Bayside High School, Grade 12
Mamma Mia!, critically acclaimed as “the most fun on Broadway,” definitely delivers as an entertaining musical. But while it was enjoyable, it wasn’t exactly all that I expected it to be. I wanted more out of the experience; I thought it was missing some excitement.
In particular, I was disappointed by the reaction from the audience I shared it with. I remember seeing a commercial for the show in which the entire audience is singing and dancing along with the songs, as if Mamma Mia! were a concert and not a musical. I expected to be part of a reception like that. I hoped everyone would be up on their feet, at least at the end, when all the main characters give a performance in their bright and flashy costumes, but I guess everyone was too afraid to get up.
As for the plot, it is an amusing one for sure, and it is revealed immediately. As soon as curtains rise, it is clear that Sophie Sheridan is getting married soon and has invited her two best friends, Ali and Lisa, to her home on a beautiful Greek island to be her bridesmaids. She has also invited her father, or fathers, to her wedding, hoping to discover and meet which of the three potential men it could be. She finds their names in her mother’s diary and secretly mails them their invitations without even her fiancé, Sky, having a clue.
Donna Sheridan, Sophie’s mother, is apparently notorious for her wild and unconventional behavior, reminiscent of the 1970s, the period with which the music obviously resonates. But she’s struggled for 20 years, Sophie’s exact age, to live independently and forget these men from her past whom Sophie forces back into her life. To support her daughter, she’s been running a hotel on the island, which she visited by chance 20 years prior. Donna’s two best friends also arrive for the occasion and help her through the ordeal; all three believe that Sophie, who has her whole life ahead of her, is crazy to marry so young.
All three also exemplify women of a most feminist nature. Tanya has wed multiple times and is perfectly happy with the alimony settlements. Rosie is still unmarried. And Donna is the single mother who has never sought the father of her child ever since her pregnancy. With such role models, it’s perhaps odd that Sophie is so interested in marriage and commitment. But this isn’t the main storyline, it’s only the backdrop.
The plot centers on Sophie trying to figure out who her father may be and ultimately asking him to walk her down the aisle. Could it be Harry Bright, the successful British businessman who used to be spontaneous and share the love of music with Donna? Could it be Bill Austin, the handsome Aussie who wooed Donna years ago? Or could it be Sam Carmichael, the man who broke Donna’s heart when he returned home to marry another woman after sharing a love affair with her? I made my guesses early on, and I’ll just leave it at that. The musical does a great job allowing the audience to speculate. There’s a lot of heartwarming dialogue and room for humor along the way. In general, it’s a light story that makes for a fun night out.
ABBA’s music really made the show vibrant, and different from any other on Broadway. It added life to the set, which consists of a revolving piece acting as the hotel, and knickknacks, like a small boat and a bagpipe. The rest of the island is really left to the audience’s imagination. Lights and costumes play a large role in the aesthetics of the musical as well, giving the show a concert look, as if viewers are at an ABBA show rather than a Broadway musical. Even though the outfits and music are outdated, the musical is really very fun and catchy.
Considering that Mamma Mia! is soon making its debut to the silver screen, I can only wonder how much will change. I can imagine that much of the blank space that stands in for a set will be filled in, and there will most definitely be more for the eye to feast on, both with cast members and set design. Lines will be delivered differently, too, because the screen is so different from the stage. The feel of the live performance will obviously be absent.
But the audience will adjust, as we’ve done so many times before. The fact that many people believe Hairspray was originally on Broadway and then made the shift to the screen didn’t hurt it at all. It fared well at the box office and at awards season this past year. The Phantom of the Opera is similar in this respect, though it has the advantage of being well known as a literary work and a classic horror film before being known for its Broadway fame.
A few other stage productions that became movies or miniseries were A Bronx Tale, Angels In America, and The History Boys. These also transferred amazingly well to the screen. I’m sure that the film version of Mamma Mia! will satisfy its fans and make new ones easily. I doubt, however, that it has the staying power of these last shows I mentioned. The raw intensity the social commentary contained in those makes them more memorable than what I saw and sensed at Mamma Mia! But only time will tell, and I can’t wait to hear its verdict.
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