Will the Maltz Jupiter Theatre have to replace its carpeting after its four-week run of the ABBA jukebox musical Mamma Mia!, a show known for inciting audiences to dance in the aisles?
“You can see them wanting to get out of their seats,” says performer Mary Mossberg, veteran of a national tour of Mamma Mia! and two other productions. “There’s an undeniable chemistry to this show.”
As she has previously, Mossberg will be playing Greek taverna owner Donna, a single mother whose resourceful daughter Sophie is about to be married. But Sophie has never known who her father is, because former rock singer Donna had a rather wild youth, marked by one-night stands with three separate guys. So Sophie invites all three to the wedding, hoping to figure out which is her biological father and have him walk her down the aisle.
Dramatically speaking, Mamma Mia! is no Les Misérables or even The Producers, two of the show that director-choreographer Mark Martino has staged at the Maltz in recent years.
“I think the script is incredibly lean,” says Martino. “This is not Chekhov. You read the script and you go, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do with this?’ ” The key, he has learned from directing the show four times previously, is “You just have to create the joy in the room and involve the audience in it. Then it’s this very sweet, very simple, unabashedly sentimental, proudly romantic story.”
The show’s strength is in its score of hits by the Swedish pop rock group ABBA – music and lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson – even if those songs have little to do with the plot.
“Granted, there is shoehorning of songs that the creators did,” Martino concedes. “But if you get good actors – and I have them – and if you care about the material, I firmly believe that the songs work.”
Singing ABBA songs are a delight, says Mossberg. “They’re undeniably catchy. Their harmonies are far more sophisticated than you would expect the average pop song from the ’70s to be. Touring with the show, performing these songs hundreds and hundreds of times, I never grew weary of them.”
Having first opened on Broadway in 2001, soon after 9/11, Mamma Mia! is an early example of an increasingly popular genre built from existing songs. “This is the flagship of jukebox musicals. We can blame ‘Mamma Mia!’ for every jukebox musical that has happened since,” concedes Mossberg. “But I have to say, ‘Mamma Mia!’ is so much fun to do. Also, Donna is a fantastic role for an actor. So it was a no-brainer when I was offered to do it again here.”
You could carp about the flimsy script – and reviewers have – but the show ran in New York more than 14 years. Why? “Because there is a palpable sense of energy,” suggests Martino. “It’s just a joyful experience that deliberately leaves our world, that lets us escape with it. Soon we’re in a fantasy. A beautiful fantasy in a beautiful setting.”
“I really love this show because it’s about family. It’s about being an adult and creating your own family,” says Becca Andrews, who plays Sophie in the Maltz production. “Sophie decides, and I think it’s a pretty bold decision, that she’s going to go find the dad that she never had growing up.”
“Theater people really respond to this, because we make families with every show,” adds Martino. “But I find that audiences embrace it as well, they love the plot. You can tell by the laughter how much they enjoy Donna’s dilemma. She goes, ‘Oh, my God, my past has come back to haunt me.’ We’ve all experienced moments in our lives where our past catches up with us.
Mamma Mia! will never be confused with Shakespeare, but director Martino made sure that he cast able actors as well as singers so he could explore what depths there are in the material.
“If you think you’ve seen ‘Mamma Mia!’ before, you haven’t seen this really well-thought-out version,” says Andrews. “This version’s gonna knock your socks off.”
“If you haven’t seen ‘Mamma Mia!’ before or if you’ve seen it and kind of pooh-poohed it, just leave your high-sassy-falutin’ opinions at home and decide to have a good time,” says Mossberg. “It doesn’t have to be ‘Hamlet’ every time. You can just come and let yourself have a good time. You’ll laugh, and hopefully you’ll get up and dance.”
MAMMA MIA!, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter, Jan. 15–Feb. 10. $60-$120. Call 561-575-2223 or visit www.jupitertheatre.org.