By Harvey Barkin i FilAm Star EIC
SAN JOSE – Time was when ABBA fans were mostly in Europe and outside the US. In fact, at the peak of their popularity, it wasn’t easy for the Swedish group to get into the US top hit charts.
I grew up mostly on American English but I sometimes strayed into Belgian Georges Remi’s (a.k.a Herge) The Adventures of Tintin and Franco-Belgian Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s The Adventures of Asterix. It was a new world of thrills and an excursion into European English.
Entering my teen years, I remember the same feeling when ABBA released several international hit songs in the 1970s. Their music compelled you to dance but somehow, you got lost in their songs.
Now, thanks to the jukebox musical written by British playwright Catherine Johnson in 1998, the songs created by ABBA band members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have literally found new meaning.
For instance, Chiquitita, SOS, Super Trouper and Voulez vous began to make sense to me.
Johnson’s Mamma Mia! works ABBA songs into a story frame. Of a girl wanting to find her biological father and on her wedding day on a Greek island. So, she invites three possible dads. Also invited to the wedding are her mom’s sisters who (synching with the time frame of ABBA) were a singing sensation in the 1970s. From there, you can fill in your favorite ABBA song according to plot situation. It’s as though you hang on to what happens next and guess what song they will be breaking into next.
You get context, you get the music and you allow it all in even if it’s declasse – the wide lapels, button down shirt, the ruffled crop top, sequins, silver jumpsuit, bell bottoms, the knee-high platform boots and the colors louder than a party crowd.
And a party it is. San Jose Stage Company’s production of Mamma Mia! coincides with its 36th season.
SJS is the acknowledged leading professional theater company in the South bay, as well as the second largest professional theater in Silicon Valley.
Unlike some traditional theaters in San Francisco, SJS’ furthest seat in the house is about 15 feet from the three-quarter thrust stage. It feels more like a television studio stage where a live audience can immediately react to the performers.
Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 60 million viewers and has grossed $2 billion all over the world since the original musical debuted in 1999. A film adaptation was released in 2008 and the follow-up Mamma Mia (Here we go again) debuted last year – proving that nostalgia and polyester will never die.
San Jose Stage Company’s production of Mamma Mia! runs through July 7. Watch a live performance of many of your ABBA favorites including: Lay All Your Love on Me; Dancing Queen, Knowing Me, Knowing You; Take a Chance on Me; Thank You for the Music; Money, Money, Money; The Winner Takes It All and the title track.
Thank you for the music, Mamma Mia!