This Friday through Sunday, one of the largest, most successful Broadway shows, “Mamma Mia!” brings their tour to Milwaukee. “Mamma Mia!” is a truly one-of-a-kind theatrical experience as it’s one of the shows that welcomes audiences to get on their feet to sing and dance along. Some of the most diehard fans across the country devote themselves to “Mamma Mia!” and the ever-popular Abba music that drives the plot. In anticipation of The Marcus Center’s weekend run of “Mamma Mia!”, cast members Rebecca Mason-Wygal (Donna) and Chelsea Williams (Sophie), and mother-daughter super fans Joann Perlberg and Brandilyn Ebbinger shared their experiences with the show and what makes it such an iconic, timeless musical.
“Mamma Mia!” is a story about Sophie, a young woman about to be married, who takes it upon herself to finally answer her lifelong question: Who is my father? She learns that she has three potential fathers and, unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, she invites all three men to her wedding in the hopes of discovering which is her father. The plot, while fun and engaging, is largely about Donna and Sophie and their mother-daughter bond. Mason-Wygal touched on this bond and the strong female forces within “Mamma Mia!” saying,
It’s not easy to sell something that female-centric, and that’s OK. We can accept the challenge that there’s a lack of powerful female roles out there or stories that really look at that mother-daughter relationship, or three middle-aged friends coming back together and having a reunion….and I love that it stuck around because I think every night it proves that these are important stories that aren’t just for one target demographic- these stories are universal.
Williams touched on the characters and audiences’ reactions to them stating,
When audiences see ‘Mamma Mia!” live, it’s such a pleasant surprise because the characters are so colorful and fun and I think people come for the music and leave knowing it’s also a very good story.
The four women agreed that, even with the unique, intriguing plot, “Mamma Mia!” draws audiences in and keeps fans coming back because of the timelessly popular Abba music. As Williams puts it,
Even if you lose track of the plot or you don’t know what’s going on, you know the music and everyone knows the music… you see little kids and older folks and everyone in-between knowing the songs because Abba is such a timeless pop band.
Mason-Wygal added to this saying,
I’ve been with this tour now a year and a half and that’s long enough for anybody to get tired of anything, but that’s unique thing of our show- and I think it comes from the Abba music- is that you don’t get tired of it and it goes to show with the Broadway run lasting 30 years. It just became the 8th longest running Broadway show.
Every pop star is looking to write that one song that’s going to stick around and be popular for generations and generations, but amazingly Abba wrote like 20 of those songs…. Songs fall out of style, fall out of fashion, but Abba music has always secretly been around.
Long-time fan of Abba music and “Mamma Mia!”, Brandilyn Ebbinger, commented on the popularity of the music saying,
Everybody knows it. If you don’t know Abba, you at least know ‘Dancing Queen’. If you don’t know the musical, you at least know the songs.
Both Brandilyn and her mother Joann are huge fans of “Mamma Mia!” and, especially, of Abba. Since Brandilyn recently got married, and “Mamma Mia!” centers around a wedding, the story especially resonates with these two women lately. As Joann stated, “‘Mamma Mia!” hits close to home.” She went on to comment on the presence of Abba music throughout her life, stating,
‘Mamma Mia!’ and Abba are my life! I’ve been singing it forever, my kids all sing it, my son sings it, and it’s been a part of my entire life right down to every single song- there’s not one I don’t know. We sing it all the time!
Brandilyn added to this saying,
My mom always listened to the music- we’re a very musical family. So one of my earliest memories is we’d play Abba music and sing along in the car and in the house, everything. I think ‘Mamma Mia!’ is one of those musicals that a mom and daughter can enjoy as adults.
The two women are huge fans of Abba and “Mamma Mia!”, and, though they both agree that the 2008 film adaptation was excellent, Joann comments on the experience of the live performance saying,
I think the live version is so much better than a movie- it has that large body of participation and the laughter you can hear and the tears you can hear.
This “large body of participation” and diehard fan base is something that both Mason-Wygal and Williams agree makes “Mamma Mia!” such a unique theatrical experience. Mason-Wygal commented saying,
There’s a huge part of our audience that are return visitors that have seen the show over and over. I met a woman once who’d seen the show 13 times and she named her daughter Sophie and people are really invested in this.
Williams describes “Mamma Mia!” as an immersive rock concert where the audience sings and dances along. While this is definitely not your typical theater-going experience, Williams explains just how typical, and extremely welcome this behavior is during a live “Mamma Mia!” show:
I’ve never been a part of a show like this but [audience singing and dancing] is extremely typical every single show, and more so towards the end. There are some very good numbers at the end of the show and people will come to the front to the stage from the back of the orchestra, and people come in costumes, people sing and clap, and everything you would expect from performing a rock show. I’ve never been a part of a show like that but it’s pretty welcome! It’s one of the only chances you get as an audience member to interact that much and that’s what creates such a happy experience.
Each of these four women could agree that “Mamma Mia!” is a one-of-a-kind experience that is sure to leave both men and women, young and old, with a smile on their faces as they leave the theater. Mason-Wygal shared her hopes for audience members saying,
I hope that everybody has a good time and feels a little lifted from it. Especially right now that the Northeast is being pounded with snow, we’re coming for audiences to come away from that and come to this Greek island and sit on a beach- I mean, half of our ensemble is in their bathing suits the whole show! It’s escapism and that’s so valuable, especially in the middle of winter. “Mamma Mia!” is perfect for that because it’s like a big shiny bubble of energy. It’s just a big party and I want everybody to come!
Williams shared her sentiment, saying,
It really is your chance to leave all of your troubles at the door, which sounds so cliche, but it really is such a happy 2 1/2 hours of your life! It gives the chance to let go of everything else that might have gone on in your day and travel to this island where they happen to sing all these disco pop tunes. It’s such nice relief from the daily grind, so I hope when people come that they’re able to take a break from their lives and enjoy themselves for a little while.
“Mamma Mia!” runs this Friday, Feb. 20 through Sunday, Feb. 22 at The Marcus Center. Tickets are available online or by calling 414-273-7206.