There’s not too much to say about this show in and of itself, though it is undeniably an effective piece of theater in its own unassuming, uncomplicated way. It’s a jukebox musical of ABBA songs, and that description tells you not only everything you need to know, but almost everything there is to say. The show plays well, largely because the collection of ABBA songs that make up the score are nearly all wonderful. Because their tunes were generally so relentlessly catchy and upbeat, many casual listeners have failed to catch on to ABBA’s often extremely sad and dark lyrical content, but Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson are world-class songwriters—these are the guys who would write the score for the brilliant musical classic Chess, and their work for ABBA has a rich depth of both joy and sorrow under the candy-floss surface. Compare this to the earlier musical with almost exactly the same plot, Alan Jay Lerner’s Carmelina, which was a resounding flop because its second-tier Lerner/Burton Lane score, while pleasant, wasn’t strong enough to compensate for its shallow sitcom plot. TheMamma Mia songs, on the other hand, are so strong, memorable and consistent that even without their pre-sold status, they would probably have made the show a hit…I can’t imagine a musical with an original score this good failing, unless it had considerably worse problems than this one. The main problem with the show, and the one everyone who resents its success for one reason or another harps on, is its lack of genuine characters. Its fluffy, illogical plot doesn’t really provide grounds for concern in an age when Anything Goesrevivals are still considered acceptable fare (and note than inAnything Goes, as in Mamma Mia, the real draw is supposed to be the songs), but Anything Goes at least provides a colorful set of characters, and Mamma Mia really doesn’t. As enjoyable as the musical numbers are, the book lacks personality and comes across as far too generic. The movie, for all its failings, would at least rectify this by casting personality-rich stars in the leading parts. But the real reason for most of the animosity this show gets had nothing to do with that. Put simply, this show scared people. It and the genre it originated have both become such fixtures by now that this is hard to remember, but when it was new, critics and ‘serious’ musical-theater fans were genuinely terrified that it presaged some horrible takeover of Broadway by the pop world. This obviously failed to happen, and in fact the jukebox musical genre only produced five genuine hits in the entire rest of the decade (this, Movin’ Out, The Boy From Oz, Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages), so in retrospect the whole thing seems a little silly, but given how much of a phenomenon this show was, I guarantee it would have won ‘Best Musical’ that year if the Broadway establishment weren’t under the impression that they would be doing the invaders’ work for them.