‘Mamma Mia’ invites crowd to boogie downWas this a musical or a concert? “Mamma Mia,” which debuted in Seoul last Sunday, eludes categorization. But the performance, based on favorite oldies by ABBA, certainly left the audience enthralled.
After the crazy, fun two hours and 20 minutes, no one remained seated. From teenagers on up to middle-aged gentlemen, everyone was on their feet, dancing to the groove set by the cast on stage. Thirty years after the Swedish pop group ABBA’s popularity peaked in Korea ― ranking up with that of the Beatles ― they were still alive and kicking.
The fever raging at the opening-night performance infected everyone. Even the unlucky spectators on the fourth floor, where the onstage energy hardly reached, moved with the rhythm.
“I’ve arranged a good number of performances of all sorts so far, but seeing the audience on the fourth floor standing up is a first,” said Seo Hyeon-suk, a Seoul Arts Center publicist. After a frenzied curtain call, the cast returned onstage to the ABBA hit song parade of “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo.”
In “Mamma Mia,” 22 ABBA hits are coordinated to mesh with a story about Sophie, a soon-to-be bride who invites three men to her house to figure out which is her real father. The invitation creates a maelstrom for Sophie and her mother, Donna. The story wraps up with Sophie finding her true self ― and her father. ABBA’s songs work like a fine-toothed wheel, fitting neatly into the story line. This chemistry between music and plotline is so good that the songs sound like original lines in the performance.
The cast added another layer of spice to the show. Park Hae-mi as Donna, Jeon Su-gyeong as Tanya and Lee Gyeong-mi as Rosie all displayed quality singing and acting talent. They executed wonderful voice control throughout, until whizzing offstage with “Chiquitita” and “Super Trouper,” in the process taking the audience to a time when ABBA ruled the world. When Donna performed “Slipping Through My Fingers” in a scene where she combs Sophie’s hair, the delicate and plaintive melody captivated the crowd.
If you’re wondering if the lyrics’ translation hurt the music, worry not; the Korean translation of the English lyrics was actually quite good. “Even after translation, more than 80 percent of the true ABBA spirit is there, intact,” said Song Gi-cheol, a music critic attending the opening-night show. “It even gives a new taste to the classic.”
The gargantuan 10 billion won ($9 million) budget paid off when it came to the stage setting. The contrast between the blue background symbolizing the Aegean Sea and the white stage could not be more buoyant. This blue-and-white contrast remains throughout the performance.
“Mamma Mia” cannot be entirely free of criticism, in that the opening night’s performance was rather stiff. Critics voiced accord that the cast was unnecessarily tense at their debut show as compared to the preview performance.
Good news for expatriates: the musical is presented with English subtitles. One possible inconvenience is that the monitor displaying the subtitles sits at the top of the stage to leave enough room for speakers and amplifiers. When you look up to read the subtitles, you could miss the scenes of the stage. Is it because there’s no silver without its dross?
by Baik Sung-ho
The musical runs through April 18 at Seoul Arts Center in Seocho district, southern Seoul. For more information, call (02) 580-1300.