Calling something that’s as awesomely desirable as it is difficult to find a “unicorn” is currently in vogue. Wall Street types call low-risk, high-reward IPOs from bleeding edge, niche companies unicorns. People in open relationships call single, sexy, (usually) women willing to menage their trois in some bedroom Olympics a unicorn.
People generally cringe when they consider a night out at their local dinner theater, and for good reason. The vast majority of dinner theaters face-plant on both the dinner and the theater portions of the evening. The ones that manage to serve edible cuisine usually compensate with amateurish performances and bargain basement production values. Those that leave you smiling with an expertly produced show often also leave you with food poisoning.
That’s why BDT Stage is a dazzling, rainbow-maned, spiral-horned unicorn; it’s a dinner theater that has been succeeding — for decades — at both dinner and theater. It’s conveniently located. It’s a locally owned, small business. In all the years I’ve been reviewing BDT Stage productions, I’ve never seen a bad one. Boulder is lucky to have it.
BDT Stage is currently presenting the hit musical Mamma Mia! Please note that the exclamation point came with the title, and because it’s a more than somewhat questionable choice by the show’s creators, I will be omitting it from here on out. Mamma Mia is a jukebox musical that stuffs as many of ABBA’s greatest hits as possible into its audience’s earholes. If you’re an ABBA fan, that’s all you need to know. Mamma Mia is tailor-made for ABBA fans, an absolute must-see.
Given that Mamma Mia lives or dies on its music, BDT Stage’s in-house orchestra, led by Neal Dunfee, needs to crush it, and crush it they do. No surprise there because no matter the musical style, these musicians play the absolute heck out every song in every show BDT Stage puts on. If it wasn’t for the prohibition on clogging up the walkways where actors occasionally move through the theater, the orchestra’s efforts would have filled the aisles with dancing queens of all ages.
The slip of a story that serves as a framework for the songs takes place in a coastal town in Greece and focuses on Sophie Sheridan (Christy Oberndorf) and her mother, Donna (Tracy Warren). Sophie’s about to get married, and she’s secretly invited three men from her mother’s past to the wedding so that she can figure out which one of them is her father.
That’s where Mamma Mia turns into something much more than it seems and earns its street cred. All the bouncy tunes, high-energy dance numbers, and Three’s Company-style shenanigans are great, but Mamma Mia is actually one of the most truly woke shows being performed today.
The fact that Donna slept with the three men in such close succession that she couldn’t be sure who Sophie’s father was is presented as just that, a fact. Not a single character ever judges Donna. For deftly deflating the double standard of serially sexual men as studs and similarly situated women as sluts, Mamma Mia deserves some sort of worthful wokeness award.
Tracy Warren, a longtime BDT Stage performer, always impresses but usually in supporting roles. As the co-star of Mamma Mia, she delivers an impeccably soulful, endearingly vulnerable, and profoundly strong Donna. Relative BDT Stage newcomer Christy Oberndorf makes the absolute most of her lead role as Sophie. She sings sweetly, dances like no one is watching — even though everyone obviously is — and makes Sophie eminently easy to root for.
BDT Stage’s Mamma Mia is money, money, money! Take a chance on this pretty ballerina and say I do, I do, or you’ll be sending out an S.O.S. until the best dinner theater in the Mountain West puts on its next musical masterpiece.
ON THE BILL: ‘Mamma Mia!’ BDT Stage, 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, www.bdtstage.com, $50 and up. Through Feb. 22.