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ANNA HOLLOWAY REVIEW: 'Mamma Mia' a solid finish to Lyric’s summer season

“Mamma Mia” plays through Sunday at the Civic Center. [PHOTO PROVIDED]
“Mamma Mia” plays through Sunday at the Civic Center. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

“Mamma Mia” is an interesting story of personal values and how they change—and don’t change—ornamented with the music of ABBA, the pop group that had a series of chart-toppers in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  

The story is set in 2000 on a small island off the coast of Greece and opens on the eve of a wedding. Donna (Meredith Inglesby), once the lead singer of a ’70s girl band, has built a taverna and raised her daughter Sophie (Jessica Martens) on this island, which we learn is also where Sophie was conceived in 1979. Sophie is about to marry a young man who is not all that interested in the wedding stuff; she has found her mother’s old diary and invited (unbeknownst to her mom) three men from Donna’s past, one of whom might be Sophie’s father. Donna’s erstwhile bandmates, Rosie and Tanya (Renee Anderson and Barb Schoenhofer), also come to the wedding, giving Donna both support and foils for interaction with the three "dads."

In the ensuing insanity, the hippie values of the ’70s—and some of their consequences—serve as a backdrop to more open and accepting standards two decades later. The strong story framework explores the moral issues of judgment and oppressive morality and what such attitudes can cost—all with a very light, sometimes frivolous, touch.

Lyric’s production, directed and choreographed with great skill by Lyn Cramer, painted the story with the brights and lights of early ’80s disco bars. Cramer’s cast played the script beautifully, delivering the comic moments with a deft touch that emphasized the camp feel of a period musical comedy while avoiding any heaviness of forced humor. 

All eight key roles and the large ensemble delivered solid performances with great timing—a crucial element in both comedy and music. Standouts included Schoenhofer and Anderson as Tanya and Rosie, the former backup singers in Donna’s band; their roles have some of the best lines. Both performers offered impeccable delivery and convincing physical comedy. 

The book, based on an idea by Judy Craymer, is by Catherine Johnson; music and lyrics are by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, who wrote the songs as disco pop songs for the group ABBA (originally active 1972-1982), were also involved in the creation of the show from the beginning.

Given the group’s chart-topping popularity, the music is the real star of this show; music director and conductor David Andrews Rogers was rocking along in the orchestra pit while delivering the sounds the audience came to hear. Even with the changes in orchestration required by the story, those who remember ABBA the first time around will find familiar resonances. 

The flowing blue of the set, suggestive of the Aegean Sea where the fictional island is located, and the costumes, which have to recall both 2000, when the show takes place, and 1979, when Donna conceived Sophie, were enormously successful. Jeffery Meek managed to take the neon, black-light kitsch of the 1970s and weave it into the story with strongly self-referential humor; spandex band outfits of the period also resurfaced in several iterations.

The music is mostly exactly as fans will remember it; be warned that some orchestrations have been adjusted for use in the storyline. The backstage chorus filling in the harmony parts is predictably intrusive during intimate scenes, but then, disco was a dance form and was never especially intimate music. Fans should plan to stay for the curtain call and programmed encore.

“Mamma Mia” plays through Sunday at the Civic Center. For tickets, call 405-524-9312 or go to

Anna Holloway

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