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(photo credit: courtesy)
While waiting for the curtain to rise on the ABBA-inspired musical MAMMA MIA, tt's easy to forget that the main goal of this first-class production is for the audience to have fun.
With the usual theatrical trappings - frosty spotlights, a serious-looking orchestra and the trademark velvet drapes - people might believe they are here to see a show with a heavy "message." But while MAMMA MIA's stage production, musical presentation and acting levels are of the highest caliber, there is no mistaking the party-like atmosphere propelled by cast members and production staff right into the audience.
And there is also no mistaking the upbeat vibes coming from the viewers as a medley of ABBA songs leaps out from the pit - from the overture to the impromptu concert at the end - most can't help singing along, dancing in their seat or even leaping up to join the hardcore ABBA fans in the isles.
Israelis will finally have a chance to experience this unique blend of musical entertainment next week, when the international company of MAMMA MIA arrives here as part of a world tour.
"We're bringing the real deal to Israel," said Marek Lieberberg, international producer of what is likely to be the biggest production of the year and perhaps the largest international music event Israel has ever seen. Promoters say there are still a limited number of tickets left.
"Israel is a great market, and it's about time they got the great shows," said Lieberberg, who is Jewish and has relatives in Israel. "It's a massive logistical task. The whole set will be in Helsinki before it comes to Israel, but we plan to transplant all the equipment exactly as it is."
Lieberberg's company will not undertake this task alone. Mobile phone giant Orange is sponsoring part of the production, and local producers Shmuel Zemach and Uri Ofer are also facilitating the huge operation, which includes transforming the Nokia basketball arena in Tel Aviv - the only Israeli venue large enough to house the June 11 show - into a theater and providing local audiences with simultaneous translation.
Not that the storyline is complicated. Even those with limited English should have no problem understanding the exploration of love and relationships between a mother, her daughter and their various men.
Set on an anonymous Greek island, young Sophie is about to marry her beau Sky, but before she gets hitched, she is determined to find out the identity of her father, which her mother has kept secret.
Her mother is former wild child Donna, who Sophie finds out had three lovers around the time she was conceived. Sophie decides to invite all three - Harry, Bill and Sam - to her wedding in the hope that when she meets them it will be clear which one is her dad. What follows is a typical farce, with people falling in love, much general confusion and ultimately a happy ending.
While the light plot borders on spoof, what keeps the show going is the eternally catchy ABBA songs that managed to win millions of fans worldwide back in the 1970s, and in Ireland earlier this month brought the audience to its feet. All the favorites are packed in - "Chiquitita," "Dancing Queen," "Does Your Mother Know," "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!," "S.O.S," "The Winner Takes It All," "Waterloo" and, of course, "Mamma Mia."
"I never get tired of singing ABBA songs," said Jeffrey Harmer, who plays Bill in the show and who is among the cast members set to perform in Israel this summer. "We always get such a fantastic reaction."
"We have performed in many different places to numerous audiences, and the reaction does vary," admitted Steven Paling, who while performing in the chorus is also the show's artistic coordinator. "But the show is what it is and no matter what language one speaks, people usually understand it."
Paling said the cast usually tailors its ad-hoc humor and dance moves to local theater-goers (in Ireland there was a hint of Riverdance thrown in to rile up the audience), and promised that Israel would be no exception. "We might need some help coming up with some more ideas though."
Since British producer Judy Craymer first came up with the idea for MAMMA MIA 20 years ago, more than 30 million people from London to New York, Budapest to Doha, Dubai to Dublin, Hamburg, Helsinki, Beijing and Moscow have viewed her innovative creation. Currently, there are 11 productions of the show playing around the globe, as well as the original London version, which is still going strong.
Israel's 23 shows will play eight times a week, starting June 12, Monday to Saturday (not including Friday) at 8:30 p.m., Friday at 1:30 p.m., Wednesday and Saturday at 4:30 p.m. For tickets, call *5110, or visit www.tkts.co.il.