There are few sure things as sure as "Mamma Mia!"
The jukebox musical laced with songs by the 1970s Swedish pop sensation ABBA has been on Broadway since 2001 and remains steady as she goes on tour. The show is docked here for a sixth time and earned a "Wow, Pittsburgh!" from the Heinz Hall stage during the exuberant encore on opening night.
In my first foray with the stage musical -- I know, right? -- I intended to be a hard sell. But in the end, I, too, surrendered to the charms of "Mamma Mia!"
Now I can't get "Waterloo" out of my head.
The premise of "Mamma Mia!" is fraught with so many potentially polarizing issues -- a single mother who doesn't know which of three men is her daughter's father and a young woman who lies and schemes to find her dad -- it's a wonder that the show still feels sunny and silly. That's due in no small part to the energetic touring troupe and the glow of the Greek isle setting as much as those hummable songs by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Catherine Johnson wrote the book that incorporates the title song, "Dancing Queen," "Take a Chance on Me" and more global chart-toppers.
The show begins, ends and centers on 20-year-old bride-to-be Sophie, who wants to have her father walk her down the aisle. As Sophie, Chelsea Williams grounds the show with a sweet yearning, in contrast to the chaos all around her.
If your only experience of the story is the Meryl Streep film, as was mine before Tuesday, you may be surprised by just how much this is the story of Sophie, the daughter of Donna (Georgia Kate Haege), a former girl-group lead singer who has spent 20 years building up and running an island inn while rearing her daughter. Sophie is about to have "a white wedding" to handsome Sky (Chris Stevens). After reading her mother's diaries circa 1979, she invites the three candidates who could be the dad of her dreams.
Add her mother's former bandmates -- oft-divorced cougar Tanya (Gabrielle Mirabella) and free spirit Rosie (the hilarious Carly Sakolove) -- plus fun-loving island boys who work at the inn, and the sexual innuendo and recriminations just keep on coming. When it's discovered that Sophie has lured her three potential dads to the island, Donna's stress level hits the boiling point while mischief reigns all around her.
It's obvious that Sam (Jeff Drushal) and Donna still have a connection, although dandy Harry (Mark A. Harmon) and adventurer Bill (Michael Colavolpe) are good eggs who want to help Donna and do right by Sophie. Along the way, Ms. Haege gets a chance to show off her vocals on "The Winner Takes It All," and Ms. Williams is a standout on "I Have a Dream."
For those of us nostalgic for warm weather, there's a deep sigh in the pleasure of seemingly simple white-washed set pieces that turn indoors to outdoors and the sun and sand implied by barefoot women and shirtless beach boys.
As the show builds to the climactic wedding, Bill and Rosie have a comedic dalliance that's priceless, old love is rekindled, and ABBA hits keep on coming.
The opening-night audience knew to stick around for the encore, when an explosion of sparkle and Spandex drapes the best dance moves of the night. Watch for Mr. Stevens among the ensemble, cutting loose and seemingly having a blast, as was the crowd, up on its collective feet and clapping all the way. That's when Ms. Haege, in appreciation for the love emanating from throughout Heinz Hall, said good night with a "Wow, Pittsburgh!"