Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ is a jukebox musical that hits all the right notes

“Mamma Mia!” returns to the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. The 2008 feature film adaptation of one of the longest-running Broadway musicals in history features the chart-topping songs of Swedish supergroup ABBA and stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and more in the ensemble cast.

"Mamma Mia!" the movie was released in 2008 and was based on the stage musical of the same name featuring the hit songs of the Swedish supergroup ABBA. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — Meryl Streep can act, but who knew she could sing?

The Oscar-winning actress is for certain talented, but as a single mother of a headstrong, engaged young woman in the 2008 feature film adaptation of the Broadway smash musical “Mamma Mia!” Streep shines.

It’s almost impossible to leave a Lakes 12 Theatre showing of “Mamma Mia!” without grinning and humming an ABBA tune — and the pop hits from the Swedish supergroup stay with you long after the end credits roll. But more on that later.

RELATED: Now showing at Lakes 12 Theatre - Week of Aug. 10, 2020

The plot doesn’t stray much from the ninth longest-running show in Broadway history that ended in 2015. Unbeknownst to Streep, the bride-to-be played by Amanda Seyfried invites her three possible dads to her upcoming wedding with the hopes of recognizing her father upon arrival.


As in the jukebox musical based almost exclusively of ABBA’s original chart-topping hits from the 1970s and 1980s, the movie takes place at the mother’s ramshackle of a Greek villa she is remodeling even as she tries to dissuade her daughter from marrying too young.

The feature film also features an ensemble cast with Pierce Brosnan as one of Streep’s former lovers who hopes to rekindle old flames, with Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård as the other two.

RELATED: Now showing at Lakes 12 Theatre - Week of Aug. 3, 2020

Old friends of Streep’s “Donna Sheridan” — played by Christine Baranski and Julie Waters, part of their singing group “Donna and the Dynamos” — attempt to keep the panicked mom calm.

The wedding doesn’t go as planned, of course, in the romantic comedy with secrets, subterfuge and, naturally, singing of ABBA’s recognizable hits like the title track and “Dancing Queen.”

Tom Hanks’ movie production company co-produced the PG-13 film (and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) and his actress-wife Rita Wilson, who is Greek, is an executive producer.

The 2008 movie captures the sheer blast of the 2002 Tony-nominated Broadway musical, which was so fun that it was part of Brainerd Community Theatre’s summer season last year.

The feature film could be more polished, however, and its live theater origins reveal at times as sometimes the actors just stand around while others are emoting through song, which may have worked fine for the musical, which made its debut in 1999 in London.


Frank Lee.jpg
Frank Lee

Almost the entire ensemble cast returned for the 2018 tongue-in-cheek named “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” which is a lyric from the opening track on the ABBA’s third album, the self-titled “ABBA.”

The Swedish group’s name comes from the acronym that’s formed from the first letters of the members’ first names: Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

Estimates of the group’s total record sales are more than 150 million, making them one of the best selling music artists of all time. The musical and movie are based on the ABBA songs composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

The idyllic Greek island in the movie adaptation provides the backdrop for the melodrama, gorgeous to behold and at times seemingly acts as a de facto tourism ad for the country.

And for these times where Americans are arguably unwelcomed by Europeans because of the coronavirus, the sun-basked nation may be a perfect panacea for those of us looking to escape.



The movie or musical, written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, shouldn't work given that the plot is deceptively simple and almost exists as nothing more than a rudimentary framework to hang ABBA’s numerous hits on.

But the jukebox musical does work and calling it a “jukebox musical” seems a bit disingenuous. Its endurance as a phenom, much like “Grease” or “The Phantom of the Opera,” is maybe more of a testament to the breadth of ABBA’s songs and their surprising emotional depth.

Many of the stage musical productions I’ve been fortunate to attend included normally reserved theater patrons dancing in the aisles and there’s even a sing-a-long DVD version of a film.

RELATED: Review: 'Mission: Impossible' sparks excitement at Lakes 12 Theatre

The men of ABBA even make cameos as a piano player during Streep’s romping, rousing performance of “Dancing Queen” and in the closing credits as a Greek god.

And speaking of the film’s end, moviegoers should stick around or stay in their seats as the credits roll for additional numbers, some of which provide the movie’s biggest chuckles.

For those who roll their eyes at the thought of watching the movie musical, actress Waters provides the comic relief, so one will laugh, sing and even cry, like at a real wedding — right?



One of the funnier exchanges of dialogue in the feature film includes the engaged young woman saying “I want the perfect wedding, and I want my father to give me away,” to which one of her bridesmaids replies “Better be a wide aisle!”

The feel-good time continues with the 2018 sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” that starts playing at the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter beginning Friday, Aug. 14.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
What To Read Next
Get Local