Mamma Mia! Is a Bright, Pure Sugar Rush at BDT Stage

Wed alert! Christy Oberndorf is looking for her father.
Wed alert! Christy Oberndorf is looking for her father. Glenn Ross
I can’t count how many of my reviews of BDT Stage shows have begun with something like, “I’m not usually a fan of Disney/Andrew Lloyd Webber/Whomever, but this production delighted me.” That’s because the acting on stage is always good and includes fine voices and supple dancing; the direction is smart, meticulous and filled with electric energy; and the tech is first-rate. Add the fact that the company, which started out as Boulder's Dinner Theatre, regularly combines charming new talent with the work of highly skilled and more seasoned performers, and I can almost always find surprising pleasures in even well-worn and conventional work, all while reminding myself of BDT’s periodic insertion of something more challenging into the schedule, like Ragtime, which returns early next year.

But Mamma Mia! is so bloody dumb. It exists to string together the biggest hits of ABBA — songs by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus that include the title number, “The Winner Takes It All,” “S.O.S.” and “Knowing Me Knowing You.” It doesn’t particularly bother me that the plot is absurd: Sophie, a young woman about to marry, doesn’t know who her father is, and so, after peeking into her mother's diary, she invites the three men recorded as one-time lovers to her wedding, without telling her mother, Donna. The men arrive. Donna’s upset, and Sophie’s strategem also angers her own fiance, Sky. Yet all three of Donna’s ex-lovers are keen to be named father and walk Sophie down the aisle. A lot of dancing, singing and general futzing around in neon-bright costumes ensues.

Many good musicals have even dopier plot lines, but they compensate with comedy, wit and memorable songs. All of this is lacking in Mamma Mia!, though clearly the high-grossing musical has over the years attracted swarms of ABBA fans, many of whom were clapping and swaying in the audience when I visited BDT. The dialogue is flat, and there’s more sentimentality than humor, though the high-octane musical numbers are often funny.

click to enlarge The cast of Mamma Mia! - GLENN ROSS
The cast of Mamma Mia!
Glenn Ross
Still, there are bright spots to this evening. The direction by Matthew D. Peters and Alicia K. Meyers is stellar, with smart sets by Amy Campion augmented by Linda Morken’s playful and inventive costumes. The choreography is sharp and all the dancing tight, strong and wonderfully synchronized, with the performers giving off a joy and energy that reverberate through the theater. Christy Oberndorf, who has a good voice, is a lithe and expressive Sophie. The actors playing the three would-be fathers manage to endow these empty figures with humanity: Scott Severtson as architect Sam; Scott Beyette as the adventurer, Bill; and Bob Hoppe playing English banker Harry Bright. It’s lovely to see Tracy Warren given a chance to show off her considerable warmth and charm, along with a lovely singing voice, in the role of man magnet Donna.

Most entertaining of all are Joanie Brousseau-Rubald and Alicia K. Meyers as Rosie and Tanya, respectively, the old pals who were once in a girl group with Donna. Meyers is always fun to watch, and posturing, purring, thrice-married Tanya is a perfect fit for her. Brousseau-Rubald manages to be both utterly farcical and flesh-and-blood womanly at the same time. It makes for one of the best scenes of the evening when these two join with Warren’s Donna for a glittering performance of “Dancing Queen.” Still, the funniest scene would be Rosie’s demented and uninhibited sexual pursuit of Beyette’s Bill for the number “Take a Chance on Me.” He’s at first shocked and a little put off, but rapidly realizes that this crazy, vital woman is a pretty good deal.

Mamma Mia! is a sugar rush, a giant hot fudge sundae that’s more whipped cream and colored sprinkles than anything else. Taken on that level, it’s fun...if not satisfying for long.

Mamma Mia!, presented by BDT Stage through February 22, 2020, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 303-449-6000,
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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman