Excerpt from Mamma Mia promotional poster.

Mamma Mia! Stirs Pleasant Nostalgia

Although it's been performed many times since its 1999 debut, the heartfelt story is something to rediscover.

The current non-equity tour of Mamma Mia! that’s playing at Dallas Summer Musicals for two weeks has forced me to acknowledge a phenomenon I’ve termed “rememberiscing.” This combination of remembering and reminiscing happens when you’ve seen a show—usually a blockbuster—a couple of times, probably a few years back, and have formed a certain opinion of it in your mind. Rent is one show I’ve rememberisced about, and Wicked is another; two shows that hold generally fond memories but have had their sharp edges softened into vague, pleasing lumps in my mind. It’s not until I see them again that I truly recall the clever dialogue, the harsher emotions, and the startling, smaller moments.

Mamma Mia! received some rememberiscing on Tuesday night. This is a show I’ve seen maybe five or six times since it debuted in London in 1999, and yet when I think of it, it’s usually with a slight shudder due to the treacly and tone-deaf train wreck of a movie that came out in 2008. It’s easy to remember the spangled jumpsuits and ABBA’s disco score, but it’s harder to recall the show’s raunchy jokes and undercurrent of sadness.

It’s those surprising moments that are on display at the Music Hall, making this tour something to be rediscovered. It’s also a good opportunity to experience a successful jukebox musical (they exist!), as Catherine Johnson’s book weaves together 22 of ABBA’s hits in a way that highlights, rather than forces, the humanity of the songs.

When Sophie (Chelsea Williams) invites her three possible dads to her wedding, her mother Donna must confront her romantic past while simultaneously learning how to let her daughter go. It’s an unconventional musical comedy plot, but one that’s bolstered by strong themes of friendship and girl power.

Rebecca Mason-Wygal, the understudy for Donna, performed Tuesday night after a medical emergency put the original actress out of commission. Her solid portrayal was supported by Gabrielle Mirabella and Carly Sakolove as her best gal pals; some of the show’s best moments are when the trio is goofing around like teenagers.

That youthful exuberance is enticingly undercut with a number of blue zingers and some suggestive staging, drawing the show further away from treacle and more stoutly toward grown-up entertainment. If all you remember of ABBA is sparkly pop songs and silly costumes, take the time to rememberisce about Mamma Mia! and its heartfelt story.