TO FEB. 14

Theater critics around the globe have struggled to explain why Mamma Mia! is so popular. The consensus is that, from Stockholm to Sydney, all people of a certain age grew up with ABBA’s string of No. 1 hits. Ah yes, like the show’s title song itself, which on the U.S. charts rocketed all the way to… No. 32. In fact, the Swedish pop quartet scored exactly one American chart-topper, “Dancing Queen,” a success that owes more to the disco vogue than to America’s love of ABBA. If you attend a Mamma Mia! performance in the United States, you may notice that much of the audience seems unfamiliar with all but a few songs. (“Ring Ring” and “Super Trouper” were hits, but not in this country.) What’s really universal about the show is not the songs—musically inventive, but oh those lyrics!—but Catherine Johnson’s script. This tale of a young bride-to-be who tries to locate her father among her freewheeling mother’s many ex-lovers is primarily a revenge fantasy against Generation Y. Every 40- or 50-something who wonders how her kids (or nieces and nephews) got to be so conventional can relate to Johnson’s account of a retired pop star whose matrimony-minded daughter is a total bore. Is ABBA the perfect soundtrack to this ode to resentment? In the United States, where most of the songs have no cultural associations, the music is actually the weak link. (Cynthia Sophiea, Dee Hoty, and Rosalyn Rahn Kerins are pictured performing “Super Trouper.”) But it sure beats Britney Spears. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and at 7:30 p.m. Sundays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, to Saturday, Feb. 14, at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. $41.25-$81.25. (800) 447-7400. (Mark Jenkins)

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