, Money, Money,” becomes a complaint about working hard to keep Donna’s little Greek taverna going; “Dancing Queen” is a way for Donna’s friends to cheer her up; and “The Name of the Game” is Sophie‘sattempt to confront the men with possible paternity.
The characters never run deeper than archetypes, but Johnson’s skill lies in her ability to make the emotional manipulation of the show less saccharine and more sincere. “Slipping Through My Fingers” becomes a moving ballad about a mother letting go of a daughter, and “S.O.S.” turns into a plea to reconnect with an old lover.
Designer Mark Thompson’s created a simple, flexible tavern set in muted colors, while his costumes tend toward hot pink, orange, and yellows, as well as those neon outfits. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is athletic and coordinated without ever getting fancy. One of the production numbers involves dancing with flippers on; and a dream sequence includes neon swimsuit pieces. And then there are the platform-and-spandex production numbers for Donna and her Dynamos.
Ultimately, “Mamma Mia!” is just a whole lot of fun. So go ahead and dance in the aisles with the rest of the happy crowd.