Mama Mia! ABBA in the OC



MAMMA MIA! opens at the Orange County Performing Arts Center located at  600 Town Center Drive in  Costa Mesa and runs through August 19, 2007.   Tickets range from $23 to $73.

MAMMA MIA! has its origins in London where it began running in March of 1999.   It now has more productions playing internationally than any other musical.   No doubt, it is because it is such a fun, lighthearted musical.   Audience members are known to sing and dance in the aisles, although such behavior was not seen at the Orange County on opening night.   I did see at least one person wearing a bright pink boa though.

Disco's Finest ABBA

The story is set to music by the Swedish band ABBA.   ABBA is known for such bubblegum musical favorites as Waterloo, Take a Chance on Me and Dancing Queen.   One might think of these songs as the type you would never publicly admit to liking but just the same, if you are in your car, closed off from the rest of the world and an ABBA song is revved up on the radio, you are almost certainly going to sing along.   But, I guess in the end, some people are happy to admit that they are ABBA fans.   To date, ABBA has sold over 350 million records worldwide.

"I'm Not Her Dad Are You?"

Writer Catherine Johnson has made a story of ABBA’s timeless hits in a tale set in the easy breezy Greek isles.   Twenty-two ABBA songs are interwoven in the tale.    The producer’s intention when developing the musical was not to create a tribute show, but a truly original book musical.   And MAMMA MIA! has absolutely nothing to do with the band ABBA, although   Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the composers of the original music for ABBA, have been involved in the development of the show from the beginning.

The producer tasked the author to consider that ABBA’s songs fell into two different generations, the slightly younger, playful songs, and the more “mature”, emotional songs.    This is how the idea of a cross-generational and heart-warming story of a mother and daughter was derived.

Dancing Queens

The story is about Sophie, who is about to be married, and her mother, Donna.   Sophie wants her father to give her away at her wedding but unfortunately she does not know who her father is exactly.   She invites three likley candidates to the wedding, but she does not tell her mother that they are going to be there.   As expected, Donna is in a tailspin trying to figure out why her past lovers have been invited to her daughter’s wedding.

For the older generation in the crowd, it was easy to put yourself in the shoes of Donna and reminisce about past loves and carefree days.   Anyone can imagine how overwhelming it might be to be confronted with your past, all at once, the night before your only child’s wedding.   It was easy for the audience to feel the turmoil.

With that said, this is a “cute” show, not the kind that appeals to everyone.   It is lighthearted and unlikley to stimulate intellectual thoughts.   Unless you consider Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as role models, it probably is not the best show for impressionable young girls either.   There are also a few slower points in the show that would bore smaller children to tears.

Flying Across the OC Stage

This is a show without amazing performances.   On occasion it seems that the instrumentals and background singers are intentionally drowning out the lead singer’s voice.   Donna, a truly lovable character, was played by Mary Jane Raleigh.   While her performance was fun and energetic, she just did not have the strong voice you hope for in the lead signer of a musical.   The bridesmaids were also guilty of considerable overacting and quite frankly could have been edited out of the show altogether and not be missed.   Rosie, played by Allison Briner, is also a memorable character and the comedic and physical acting by Ms. Briner was a highlight of the show.

The Orange County Performing Arts Center is launching a new series -  FREE FOR ALL. Now audiences will have opportunities to experience entertainment in new and intriguing ways – and all totally FREE.  Free for All shows and events have been designed to appeal to audiences of all ages as they enliven The Center’s venues and public spaces, including the beautiful 46,000-square-foot Community Plaza.

The second dance party will be all about ABBA on Sunday, August 12 beginning at 3:00 p.m. on the Community Plaza immediately following the 1 p.m. matinee of the hit musical Mamma Mia!  A guest DJ will be spinning your favorite ABBA hits and more between the matinee and 6:30 p.m. performance. No-host refreshments will be available.

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