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BWW Reviews: Jukebox Musical MAMMA MIA Stands the Test of Time

Growing up Father's Day must have been very confusing for Sophie Sheridan, the lead character for MAMMA MIA. The product of a brief love affair, Sophie never knew who her real father was. So on the weeks before her wedding, she sends out invitations to the three chief suspects in hopes of finding out how her real dad is.

What sounds like an episode of the Jerry Springer show is the plot of MAMMA MIA, a two-act musical that opened March 3 in downtown Columbus. The show, based on the music of Seventies' super group ABBA, runs March 3-8 at the Palace Theatre (34 West Broad Street in downtown Columbus).

On the surface, MAMMA MIA appears to be another one of these "jukebox musicals" where producers take a group of seemingly unrelated songs and clunk a storyline together to tie the songs together. Some, like the musical JERSEY BOYS which weaves together the story of Frankie Avalon and the Four Seasons, or TOMMY, which is based on the Who's masterpiece album, are brilliant. Some, like WE WILL ROCK YOU, the decidedly uneven collection of Queen songs, and ROCK OF AGES, which features music of the hairband era, flounder miserably.

MAMMA MIA succeeds because of a solid marriage between plot (written by British playwright Catherine Johnson) and music (written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the principal songwriters of ABBA). Johnson's script makes smooth transitions from song to song and ABBA's music still stands up to the test of time.

People often forget that ABBA wasn't just some punchline to the Seventies' music scene of disco boots and sequined jumpsuits. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, the group has sold over 350 million records and for a few years, was Sweden's second leading export behind Volvo. Had Andersson and Ulvaeus, who went on to help write the music for CHESS, focused on writing musicals rather than hitting the pop charts, songs like "One of Us," "The Winner Takes It All," and "The Name of the Game" might be ranked among Broadway's most popular standards.

The current cast dusts off these gems and restores their luster. Chelsea Williams, who plays Sophie, pulls together strong vocal performances with a light comic touch especially in the first act with her wonderful reading of "Thank You For the Music." Georgia Kate Haege, who plays Sophie's overwhelmed mother Donna Sheridan, is perfectly cast as a former leader of the girl group "Donna and The Dominos." For the past 21 years, she's kept the identity of her daughter's father a secret and is determined to do so when all three suspects show up at her Greek Island villa for Sophie's wedding.

Actors Jeff Drushal (who plays Sam Carmichael), Mark A. Harmon (Harry Bright) and Michael Colavolpe (Bill Austin) each share the spotlight as they discover that they might be Sophie's father. All of them grapple with the tangle of emotions one would feel with the discovery of the news.

Sophie leans on her fiancée Sky (Eric Presnall) and her friends Lisa (Olivia Ashley Reed) and Ali (Emily Price) for support. Likewise, Donna relies on her former bandmates Tanya (Bailey Purvis) and Rosie (Sarah Smith) to help get through the emotional tilt-a-whirl of planning a wedding and a reunion with three former lovers.

The quality of the songs, plot and performances make MAMMA MIA more than just nostalgia. It is a musical worth taking a chance on ... again.

MAMMA MIA will be performed 7:30 p.m. March 5, 8 p.m. March 6, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 7 and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. March 8 at the Palace Theatre (34 West Broad Street in downtown Columbus). To purchase by phone, please call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000.

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From This Author Paul Batterson