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How ‘Mamma Mia!’ cured my aversion to ABBA

Hennepin Theatre Trust President/CEO Tom Hoch and I did not like ABBA in our younger years.
Then, 10 years ago, the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!” premiered in London’s West End, went on to Broadway and around the world, and eventually landed on Henn

Hennepin Theatre Trust President/CEO Tom Hoch and I did not like ABBA in our younger years.

Then, 10 years ago, the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!” premiered in London’s West End, went on to Broadway and around the world, and eventually landed on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. More than 40 million people reportedly have seen the show in a decade, including thousands in Minnesota.

All of which I found somewhat annoying because I was NOT a fan of ABBA and I had no desire to see a musical based on their songs from the 1970s.

“I would identify myself the same way,” Hoch told me after I ’fessed up. “I feel like I hear the music a little differently now. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m older. I like it now. We just had ABBA (the imitation group), and I really, really liked the show — which surprised me.”

The 2008 movie version starring two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep cured my aversion to ABBA. I found myself singing and dancing to “Dancing Queen” along with all the other “grown” women in the movie theater.

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It was horrifying, mystifying and strangely uplifting — all at once. Here’s a lyric that seems to sum up what can happen to someone in spite of her Lutheran upbringing: “Mamma Mia! Here I go again. My, my, how can I resist ya?” (Check out a YouTube video of ABBA singing that song.)

Resistance is futile
I now own the movie’s DVD. In fact, I’m listening to the sing-along feature as I write this post, and I just noticed that my chair is doing a little dance. On Tuesday, I will be seated — at least part of the time, I hope — in the Orpheum Theatre for my first glimpse of the live version.

The March 9-14 run will be Hennepin Theatre Trust’s fifth booking of the North American tour. Apparently, it’s a big hit with the locals, typically attracting 20,000 folks each year, Hoch said.

“People love the show,” he said. “I wish I could say it was more complicated than that, and it was a tribute to my skills” in picking appealing productions. Alas, it’s just plain “fun.”

The movie apparently hasn’t hurt ticket sales for live performances around the world. In fact, the movie seems to have given the stage version a lift, said Kittra Wynn Coomer, who plays Josie on the North American tour.

Coomer was among dozens of “Mamma Mia!” stage performers bused in for the movie’s premiere and remembers worrying a little about the competition.

“Geez, we wondered … if people can go see it for $10 as opposed to $60 or $70 or $80 for the live performance, will they just go to the movie? Instead, it had the opposite effect,” she said. “They seemed to think, ‘If it’s this great on the movie screen, I want to see it live.’ ”

Live theater vs. movie
The movie is “visually so beautiful to look at,” she said, “because they had locations in Greece with the sparkling water and the cliffs.”

Even so, she said, “it’s so much more fun to be there live.”

She notes that the singing in the stage version is superior to the movie’s, though she admires the gutsiness of Streep, Pierce Brosnan (who probably should confine his singing to the shower), Colin Firth and others in the movie.

But what makes middle-aged women start singing and rocking along with the performers?   

Coomer: “I don’t know if it’s ABBA’s music. I don’t know if it’s the story. I don’t know if it’s the sheer fun of it. It’s just one of those weird, magical combinations.” Plus, the energy of the audience, she says, seems to transport the cast through 2½ hours of what some could imagine feels like the same old song and dance.

“When we’re doing ‘Dancing Queen’ at the end and people are up out of their seats, we’re still having fun,” she said. “It’s an amazing thing, and I would enjoy doing it for 10 more years.”

Besides, the story line is laugh-out-loud hilarious, even though it was built around ABBA’s songs. A single mom (Donna) is preparing for her daughter Sophie’s wedding, not knowing that Sophie has invited three men, one of whom could be her birth father. When all three show up at Donna’s inn in Greece, it becomes clear why “Mamma Mia!” is a fitting title.

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Hoch and I’ve decided it’s OK to give in to the pull of “Mamma Mia.” It’s OK to escape The Great Recession for a few hours. It’s definitely OK for a theater to make money in tough times. And it’s OK to release my inner dancing queen.

“I’m German. I’m Catholic. I’m Minnesotan. What I’ve concluded at midlife is that it’s OK for people to just have a good time — and that we don’t have to suffer,” he said.

“Mamma Mia!”: March 9-14, Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis. Details. Phone: 1-800-982-2787.