Is Mamma Mia! a musical play or a playful concert? Is it still ABBA if there's lots of twirling spandex onstage but no sign of either Ms. AB or Mr. BA?
Call it a jukeboxical:
Mamma Mia! reverses the usual Broadway procedure (first the story, then the songs). Instead, it takes early-period ABBA songs (1974-78) like "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "Money, Money, Money" and blends them with the darker late-era songs (1979-83) such as "Lay All Your Love on Me" and "Thank You for the Music," fitting them seamlessly into a story about a 20-year-old named Sophie who sends wedding invitations to each of the three men who might be her birth father. Except she neglects to tell her mom, Donna, or her fianc & eacute;, Sky, anything about it.
But let's allow Laurie Wells, who plays Donna on the national tour, to describe her own character. "Donna is a single mother -- I wouldn't say she's stuck in the '70s, she's a child of the '70s," says Wells. "She's an ex-rock chick, had her own band, had her fun. Now she's kind of a hippie, and she runs this Greek taverna."
I turned our interview toward the question that most Mamma Mia! fans are focused on.
How are Sky's abs?
"Oh ... amazing." Wells' voice gets throaty. "Rob is our -- he is, literally, an Adonis. He's about 6-foot-5 and just gorgeous." [Visit www.robhancock.com to see for yourself.]
Does he chest-hair wax?
No, but I'm pretty sure a couple of guys in the ensemble do.
OK, time for our costume checklist. Do you or other cast members ever wear any silver lam & eacute;?
Absolutely. Tons of it.
I'm the only one who wears a boa. It's hot pink.
Burgundy, I don't think so. But bright yellow, chartreuse, bright orange -- the principals come back on during the mega-mix [encore] wearing bright orange.
Are there any other outrageous costumes?
Well, there's the wetsuits and flippers.
That's in the number with the boys who go to Sky's bachelor party. They take him on a boat, and they show up with their wetsuits halfway down, so their chests are showing, and they're wearing these huge flippers. And then there's dancing in the flippers.
That must be hard on them. What's the most complex bit of choreography? Is it in the mega-mix at the end?
That's more fun and celebration, one-with-the-people kind of dancing. No, the big dance number comes at the end of Act One with "Voulez-Vous," where we're all at a dance club.
Catherine Johnson, who stitched together two dozen ABBA songs and called it the book of Mamma Mia!, has noted that "many of the early ABBA songs were more innocent, na & iuml;ve and teenage-orientated, whereas later on they became more mature and reflective." Now when you guys sing during "Voulez Vous" (from 1979) about how you're "Masters of the scene / We've done it all before / And now we're back / To get some more / You know what I mean," is that the "mature and reflective" part?
It's sexy: Everybody's trying to find their partners and hook up. It starts as the girls' bachelorette party, but it goes into the guys and girls just having a big party at night.
Now it's Clich & eacute; Time! "Super Trouper," "Take a Chance on Me" and "Waterloo" have only four hackneyed expressions each. But when it comes to Donna's -- your character's -- big song, "The Winner Takes It All," the clich & eacute; meter zooms up to 11. Here are three of them: "But I was a fool / Playing by the rules / The gods may throw a dice / Their minds as cold as ice...."
And you know what's funny? In the setup for that song, I say, 'I don't want to talk about it' -- and then I keep on talking. If I don't want to sing, then what am I doing singing this song that has about 12 different verses?
But isn't it true that nobody listens to ABBA lyrics anyway? The words don't really matter, do they?
Before doing this show, I would have said not -- but I think they do, honestly. The audience actually listens. And when I'm delivering the lines up there, I'm actually really computing them. These song lyrics are so good, they push the story along -- they really do. And the stuff with Sam [one of her love interests], the relationship stuff -- I think it's really poignant.
So they really are more mature and reflective. Now, as you know, Laurie, the North American Tour of Mamma Mia! [one of 11 productions worldwide] long ago made stops in Omaha, Akron, Peoria, Kalamazoo, Appleton -- I think that's in Wisconsin -- and Scranton, Pa.
I've played all those towns.
Why did you go to those places before you came to Spokane? Are you dissing us?
No, no way. I'll tell you why -- I am really looking forward to coming to Spokane, because I have a first cousin who lives there, and they're coming on opening night and I don't know why our show hasn't already come to such a fine city as Spokane.
Especially because -- and you may not know this -- but we are officially the White-Belt-and-Polyester Capital of the Inland Northwest.
Half the audience dresses up. They wear boas, lots of sunglasses, they hold up signs, they, you know, wave things in their hands.
When The Lion King was here, they tore out seats in the Opera House to make a couple of aisles. For Mamma Mia!, shouldn't they just tear out all the seats and put up a boss dance floor?
I understand your resistance, but I dare you not to like this show. My father, who hates musical theater -- even he was up in aisles. Everyone knows this music. They've heard it in all the elevators. In two years with this show, I don't remember an audience not getting up at the end [to dance and deliver a standing ovation]. I just really think this is a show for everyone -- for dads, for moms, even for kids. The 6-year-olds, they don't really get it all, but they're not thrown off by the sexy stuff. This show is such a spectacle, they just watch and listen and enjoy it along with everyone else.
And I'll be one of them, standing up with everybody during the mega-mix -- "Waterloo," "Mamma Mia," and "Dancing Queen" -- doing my middle-aged white guy's pathetic shuffle of a disco-era dance. I might even wear shades.
But will I respect myself in the morning?
Gratify your inner Dancing Queen at the Mamma Mia! concerts from Jan. 3-8 on Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sunday at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Tickets: $30-$65. Spokane Opera House, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Visit www.mamma-mia.com or call 325-SEAT.