It’s one of those rare songs everyone seems to know the words to. Be it at a karaoke bar, in the privacy of your earbuds or anywhere else, the song holds the same spell over the listener — and can always elicit a no-holds-barred belted out tune, even from the shyest of people.
It’s “Mamma Mia,” the hit ABBA song from the mid-1970s. But when you think about it, any other ABBA tune works the same way (“Dancing Queen,” anyone?) — even though decades have gone by since their initial release. That would explain why the musical “Mamma Mia!,” which features a whopping 22 of the Swedish group’s songs, has become a worldwide success.
And now, fortunately for Madison area musical enthusiasts, the globally-acclaimed show will take the stage at the Overture Center for the Arts Jan. 28 to Jan. 30. So, put on your disco gear.
The musical tells the story of Sophie, a young woman about to marry her fiancé, Sky. The child of a single mother, Sophie grew up dreaming about her absent father and always hoped he could give her away on her wedding day. With the nuptials coming up fast, she has to think quickly. In a ploy to figure out her father’s identity, Sophie finds her mother’s diary from the summer she was conceived — and discovers entries about three men who could possibly be her father.
Unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie invites the three candidates to her wedding. When they arrive, well, a little chaos ensues.
“It’s basically about finding love through a lot of romances that haven’t worked out, and finding who you really are in your own heart as opposed to attaching it to who your parents are,” Happy Mahaney said in a recent interview.
Mahaney, whose musical resume includes roles in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Cabaret” and “Grease,” plays Sky in “Mamma Mia!” Many have come to know “Mamma Mia!” through the 2008 film adaptation starring Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep. Mahaney said the film has spurred a surge of younger audience members in attendance, and the general reaction is of pleasant surprise.
“If you talk to anyone, they either really hate the movie or really like the movie,” he said. “And I think anyone that hates the movie or likes the movie that has never seen the stage version, when they come see that, it becomes a whole new experience for them. I feel they love the stage version so much better.”
While the music and plot remain the same from stage to film, Mahaney said the large difference between the two is the atmosphere present.
“It’s hard with movie musicals to sort of transfer the same energy on film, and with this show it’s so much more electric onstage,” he said. “It moves quicker…it’s like a rock concert.”
Since opening in London’s West End in 1999, “Mamma Mia!” has performed there 4,000 times so far and has since become a global phenomenon; 45 million people around the world have now seen the show. But it couldn’t have happened without the group that provided the entire soundtrack: ABBA.
Songs featured in the show include “S.O.S.,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Voulez-Vouz” and “Dancing Queen.” It’s rather unique for a major musical to take songs from the catalog of a popular group to create the soundtrack, but Mahaney said ABBA’s music naturally lends itself to a narrative format.
“If you listen to any of their songs, they have a story, they have a point of view,” he said. “They have something about the music that touches your heart in some way… And the tunes are catchy.”
Mahaney also said the creators of the show prefer to categorize “Mamma Mia!” as a play. In many ways they see the dialogue uniquely flowing into song performances to keep the show moving forward. Madison is a stop on the show’s North American Tour, which Mahaney has been a part of since August.
While the tour’s production is a little smaller than that found on the Broadway or London stages, Mahaney reassured audiences that, “Anyone who has seen the show before would never be able to tell.”
ABBA has proven to be a supergroup with multi-generational appeal, and that is something Mahaney sees true about the musical as well. “I think any person, no matter how old or how young, woman or man, they can all take something from it and they can all enjoy it in their own way.”
“Mamma Mia!” will be at the Overture Center for the Arts Jan. 28 to Jan. 30. Tickets run from $35 to $85. For all ticket information, visit www.overturecenter.com.