TGIF: ‘Mamma Mia!’ weaves fun storyline into ABBA’s pop hits

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

A party’s going in downtown Brownwood.

The time was, when the sun dropped below the horizon west of Center Avenue, the streets figuratively rolled up and everyone went home. But there’s a new vibe downtown these days.

Take a drive along Center, Baker, and various side streets on any day, but especially on weekends, and soak up the energy. Better yet, take a stroll. If you took advantage of the festivities celebrating Cinco de Mayo in early May, or the July Jam earlier this month, you’re aware that downtown Brownwood has become an entertainment and dining destination. But hundreds of people aren’t waiting for such organized events to bring them out.

The downtown excitement stepped up a notch last weekend as Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre opened its summer musical, “Mamma Mia!” If you are of the generation that was young when the music of ABBA was an international sensation, you will thoroughly enjoy this trip into yesteryear. And if you weren’t, you’ll have a chance to experience what your parents — and perhaps your grandparents — knew as popular music back in the day.

This weekend brings your last chance to see one — or perhaps more than one — of these performances. Two shows are scheduled for Friday, with an evening show Saturday, and the matinee finale is Sunday.

“Take a chance,” to borrow a line from one of songs in the musical. Get your tickets, grab your seats, and watch one of grander spectacles that the Lyric Theatre has produced.

My days of following popular music had ended by the time the Swedish group ABBA burst upon the scene. I can tell you all sorts of trivia about pop music from the 1960s, but that was when I was in school. By the following decade I was more consumed with starting a family and building a career. Nevertheless, it was impossible not to hear ABBA’s music. Even those whose preferences lean more toward country music probably are familiar with tunes like “Take a Chance on Me,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” and “S.O.S.”

At the Lyric this weekend, you’ll hear all of those, plus many more. You’ll even get the opportunity to join in during a rousing singalong that closes the show. Check your programs for the words.

Quite possibly, you’ll hear and come to love some ABBA songs that you had not known before. That was my experience with the cast’s rendition of “Chiquitita” and “Our Last Summer.” Whether you know the songs or not, you’ll be singing ABBA tunes for days, and be adding them into your phone’s playlist.

When ABBA was composing and recording music in the 1970s and early 1980s, its four members didn’t do so with a musical in mind. But British playwright Catherine Johnson with ABBA members and composers Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus found a way to create a fairytale storyline that features two dozen-plus of their songs. The musical opened in 1999, and the show inspired a movie in 2008 followed by a sequel in 2018.

Musicals aren’t musicals unless the plot provides its characters with opportunities to burst into song at the drop of a hat, so “Mamma Mia!” doesn’t disappoint. I came away impressed at the way the playwright and producer took those songs and wove them into the story. I came away even more impressed at how the hometown Lyric players took those words and took those songs, and knocked them out of the park.

A baseball analogy? Instead, let’s say that the hometown Lyric players took those words and took those songs, and knocked the audience out of their seats.

The focus of any musical is always the music, of course, but the plot to “Mamma Mia!” is a happily-ever-after premise upon which appealing songs are draped. The tunes dominate, certainly, and they succeed in moving the story along. Several universal themes are explored in a love story that would be rather rudimentary as a stage play, but plenty of laughs are squeezed out of the songs, dances, and dialogue:

• Three “liberated” women who had performed as a girl group decades earlier reunite while attending the wedding of the daughter of one of them, a single mother.

• That single mother’s daughter doesn’t know her father’s identity but wants him to give her away.

• Three men who were romantically involved with the daughter’s mother 21 years ago arrive unannounced, at the secret invitation of the bride-to-be.

• Finally, no story is complete unless major characters have a change of heart.

Tickets are still on sale for this musical island adventure. It’s one party you certainly don’t want to miss.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.