‘Mamma Mia!’ at The National Theatre

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
The music of ABBA never fails to get toes tapping and listeners dancing. Last night at The National Theater was no different. Mamma Mia! is the ultimate love story written by Catherine Johnson, around the snappy tunes and beautiful lyrics of the 1970s pop sensation opened last night to a packed audience. The words of 1977’s “Thank You for the Music” says it all, “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing. Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty. What would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we?” Who can live without the joy, the belief that true love conquers all, and the friendship that is Mamma Mia!

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Mamma Mia! tells the story of young Sophie (Chelsea Williams), raised by her single mother, Donna (Georgia Kate Haege) on a Greek island, on the eve of her wedding to Sky (Chris Stevens). She is distraught at not knowing who her father is and determined to figure it out and have him walk her down the aisle. Sophie has invited the three men who could possibly be her father—Harry Bright (Mark A. Harmon), Bill Austin (Michael Colavolpe), and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Drushal)—to the wedding without telling Donna. Meanwhile, Donna’s longtime best friends, Rosie (Carly Sakolove) and Tanya (Gabrielle Mirabella) arrive on the island for the wedding.

Sopihe tries her best to keep the three men from her mom, but she soon finds out that they are on the island and Donna panics that Sophie will realize that she doesn’t know which one of the men is Sophie’s biological father. The arrival of Sam has also dredged up many emotions that Donna thought she had buried years before. As the night progresses, Sophie somehow agrees to let each of the three men walk her down the aisle, without the other men’s knowledge. Sky finds out that Sophie has been lying about inviting her “fathers” and begins to question the reason for their wedding, and Donna is pulling out her hair trying to keep the three men away from Sophie. Will it all work out? Will Sophie find out who is her dad? Will Sky forgive Sophie? Will Donna and Sam overcome the shadow of their past and fall in love again?

It never ceases to amaze me how well the lyrics of ABBA fit into this story. “Chiquitita” for when Rosie and Tanya are trying to console Donna. “Mamma Mia” is perfect for when Donna first sees that Bill, Sam, and Harry are all on the island. “S.O.S” to express the regret that both Donna and Sam are feeling at how their relationship ended. Sam tries to describe his failed marriage through “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” The other 20+ songs in this production are expertly woven into the story and have me (as well as everyone around me) dancing in their seats and lip syncing the lyrics.

Mamma Mia! is in its 15th year in production, and has toured all over the world…so why does this rendition work so well? Part of that credit goes to Williams and Haege. While Williams is not the strongest voice I have heard….she does still have a beautiful voice with a sweet, innocent quality to it that is needed to accurately portray the naïve and un-worldly Sophie. Haege has just the right amount of edge and strength to her voice to be the perfect Donna—slightly heartbroken, world weary, but strong enough to be all the parent that Sophie needed. The voices of the three male leads—Harmon, Colavolpe, and Drushal is a little disappointing and is definitely shadowed by the talent of the female cast members.

Another reason that this touring production works is the tension between Drushal and Haege . The unspoken words between them stretch like a taught guitar string. You can feel their heartbreak and the strength of the love that still exists between them in “One of Us,” “S.O.S.” and “Winner Takes All.” The comedic timing between Haege, Sakolove, and Mirabella is spot on and has the audience giggling and laughing. The funniest moment of the night was between Sakolove and Colavolpe when she suggestively and seductively sings “Take a Chance on Me” to try and convince the stalwart bachelor, Bill to reconsider her as a possibility. The ensemble chorus is enthusiastic and sings and dances through the show’s goofy, mischievous, and slightly suggestive choreography with gusto.

Mamma Mia! is a fun night out filled with the timeless, exuberant, music of ABBA, psychedelic colored spandex, extra high platform shoes. If you like romance, or comedy, or a little bit of raunchiness, or musicals, or catchy tunes, or lip-syncing to songs you love, or dance parties…you’ll find it in Mamma Mia! In the words of my companion for the night, “How can anyone not love Mamma Mia! and ABBA?”

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Running Time: Two and a half hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Mamma Mia! plays through March 9, 2014 at The National Theatre-1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 514-3849, or purchase them online