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Mamma Mia!
a Musical Comedy
CATEGORY :
by ABBA

COMPANY : Broadway Across America [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Fabulous Fox [WEBSITE]
ID# 2832

SHOWING : June 10, 2008 - June 15, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The songs of ABBA are the driving force behind this story of a marriage, a Greek Island Idyll, three potential fathers, and at least One Dancing Queen. Spandexphobics Beware!


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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ABBA-Dabba-Do!
by Dedalus
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
4.0
First, a confession. During the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, I was a despiser of all things Disco, was underwhelmed by ABBA and their hits, and would not be caught dead at one of their concerts. When “Mamma Mia!” opened on Broadway more than six years ago, I went my ho-hum way and ignored its success, resisting my normal urge to buy and play to death any Broadway Musical CD.

Last year, though, I heard “Winner Takes it All” somewhere and thought it was a great song (bear in mind, during its original release, I was a true Musical Geek, and most pop hits were way under my radar). Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was an ABBA song from “Mamma Mia!” So, still not wishing to invest any of my own funds on what amounts to a compilation disk, I put the Original Cast CD on my Christmas List (near the bottom), and, of course, my lovely Dancing Queen of a spouse indulged me, and I found it in my (oversized) stocking.

Okay, I liked it! Sue me!

And now I’ve seen the show, and I found it not only made the songs more enjoyable and more layered, but the songs themselves enhanced the story and were the driving force behind the musical “Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus never knew they wrote.” I loved this play!

To recap the plot, Sophie is a twenty-year-old about-to-be bride. She has been raised by her single Mom on an idyllic Greek getaway Island, never knowing who her father was. A few months before her wedding, she finds her mother’s diary, identifies three men who could be her father, and secretly invites them to her wedding. Chaos, reconciliation, time-unhealed emotional scars, tears, recrimination, and laughter ensue. Right here, “Mamma Mia!” shows an edge over most other “jukebox” compilation musicals. This is a story that could stand on its own, as a light comedy without music. The fact that the story arose out of the songs themselves is testament to the fact that they were more than the “Disco Fluff” I had judged (and dismissed) them to be – they had a narrative power of their own, they were structured with their own plots, and the body of work itself had enough consistent motifs and themes that an engaging narrative could be built from them.

If some of the musical “fits” aren’t exactly seamless, and once in a while draw inappropriate laughter, more often they are a perfect match, with the songs revealing undercurrents in the characters and the story revealing undercurrents in the songs. Also, more often, the laughter was a result of instantly recognizing the song and enjoying the clever way it fit into the story.

Of course, my favorite moment was “Winner Takes it All,” in which Sophie’s Mom, Donna, exults over the man who betrayed her decades earlier. It was an angry moment that revealed all the love and loss and triumph of those twenty intervening years. Indeed Susie McMonagle’s Donna is the emotional center of this play, and she is given ample opportunity to display her range along with her brilliant singing and dancing. Other highlights include “Take a Chance on Me” (which almost came across as a comic riff on Ionesco’s “The Chairs”), a haunting “Slipping Through my Fingers”(which made me dread the day I have to say goodbye to my own daughter), and, of course, “Dancing Queen” (which was staged as a comic reflection on the foolishness of youth by Donna and her two friends, Rosie and Tanya).

I do have some quibbles, but so what? If Rose Sezniak’s Sophie was a bit flat in her dialog scenes, she more than made up for it in Singing Power, and was able to throw tons of sexuality into “Lay All Your Love on Me.” If Donna’s friend Rosie comes across as clichéd and stereotyped, Kittra Wynn Coomer’s energy and skill gave her a comic life force that couldn’t be denied. If the younger characters aren’t given the depth of the older, well, hooray for that – as an old fart myself, it’s nice to see my generation take center stage. If the final moments seem rushed and contrived, well, that too I can forgive.

I also want to commend the “fathers” (John Hemphill, Martin Kildare, and Michael Aaron Lindner) for creating such diverse characters. Mr. Lindner’s late-in-the-show “reveal” about his spouse was a beautifully realized moment that, on paper, probably seems out-of-left-field. I also really liked Michelle Elizabeth Dawson’s Tanya. She had a MILF-esque quality and self-deprecating sense of humor that I loved (in fact, I was tempted to title this review “MILF’s Amok,” but was afraid that would be a tad demeaning). Her “Does your Mother Know” is another highlight of energy, talent, and humor.

On a technical level, the set was both simple and beautiful, an elegant revolving “taverna” that unified the action without losing the opportunity for spectacle. However, I found the lighting strange – anyone coming downstage seemed to disappear (were the front-of-house lights missing or just glitched-out?), with back and side lighting seemingly at odds with the moods. But, when the music started, we’re treated to all the flash-bang wizardry that computers and imagination can give us, this time without upstaging the characters and story.

Afterwards, people were saying this was a fun, fluffy show, but it wasn’t O’Neill or Ibsen. Well, no. And I’m sure the pleasures you get from High Drama couldn’t be confused with those here. Or can they? What we have in “Mamma Mia!” is a story of loss, love, redemption, confusion, living with bad choices, surviving with emotional wounds, being impulsive in spite of “lessons learned,” letting go, holding on, and finding dreams. What’s so fluffy about that? The bouncy lights and throbbing music that gild the edges do not lessen the range of emotion on display, do not lessen the range of emotion evoked.

So, all I can say is, “Thank you for the Music,” while I eat my crow.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Three 6/17 Postscripts:
(1) I can enjoy my own pretentiousness, I suppose -- who else would see echoes of Ionesco in a play like this?

(2) After reading the AJC's sortakinda pan of this production, I got to thinking -- perhaps my more favorable reaction (and I never apologize for a favorable reaction) may be a product of my avoiding ABBA in years past. Most of these songs I know only in the context of this show. Can it be that Disco Flashbacks can make the story line seem more contrived than it really is? Any thoughts?

(3) From the Dedalus Dictionary: Theatre Magic -- That quality that only theatre has that convinces you that music you used to hate isn't so bad after all. Yes, folks, it took a Musical to make me like ABBA!

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