“‘Mamma Mia!’ You’re Showing Your Age,’” read the headline on one of my past, ever-wearying reviews of an ABBA-fueled show that is to jukebox cash-cows what eukaryotic single-celled microorganisms are to human life.
Since then, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has produced the musical (2017). So has the Paramount Theatre in 2016 (the Paramount forgot it was supposed to be funny, but we’ll let that sleeping dog lie). That really only leaves the Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace — and, well, as of Thursday night under the crystal chandeliers, there we all went again.
Why, wonders the intelligent reader? People love it. One of my great sources of information is the long-serving doorman out at the old-school Drury Lane, a fine and discreet fellow who has seen previews of every show back to when Tony DeSantis was cleaning the bathrooms every hour, on the hour. I can pretty much write my review based on the expression on his face as I pull up. Thursday night he was sporting a huge grin. Business, he knew, was about to boom.
I walked into the bar. It was five people deep.
Me, last night? I was preoccupied with how to sound vaguely fresh on a show I’ve now reviewed about 20 times. I’ve done the song title puns — facing my Waterloo, how can I resist you, money, money, money, knowing me, knowing you, yadda yadda. I’ve strutted my ABBA bonafides, recalling the interview with Benny (or was it Bjorn?) from his private island somewhere by Stockholm. I’ve done the nostalgic trip like Anton Ego of “Ratatouille,” whisking readers back to the first time I saw “Mamma Mia!” right before it opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in London, back when the songs were huge hits and the material surrounding them was a complete unknown.
“Hamilton” in Puerto Rico enjoyed a bigger audience response. But my list ends there.
That state of affairs, by the way, now has completely reversed. Far more people know “Mamma Mia!” than could name 10 ABBA hits. The vehicle now has eclipsed the fuel.
And — now I’ve seen “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” on the big screen, I have Lily James in my head, here the still-unborn child of Sophie and Sky. Weird! Plus Donna is dead! That adds a whole new level of emotional oomph. And I betcha’ good money you’ll soon be reading a review of the stage version of that sequel, replete with the most outre ABBA song of all, “When I Kissed the Teacher.”
Enough, critic. You know “Mamma Mia!” or you stopped reading three paragraphs ago. You are inquiring whether this one is any good? Yes siree, absolutely — it has Susie McMonagle played Donna. McMonagle did the national tour of this show in 2008 — I can still recall, as the ABBA song goes. She was fabulous then and we all get better with age.
Other notable matters: Director William Osetek's production actually features an all-Chicago cast. Rebecca Hurd, a vocally terrific Sophie, comes with that crucial nerd quotient. No boring ingenue, she. Elizabeth Ledo’s smile (she’s an unusual Rosie) hits the back of the house all night. Jane Lanier’s flipper-loving choreography actually manages to be funny, and the universe of genuinely amusing choreography is small. And the fabulous Greek Isle costumes, by Marianne Custer, come with the life-affirming pleasures of fashion week in the spring. When you’ve seen a show so many times, you’re always going to have issue with one thing or another, here and there. But you need those paragraphs about as much as you need a lamentation that the Drury Lane is not doing existential nihilism.
And when you have McMonagle leading a charming company and open hearts all over the stage, you won’t care much. Just as the Emcee sings in “Cabaret.”
For the record, “Mamma Mia!” stacked its creative team with women long before it became fashionable to crow about stacking your creative team with women. Longevity has been its reward.
Guess we need a rewrite on that old headline. Let’s just not go as far as “Now and Forever.” Death comes to us all, even if “Mamma Mia!” points toward eternity.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Mamma Mia!” (3 stars)
When: Through April 14
Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Tickets: $55-$70; 630-530-0111 and www.drurylane.com