"MAMMA MIA!," through Feb. 5, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main (801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org); running time 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
When Donna Sheridan invites her two best friends to her daughter’s wedding in “Mamma Mia!,” their reunion reawakens Donna’s “dancing queen” days. The jukebox musical’s farewell tour set to the hit songs of ABBA is in Salt Lake City through Feb. 5 at the Eccles Theatre.
“What happened to our Donna, life and soul of the party?” asks Tanya, Donna’s best friend in the musical, who descends on the small Greek island where Donna and her daughter, Sophie, run a small hotel.
“I grew up,” Donna replies.
Shaking her head, Tanya utters what seems to be the musical’s mantra: “Well, grow back down then!”
It’s a call to action for everyone in the audience and, admittedly, “Mamma Mia!” seems to become more fun with age.
The musical centers on a mother, Donna; a bride-to-be, Sophie; and the yellowed diary from which Sophie learns about her mother’s three summer romances long ago. Sophie tracks down the three men and secretly invites them to her wedding in the hopes that one of them is her father and will be able to walk her down the aisle. To her surprise, all three men turn up, at which point mayhem ensues.
Donna is mortified at seeing her former beaus under one roof and feels she has become a shadow of the carefree and reckless leading lady of Donna and the Dynamos that once she was. Cue ABBA’s chart-topping tunes, including “Dancing Queen,” “S.O.S.,” “Super Trouper,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “The Winner Takes It All.”
Betsy Padamonsky led the way in the role of Donna with her rich and powerful voice, doing justice to the Swedish pop band’s hits from which the musical is based. Lizzie Markson as Sophie displayed a youthful exuberance, and Donna’s best pals, Sarah Smith as Rose and Cashelle Butler as Tanya, had the audience in stitches thanks to their comedic talents.
The plot is thin as the musical doesn’t seem to try all that hard to make the story fit snugly between those numerous hits. That said, there are moments of sincere tenderness.
The scene, for instance, when Donna helps Sophie primp on her wedding day summoned more than a few misty eyes. Singing “Slipping Through My Fingers,” Donna dotes on her daughter one last time, wondering where the little girl has gone and recounting lost days.
Though the show is more often silly and overacted, all is forgiven thanks to the beloved tunes of ABBA and the invitation to join in the troupe’s never-ending dance party vibe. Accordingly, the sometimes-questionable storyline feels forgivable because “Mamma Mia!” seems to hearken back to an era when musicals had a single purpose: to entertain and delight.
That it did in spades. In the final scene, most audience members could be seen bouncing from their seats to sing and dance with Donna and the Dynamos, as if collectively saying, "Thank you for the music."
Content advisory: The musical contains some content that may be considered PG-13, including some sexual references and innuendo, revealing body gestures and costumes, mild language and a few instances of alcohol consumption.