‘Mamma Mia!’ touches down at BDT Stage

As someone of a certain age — namely a person who possesses ears and grew up in the ’70s — the Swedish pop band ABBA has a special, kinda weird place in my heart. As a committed rocker, I disdained the sugary pop hooks and cheesy lyrics and looked down upon those who stooped to singing along to things like “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper.”

At some point, though, I somewhat surreptitiously acquired a copy of “ABBA Gold,” and in the newsroom where I worked in the ’90s, we listened to it a lot — albeit ironically. There was something about it, we all agreed, that wouldn’t let you go. Like Twinkies or bell bottoms, Pop Rocks or David Hasselhoff, ABBA had some ingredient that compelled one to push past the dorky synthesizer riffs and bizarre, ear-worm lyrics and melodies and enjoy its peculiar je ne sais quois.

And when a group of the band’s top hits was immortalized in the jukebox musical Mamma Mia! in 1999, ABBA came roaring back into our consciousness, reminding us all that, in a world gone mad, there’s always room for “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money, Money” and “Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie.” The songs by ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus don’t always exactly fit each scene, but if you’re a stickler for that kind of thing, it may not be your kind of show anyway.

Although it’s only been two decades since its debut, Mamma Mia! seems to have permanently embedded itself in the American theatre scene. And whether you’re an ironic ABBA listener like myself or an absolutely unapologetic fan like my wife, you’ve got the opportunity now to see a very strong production now playing at BDT Stage in Boulder.

And you can enjoy a nice meal while you’re at it.

3 dads for 1 daughter

The tale put together by Catherine Johnson for the show’s book involves a wedding on a Greek island and a young woman’s quest to meet her father. (And yes, in case you’re keeping track, it’s Swedish pop on a Greek island with a sort-of Italian title.) Sophie, the bride, is played by a radiant Christy Oberndorf, who gets the character’s high-energy enthusiasm just right and matches it with a beautiful voice that can handle anything Björn & Co. throw at it.

As Donna, the mother who’s not quite sure who the father is, Tracy Warren is a dynamo. Although she has to spend a good deal of the show fretting about the wedding and the unexpected arrival of three old flames, Warren is able to bust out some ABBA gold solo and with her two BFFs from the old days when she sang in clubs. As Rosie, BDT Stage veteran Joanie Brosseau-Rubald is a hoot, jiggling around the stage looking for love herself while getting plenty of opportunities to show off her own powerful voice. And as the brassy cougar Tanya, Alicia K. Meyers (who also directed the show) is a delight — delivering a lot of the comic zingers that keep the mood light.

As the three possible dads Sophie has ID’d by reading her mom’s old diary, Meyers did well casting Scott Beyette as Bill, Bob Hoppe as Harry and Scott Severtson as Sam. The always-reliable Beyette is hilarious as the unsuspecting maybe-dad who’s more comfortable trekking in the Alps than taking on paternal duties. Hoppe has fun playing a gay man who’s touched to (maybe) learn that his one female fling may have produced a daughter. And Severtson does a nice job with the guy who was a bit more than a fling for Donna and still holds the keys (or at least one key) to her heart.

It was also a treat to see the great Lillian Buonocore — who just finished up a long run as Belle in BDT Stage’s Beauty & the Beast — show up here as Sophie’s BFF Ali. She’s joined by dancing phenom Sarah Hackshaw as the other bridesmaid Lisa, and the three of them are offset by some of the groom’s buddies Pepper (Alejandro Roldan) and Eddie (Matthew D. Peters).

Chas Lederer as Sky, the groom, has the challenging task of being in the center of a lot of mayhem as the men on one side and the women on the other sing and dance their way through an extended series of mostly comic encounters as they all try to determine “What’s the Name of the Game.”

Not to read too much into Mamma Mia!, but it does have some poignant messages in it. We all want to know our parents, and a great many people simply don’t for whatever reason. Watching Sophie’s longing to know something, anything about the man who fathered her is touching, and the way it’s handled is quite gratifying at the end. Of course, lost loves and all those “what-ifs” in life always make for great theatre, and Mamma Mia! has plenty of that as well.

All of that plus a wonderful cast, a crack live band led by Neal Dunfee, strong choreography by Matthew D. Peters and a great, functional set design by Amy Campion and it’s another recipe for a fun night (or afternoon) of professional theatre at BDT Stage. Mamma Mia! runs all the way through Feb. 22, so there’s plenty of time to go catch it.

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Photos by Glenn Ross