ABBA-cadabra: The Magic of Mamma Mia!

While today’s Sweden may conjure up images of H&M, Volvo and, above all, IKEA, the 1970s was musically kind to the Scandinavian country.
Although still considered a guilty pleasure, ABBA is undeniably one of the country’s most famous exports. The fact that the band is still able to occasionally rack up sales with its “Gold” album is a testament to the group’s fame and it’s easy to see why.
By merging together familiar beat structures and upbeat vibes, ABBA has written the epitome of earworm music. For the unsuspecting listener, each of the group’s songs are inescapable looping monstrosities. Simply hearing a solitary line from “Dancing Queen” is a point of no return, as nothing stops the disco classic from firmly planting itself into every crevice of the brain and blasting away any remaining musical discretion.
On its own, ABBA’s music is unconscionably addictive, but by tapping into the captivating power of Broadway, the band’s catchy tunes have transcended onto an entirely new and astonishingly accessible level. With the ABBA-inspired musical “Mamma Mia!,” the band’s pop ditties have joined up with a lighthearted tale of love filled with bright lights and fun, flashy choreography.
Young Sophie Sheridan just wants two things in life—a fairy tale marriage and finally finding her long-lost father.
The former is well on its way, with the small and secluded Greek isle she calls home bristling with excitement as the day of Sophie’s dream wedding draws nearer. The latter, however, is not so easily achieved because Sophie’s mother Donna is a complete throwback to the Gloria Steinem era, girl-band included.
Despite her anti-establishment sentiments, Donna has a rather sexually adventurous past, with her starry-eyed daughter being the result of a summer fling with one of three men. Unscrupulous herself, Sophie sneaks a peak at Donna’s old diary, and after putting two-and-two together, decides to invite her three potential fathers to the wedding.
Unfortunately for the independent and decisive Donna, her little girl deliberately fails to inform her of these special invitations, and after 20 relationship-free years is forced to deal with heaps of old baggage and three aging and graying ghosts from her past.
Even if musicals have always been the fun-loving cousin of operas, it’s a well-known fact they’re an acquired taste. Nevertheless, “Mamma” almost acts as a gateway drug to the stage genre, as the show and its cast urge the audience to bop along to the music blasting from the orchestra pit.
Although it’s loud and boisterous like most shows, it’s a craving for audience interaction which deftly sets it apart. It does this with surprising grace, as the musical carelessly tosses off any of the genre’s tried-and-true traditions and instead ties itself to the dance era roots it was spawned from.
And the cast members seem to revel in it, with each actor gladly leaving his or her dignity at the stage door and plainly indulging in their puckish and spandex-friendly roles. They sing, they dance and manage to top it all off with a sincere smile amid the glut of glitter, glam and platform boots.
As expected, “Mamma” is unapologetically silly but the show’s messy structure and merciless absurdity does begin to grate after awhile. The steady stream of tight jumpsuits and mind-numbing refrains doesn’t help the musical either. ABBA may be chart-toppers, but it’s still just highly polished pop junk.
Still, go-go boots and Nordic harmonies are a dangerously viral mix. And while “Mamma” may not go down in the annals of Broadway as a magnum opus, it’s still a fantastic show for those willing to shut off their brains and put aside any coherency and logic.
After all, it’s ABBA, not Ingmar Bergman.
Grade: B+