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ABBA-solutely fabulous

Record-breaking musical loaded with sumptuous Swedish pop numbers descends on Portland

It's been said that there are two kinds of people: those who like ABBA and those who like ABBA but don't admit it.

Shooting to fame in 1974 with the hit single 'Waterloo,' the Swedish pop foursome would enjoy global success fueled by catchy songs and a kitschy image.

Their 1982 breakup can be blamed on both a failed attempt at riding the disco wave and the implosion of their personal lives: Agnetha Faltskog and Bjšrn Ulvaeus (the two blonds) divorced shortly after Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (the brunettes) did.

But the group's volumes of catchy songs created a fan base that would live on, a devotion fueled by ABBA tribute bands such as Australia's Bjšrn Again and greatest hits CDs that still sell like meatballs: roughly 3,300 a day.

Perhaps the most revealing indicator of the group's enduring appeal is the smash musical production 'Mamma Mia,' which weaves hit ABBA tunes into a funny tale of innocent love.

Since it opened four years ago, the show has become one of the most successful musicals of all time, breaking almost every box office record around the world.

Co-produced by Ulvaeus and Andersson, 'Mamma Mia' includes 22 ABBA songs, including 'Dancing Queen,' 'Take a Chance on Me' and 'Knowing Me, Knowing You.' Catherine Johnson, the show's writer, says she finally had to admit that her own favorite song, 'Fernando,' wasn't going to work with the show's plot. Careful listeners, though, will hear one of the cast humming the tune in one scene.

The show's setting is a Greek island where 20-year-old Sophie is due to be married. Her mom, a singing star-turned-taverna owner named Donna, is there, but her father is not Ñ only because Donna doesn't know who he is. After reading her mom's old diaries, Sophie invites to the wedding the three men who are most likely to be her father, thinking she'll figure it out when they arrive. The chaos Ñ and the fun Ñ start when the paternal candidates show up, and Sophie's mother confronts her past and her relationship with her daughter.

The Toronto-based actress Monique Lund plays the mama in 'Mamma Mia.'

'Donna is a free-spirited, independent businesswoman,' Lund says of her character. 'She's sort of an ex-hippie; it's her daughter who's the more conservative one, the one who wants this traditional wedding. So it's kind of a fun role reversal.'

A veteran stage actress, Lund has been part of the original company since the show opened in Toronto in 2000. Since then, she's performed in eight shows per week.

Lund says that the job can take a toll if she's not careful.

'I belt out nine songs a night, eight shows a week; it's a huge vocal strain,' she says. 'I have to constantly make sure that I'm singing correctly. If I have a show where I let my technique go É forget it Ñ I'm tired for the next two nights. Even when you've been singing a long time, as I have, you have to stay on top of it.'

Lund has some favorites:

'There's a chunk in Act 2 where I do 'Slipping Through My Fingers' and 'The Winner Takes It All.' This sort of more 'stand and deliver' stuff is really difficult, but it's beautiful and melodic at the same time.'

Lund says that the surprising complexity of Andersson and Ulvaeus' songwriting lends itself to stage musicals.

'I think there's a musical foundation in the show that has depth, believe it or not,' she says. 'Underneath all these lighthearted pop tunes, there's this foundation of wonderful harmony, melody and instrumentation. And whether the song is about financial problems, as it is when Donna sings, 'Money, Money, Money,' or the pain of a love affair gone wrong, the songs fit amazingly well with the story.'

It's a story that a wide range of audience members can enjoy, Lund says.

'We've had kids as young as 10, and we recently had a 91-year-old man at the show; he was dancing in his seat,' Lund says. 'And we also performed in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which is a real retirement community, and the average age was 65; they were having a ball!'

And that's what it's all about, Lund says.

'The bottom line in 'Mamma Mia' is that it's tongue-in-cheek,' she says. 'If you come in wanting to take it seriously, then you don't have the spirit of the show.'

Contact Jill Spitznass at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..