Watching the musical Mamma Mia! is a bit like taking a romantic Mediterranean vacation where the sky and ocean are cool breezy blue backdrops and sandstone-like Greek architectural building props create a lively taverna setting. During your musical vacation, you encounter happy moments mixed in with lighthearted flirty humor, boys in wetsuits, and women who are “rock chick supremos.” Isn’t that what you’d want out of a picturesque Greek island vacation? Oh, and don’t forget the infectious music of Swedish super group ABBA! Make that an international exotic combination of a Greek setting, Swedish music, plus British writing and you have the hit musical that millions of people worldwide have enjoyed and loved throughout the years.

Mamma Mia!, the long running musical comedy about a daughter’s quest to find her real dad before she gets married, is every bit of ’70’s flash and stage razzle dazzle that you would expect out of a play that is based on – and performed to – infectious ABBA songs. (ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were co-composers and involved in the development of this musical.) Originally a stage musical written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, Mamma Mia! had its debut performance in London’s West End in 1999. The play eventually came to the U.S. in 2001, where it debuted in Chicago. Now, 11 years after the first U.S. performance, the musical is still alive, thriving, and touring. On Wednesday, November 2nd, the touring cast of Mamma Mia! sang and danced their ABBA-loving hearts out for the show’s opening night. (Mamma Mia! will be at Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox Theatre from now until Sunday, November 6th, so hurry up and buy tickets if you want to see this show before it leaves town.)

This stage version of Mamma Mia! starred Kaye Tuckerman as single mom and Greek Taverna owner Donna Sheridan with Chloe Tucker playing Donna’s 20-year old daughter, Sophie Sheridan. The story goes that Sophie is set to marry her finance Sky (Happy Mahaney), but she really wants her father to give her away at the wedding. She doesn’t know her father, his name, or his whereabouts; so, in an attempt to find out information about her mystery dad, Sophie snoops in her mom’s old diary and finds three possible candidates. She then invites all the men to her wedding and from there craziness ensues with sexual innuendos and double entendres abound. Sophie’s three possible dads are a British banker Harry Bright (Paul Deboy), writer and adventurer Bill Austin (John-Michael Zuerlein), and an American architect Sam Carmichael (Christian Whelan). Then you throw in the mix Donna’s old band mates from Donna & The Dynamos – rich, three-time divorcee Tanya (Alison Ewing) and carefree, unmarried Rosie (Mary Callahan) – and you have a recipe for a whole lot of awkward moments, sexual tension, and laughter. This show is so lighthearted and fun that it’s hard to peg down a favorite scene, but a few of my favorite numbers include – “Thank You for the Music” and “Mamma Mia” when the three potential fathers get to the taverna; “Dancing Queen” where Donna & The Dynamos shake it up on stage; “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” and “The Name of the Game” during Sophie’s bacholette party; and “The Winner Takes It All” when Donna confronts a past lover. One of the funniest scenes in <i>Mamma Mia!</i> happens when Rosie chases Bill around the tavern for “Take A Chance On Me.” That was one of the best numbers of the show and the audience definitely loved it!

So, what better way to see a musical play titled Mamma Mia! than with my own mamma? And that’s exactly what I did on opening night! My mom is a recently retired school teacher who absolutely loves the 2008 movie version of Mamma Mia! , which starred Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, and Amanda Seyfried. She’d never seen the live Broadway version of the play before, so this was a special mother-daughter moment which she can’t stop talking about it. (Ah, the power of live shows!) This just further proves the argument that live musical performances are always more spectacular than their movie counterparts. I mean, you can’t enjoy a live dance party in a movie, can you? At the end of the show the cast took to the stage to do a group song and dance party encore! Donna & The Dynamos and Sophie’s three possible dads were in full rock star gear as they sang “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Waterloo.” After the finale, John-Michael Zuerlein (who played Bill Austin) requested that the audience help the theater community’s philanthropic endeavor and donate to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Phyllis Newman Woman’s Health Initiative. Donations were taken by cast and crew members as the audience left the theatre. Patrons who donated $20 received a Mamma Mia! apron, $40 got you a signed show card by the cast, and $60 donors received a Donna & The Dynamos poster that was used during the play. All donations were tax deductible and were taken in cash. (I’m not sure if they accepted check or credit/debit cards, but you could ask at the theatre if you’d like to donate and that’s the best way for you to do so.)

Ok, and now for confession time – I love ABBA’s music. Maybe it’s the Scandinavian in me, but I just love the songs and I know all the words to every song in Mamma Mia!. I know there are some who are not fans of the music or may find the songs a bit annoying, but I don’t see how that dislike could translate over into live theater. (Just think about it – I’m sure there are cover songs you like better than the originals.) Besides, Mamma Mia!‘s storyline flows flawlessly with the ABBA tunes and the performers own the material, making you forget that not all of these songs were specifically written for the play. But also – no matter what – a night out at the Fabulous Fox Theatre is always a good night out!

Mamma Mia! is playing at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre from Wednesday, November 2nd to Sunday, November 6th, 2011.
November 2nd – 4th show starts at 8 p.m.
November 5th show starts at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
November 6th show starts at 1 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.

The Fox Theatre – Atlanta
660 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30308
(404) 881-2100

Musical Numbers:
ACT 1:
Honey, Honey
Money, Money, Money
Thank You For The Music
Mamma Mia
Dancing Queen
Lay All Your Love On Me
Super Trouper
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
The Name of the Game

ACT 2:
Under Attack
One Of Us
Does Your Mother Know
Knowing Me, Knowing You
Our Last Summer
Slipping Through My Fingers
The Winner Takes It All
Take A Chance On Me
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
I Have A Dream