Mamma Mia! Review – ABBA is Back!

Marie-France Arcilla (center) and the Mamma Mia! company - Photo by Jason Niedle
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The 1970s were very special for ABBA, the Swedish musical group which rose to fame in 1974 after winning the Eurovision Song Contest. After all, who ever heard of blockbuster music coming from remote and chilly Sweden? With a peculiar name like ABBA? Which, by the way is a combination of the quartet members’ names – Bjorn Ulvaeus (lyrics), Benny Andersson (music), and Agnetta and Annie (their girlfriends/later wives), who gave vocal power to their efforts. ABBA was the brainchild of these two couples who eventually married – then divorced – and finally again came together in song in 2021. The pop group made earth-shaking music together in the 70s – and, now in their 70s (plus), have just released their first album since 1982. To add to this resurgence, these talented performers are planning yet another surprise when they soon perform through their digital avatars in London. 2021 has certainly been a momentous year for these talented Swedish musicians.

Eric Kunze, Gabriela Carrillo, Michael Cavinder, and Danny Bernardo – Photo by Jason Niedle

The innovative and forward-thinking ABBA pop stars have some earlier laurels to rest upon personified by the musical MAMMA MIA! Some say that MAMMA MIA! was the beginning of the Jukebox Musical, a show which took pre-existing songs and strung them together with a creative plot to create a brand new full production. While the idea may have its start in shows from the 1950s and even earlier, MAMMA MIA! still stands out as the most financially successful and has been brought to stages all over the world, as well as to the big screen. And so La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment offers its second show of the 2021-2011 season, MAMMA MIA!

In a nutshell, MAMMA MIA! is about Sophie Sheridan (Gabriela Carrillo) a young woman on the brink of becoming a bride who is searching for her father. It seems that her mother Donna (Marie-France Arcilla) was a true flower child in her youth – and now is uncertain about Sophie’s paternity. When Sophie finds her mother’s diary, she realizes that the decision rests among three possible dads, Bill Austin (Michael Cavinder), Barry Bright (Danny Bernardo), and Sam Carmichael (Eric Kunze). How to choose? Sophie decides to meet each potential pop by inviting them to her wedding – under the guise of an invitation from her mother. Obviously, she will know immediately who the lucky guy is when she looks into their eyes. Or will she? Oh, and by the way, the action takes place in 1999 on a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea.

(Top center) Taubert Nadalini and Gabriela Carrillo – Photo by Jason Niedle

But the plot in MAMMA MIA! will forever remain secondary to the music, delivered with gusto, joie de vivre, and foot-stomping fun. As each of the already popular ditties explodes onto the stage, the tuneful tale again proves to be a consummate audience pleaser. Director T.J. Dawson helms the talented cast, with musical director Keith Thompson keeping the lush sounds flowing. The musical is a medley composed of Stephen Gifford’s swinging set, Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting, Cricket S. Myers’ sound, Winfield Murdock’s twinkling costumes, and Kaitlin McCoy’s hair/wig/makeup designs. It’s a splashy, colorful world worthy of ABBA’s stirring sounds. And let’s not forget choreographer Dana Solimando, who shepherds the exhilarating, energetic dancers with grace and verve.  Overall, this is a happy musical which is sure to send the humming audience home with smiles. Even though this is likely to happen only once, this reviewer also felt a broad grin coming on when one of the chorus was singled out at the end of the show – and her civilian boyfriend came up on stage, went down on one knee, asked THE question, and presented her with a ring. What a perfect ending to a feel-good production.

Michael Cavinder, Candi Milo, Eric Kunze, Marie-France Arcilla, Danny Bernardo, and Emily King Brown – Photo by Jason Niedle

MAMMA MIA! runs through November 21, 2021, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, at 8 p.m. on Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays (no performance on 10/31/21). La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, CA. Tickets range from $17 to $89 with group and student discounts. For information and reservations, call 562-944-9801 or 714-994-6310 or go online.

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