Theatre Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ at The Fox

It starts small, just as the musical group ABBA did. A 20-year-old girl named Sophie (Lizzie Markson) sits on the steps of her mother’s inn in Greece and quietly sings “I have a dream.” She dreams of happiness: marrying her fiancé, knowing who her father is, nothing too radical.

Then, bam! We’re suddenly into “Mamma Mia,” on its “final farewell tour,” running at the Fox through June 18. We can thank Fifth Third Bank and its Broadway in Atlanta series for booking this big dose of fun, music, dancing, and joy.

“Mamma Mia!” is a hit (over 10 years on Broadway) because it makes people feel good. Period. You can bemoan the wacky plot and diss the music of ABBA all you want. The moment that peppy overture starts, people perk up and start smiling. This is not an opinion; it is observable fact.

We’re on a Greek island, for heaven’s sake, and everything seems a magical blue: the sky, the sea, even the buildings! A few years ago Hollywood listened and “took a chance on me,” and released a big budget film with Meryl Streep; the movie was a huge international hit, grossing over half a billion dollars. So much for worrying whether La Streep could carry a musical.

But you know what? The stage show is even better; the ineffable quality of live theatre works its magic, and you fall into a sort of blissful, hypnotic trance, which doesn’t end until the unforgettable curtain calls (a show all by itself).

Sophie wants to marry her fiancé Sky (Dustin Harris Smith), and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle—but she doesn’t know who he is. After perusing her free-spirited mother Donna’s (the wonderful Betsy Padamonsky) diary, Sophie learns her dad is probably one of three dashing men: Sam (Shai Yammanee), Harry (Andrew Tebo), or Bill (Marc Cornes). So she invites them all to the wedding, unbeknownst to Donna.

Sophie also invites her two besties: Lisa (Niki Badua, returning to Atlanta after her Suzi Bass Award-winning performance last summer as Kim in Serenbe Playhouse’s “Miss Saigon”) and Ali (Chloe Kounadis).

Mom Donna invites her two best friends, Tanya (Cashelle Butler) and Rosie (Sarah Smith), both very funny indeed. The three women used to be in a girls’ group called Donna and the Dynamos. They all still enjoy performing, as you will discover. There are plenty of attractive young men (Austin Michael, Max Ehrlich, Luke Monday, Alex Sheets, Ian Taylor, Brian Whitehall, and others) to serve as groomsmen and catnip for the ladies.

But really, it’s all about the music (and some terrific dancing): “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Honey, Honey,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “S.O.S.,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez-vous,” and many others. The music and lyrics are by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson; choreography by Anthony Van Laast; director, Phyllida Lloyd.

This cast has talented, first-rate pros, who gleefully grace you with some terrific singing, dancing, and hilarious comedy. During the aforementioned curtain call, which tends to induce standing, clapping, and dancing, I observed three grown women behind me dressed to the nines as Donna and the Dynamos, in full 70’s disco regalia. It’s safe to say they were blissed out. You can’t get this watching TV or even at the movies.

So take a break from politics, terrorists, and the woes of the world. Get to the Fox for “Mamma Mia’s” final farewell tour (like Cher’s), and raise your endorphins. As the program says, art and “money, money, money” have come together, all to make you feel good.

For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.

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