Mamma Mia! finds the funny, touching story amid the fluffy ABBA numbers

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      Book by Catherine Johnson. Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. An Arts Club Theatre production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, May 16. Continues until August 12

      It’s wedding season—and if you think you’ve been to an over-the-top wedding before, try going to one that involves dancing queens, excited bridesmaids, guys in scuba-diving gear, and three men who could all be the biological father of the bride.

      Throw in ABBA’s greatest hit songs, set the wedding on a sizzling Greek island, and you get Mamma Mia!. This fun, disco-dancing musical is the Arts Club Theatre’s season finale at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. And what better way for long-time Arts Club choreographer Valerie Easton to make her directing debut at the Stanley?

      Setting it to classic ABBA tunes such as “Waterloo”, “Take a Chance on Me”, and, of course, “Mamma Mia”, book writer Catherine Johnson has crafted a humorous and touching story about a young soon-to-be bride who launches a risky plan to find her biological father, just in time for him to—she hopes—walk her down the aisle. And while some audience members may show up thinking “The Name of the Game” here is just ABBA’s music, Easton makes sure the story comes first in her version.

      In fact, many of the earlier numbers in the production are slightly understated. The signature song “Dancing Queen” is a joyous reminiscence of youth by the bride’s mother, Donna, and her two best friends, jumping on her bed and using household items as microphones. While these numbers are still crowd-pleasing, Easton lets the cast tell the story through their acting and character-driven singing, and saves the glitzy song-and-dance for later in the show.

      Michelle Bardach delivers a refreshing portrayal of young bride Sophie, offering an impressive voice that can belt when needed and switch to a beautifully resonating head voice at other times. Stephanie Roth, who plays Sophie’s mother, Donna, is simply electrifying. The sensible, matter-of-fact delivery of her lines shows her character’s wisdom, earned through the school of hard knocks. But her singing paints a tapestry of spectacular colours, thanks to her amazing vocal range and her ability to convey her character’s emotions through song. Roth also has an excellent ability to mix legitimate musical-theatre and pop singing styles, so we know we’re still watching a musical as opposed to a cover-band performance of ABBA.

      Yes, there will be bellbottoms: Cathy Wilmot, Stephanie Roth, and Irene Karas Loeper.
      David Cooper

      Additionally, the show features a dynamite cast that plays entertaining supporting characters such as best friends, Sophie’s fiancé and his buds, and, of course, Sophie’s three possible fathers.

      Audiences may flock to Mamma Mia! for ABBA’s hit songs, but will also be moved by a relatable story that touches on the dynamics between parents and children, and the excitement and joy that can come from taking chances at any stage in life. And for those who crave the ABBA experience, don’t worry: the hot dance moves and sequined costumes, complete with bell-bottoms and platform shoes, still make a splash during the show.

      Guys don scuba gear in one of Mamma Mia!'s more famous scenes.
      David Cooper