Tuesday, 19 November 2013 15:19

Oh, Mamma!: Mamma Mia! hits Miller Auditorium

Written by  Allison Parker
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Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! COURTESY PHOTO

Mamma Mia!
Miller Auditorium, Kalamazoo
Dec. 10-11, 7:30 p.m.
millerauditorium.com, (269) 387-2300

Suppose your ex suddenly shows up at your door. Suppose there's a good chance this ex could be your child's father. Now suppose it's not just one possible baby daddy at your door, but three. Oh — one more minor detail here — suppose these men arrive just in time for your daughter's wedding.

Getting its groove on at Miller Auditorium this month, Mamma Mia! is a boisterous, campy tribute to dysfunctional families, intertwined with ABBA's greatest hits. Since its debut in 1999, the Broadway sensation has earned more than $2 billion worldwide.

First and foremost, Mamma Mia! is all about cutting loose, getting your crazy on and having a good time. Dancers waddle onstage in enormous diving flippers while middle-aged men strut about in '70s jumpsuits. Audiences frequently scream the encore songs along with the cast and even oldsters aren't afraid to bust some moves in the aisles.

"I can't really tell you much ... but at the very end of the show there's a little surprise and the audience goes crazy," said Mark A. Harmon, who plays Harry in the musical. "You just feel like a rock star."

In spite of its frenzied silliness, the musical still remains intelligent and carefully crafted. When playwright Catherine Johnson created the musical's original book, she began with ABBA's music. Rather than cramming songs into a storyline, Johnson allowed the songs to drive the plot. Johnson also veered away from predictable song usage.

"What I find interesting is how the story is woven around the music," Harmon said. "The musical will use a song in unexpected ways. It will do a twist to it. It's very clever how it has woven the songs together."

Although bursting at the seams with cheerfully ridiculous moments, the musical is rooted in the emotional truth of real-world situations. While exploring ABBA's sound, Johnson noted some songs contained a youthful vibe, while others reflected the emotions of more mature person. Johnson therefore decided to feature a mother and daughter as the show's emotional core. For many audiences, this relationship anchors the play in reality and resonates on a personal level.

"[Mamma Mia! is] about family," Harmon said. "Family connections and relationships between a mother and a daughter, so a lot of people relate to that. It's also about friendships and the stress of a wedding, which a lot of people have been through."

In comparison to the 2008 blockbuster, the musical's story is very much the same with a few minor changes in song choice. The live performance, however, offers a more immersive experience along with a top-notch Broadway cast.

"Of course you can do more in a movie than you can onstage, but there's nothing like seeing [Mamma Mia!] live — the energy is amazing," Harmon said. "These kids can dance. They're always dancing, both onstage and offstage. ... Come out and see the show. You're guaranteed a good time, and you'll have the songs stuck in your head for weeks."

Other Performing Arts Events

Ghost the Musical
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Dec. 10-15, show times at 1, 2, 6:30, 7:30 & 8 p.m.
whartoncenter.com, (517) 353-1982

Adapted from the hit romantic fantasy film, this new Broadway musical presents a haunting portrayal of life after death. When Sam's untimely demise transforms him into an invisible phantom, he'll stop at nothing to protect his girlfriend Molly from his murderer. With the help of a supernatural medium, Sam desperately struggles to reach the love of his life from beyond the grave. A passionate original score along with the mesmerizing hit "Unchained Melody" provides a rich musical backdrop for this anguished tale of everlasting love.

The Game's Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays
Beardsley Theater, Muskegon
Dec. 1, 5-8; show times at 3 & 7:30 p.m.
muskegoncivictheatre.org, (231) 722-3852

A delightful mix of chilling danger and snappy humor, The Game's Afoot tells the story of actor William Gillette, who plays Sherlock Holmes onstage. When one of Gillette's party guests is brutally murdered during a weekend holiday party, Gillette must suddenly become the famed detective in real life. It's up to him to crack the case and protect his friends from certain death.

The Nutcracker
Grand Rapids Ballet
DeVos Performance Hall
Dec. 13-15, 20-22; show times at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
grballet.com, (616) 454-4771

The holidays just wouldn't be the same without it. Grand Rapids Ballet and the Grand Rapids Symphony team up once again to present Tchaikovsky's stunning masterpiece. Dancing snowflakes, spinning sweets and waltzing wildflowers continue to awaken child-like wonder in audiences young and old. Get reservations for Clara's Nutcracker Party before the Dec. 15 matinee for story time and a photo op with the characters.

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