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Mamma Mia, the musical

Last night, we went to Prague's Congress Center to see the Czech eddition of Mamma Mia! The huge building formerly named "The Culture Palace" was opened in 1981 and the 16th convention of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was the first big event it hosted. (President Husák said the joke about his fall from a skyscraper during the 1986 17th convention.)

I am not some kind of a regular spectator of musicals but I like the genre. Some two decades ago, I went to Jesus Christ Superstar (CZ) which was great as well. Now, Mamma Mia! has in some respects become the most successful musical in the history. But that's partly due to the fact that the more recent, optimized world makes a big success easier even if the substance isn't necessarily better than it was in the older and old pieces.


Just to be sure, if you don't know the plot, here it is. Young Sophia, who has been raised by her mother Donna at a Greek island, is getting ready for her wedding with Sky tomorrow. She was never told who her father was but she had to investigate and found the diary of her mother. During the days when she was conceived, Donna had some memorable encounters with three men. They did something and then "dots" – which apparently stands for a coitus. Now, Donna's diaries are full of "dots" :-) which makes Sophia and her two girlfriends excited.

Sophia figures out that her father has to be either Sam (now architect in the U.S.), Harry (a U.K. banker), or Bill (a cosmopolitan adventurer and writer). She invites all of them for the wedding, with the plan to find out which one is the father, and to ask him to accompany her in the church.

Donna has 2 older female friends over there as well, members of her old girl band, so you might predict that the three older women will be combined with the three older men. But the musical isn't this naive. Instead, the Sophia-Sky wedding is cancelled and replaced by Sam-Donna wedding. They were always in love while Harry is found to be in a stable homosexual relationship while one of Donna's older female friends is dating a young guy etc.

The main point of the musical is that all the situations are filled with tons of ABBA songs. When I was a baby, my mother would listen to ABBA vinyl records all the time. I didn't call myself an ABBA fan when I was a kid but you know, it is great music so it was pretty much the #1 music of choice during some of my most emotional dates at the undergraduate student hostels.

Czechia generally localizes a huge percentage of foreign movies, musicals, and similar things. So it's not surprising that it was the case of Mamma Mia! as well. But Czech only became the 15th language (from the total of 20 at this point) into which the musical was translated before it was premiered in late 2014. The record of 70,000 tickets were already sold before the premiere (and they are not cheap at all) and now, a year later, the musical still manages to fill the Congress Center.

At the end, the Czech edition of the musical is getting lots of mixed reviews a mediocre ratings (the Congress Center is too large and unused; acoustics is poor and the lyrics isn't easy to comprehend; some acters/singers are lousy; some translated verses are childish, and so on) but the continuing commercial success speaks a different language.

Antonín Procházka, Pilsen's famous stage director (see Magic 4D), directed this show in Prague. Lots of singers are sharing the same role. Everyone is a bit different – some of them are famous singers; or dancers; or pretty much mainly actors etc. For example, Mr Pavel Vítek may have looked visually suboptimal as Harry (the gay) last night but his singing is fascinating.

Some artists seem extremely underappreciated. Ms Petra Vraspírová (a 25-year-old blonde currently employed by the Pilsen's Big Theater as well) is a young recently trained musical singer who starred as Sophia and she's just cute, hot, and a great singer, too. Check e.g. her edition of Angel. It's actually puzzling why she isn't much more famous among the general public.

Ms Daniela Šinkorová, a Slovak actress/singer living in Czechia, starred as Donna last night and she's way more well-known (well, also older). But if you realistically judge what made her so well-known, I think that the answer is the neverending TV crap soap opera "The Doctor's Office in the Pink Garden".

Playwright Catherine Johnson wrote the musical in the original. It's nontrivial to place all these ABBA songs at the right places so that the whole looks smooth. But when you think about it, it's probably not so difficult because every single ABBA song may be pretty much summarized by one simple sentence ("Thank You For the Music" says "music is great", "The Winner Takes It All" says "I am heartbroken after a split" etc. etc.) and several minutes of the song is expressing the same idea in a highly redundant way. You know, it's a very different kind of songs than e.g. Ivan Mládek's UFOgrandma which communicates a complicated 7-minute plot about the space research of three countries, especially the third one, and a detailed diary of the Czech mission to meet extraterrestrials. You surely couldn't combine 30 songs like UFOgrandma into a meaningful musical but with the ABBA songs each of which has a simple message, it's doable.

I was particularly interested in the translation to Czech because years ago, I've made my own translations of numerous ABBA songs to Czech. Mr Adam Novák did the job. Sometimes, the verses sound really clever and smooth. Sometimes they are very similar to the unprofessional verses of mine. If I had to pick, I would probably say that Mr Michael Prostějovský – who did Jesus Christ Superstar and wrote hundreds of other lyrics – is probably a better guy for this line of work. But Adam Novák's work was still good enough that I may prefer the Czech versions of many songs over the original.

This blog post won't be proofread because similar blog posts aren't being read widely.

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