Monday, September 24, 2012

Mamma Mia! Over the Top In the Best Way Possible

You know how sometimes a movie can be a little bit better than a book/film/play, and you feel guilty but can’t help yourself? Mamma Mia! is a little bit like that.
The current stage version, at the Orpheum Theatre through April 29, is on the whole a just-fine production and a worthy tour. But I couldn’t help but wish for a little more Meryl Streep-ColinFirth-Amanda Seyfield magic.
Created around a soundtrack of Abba’s best hits, the plot follows Sophie, a young woman about to get married at her Greek tavern. Sophie is trying to learn who her father is so that he can walk her down the proverbial aisle. Posing as her mother, she invites three paternal candidates (Bill, Sam, and Harry) to join her at the wedding, all of whom accept the invitation.
But, as always, things do not go according to plan. Sophie and her mother, Donna, are completely overwhelmed by the presence of Donna’s past lovers and multiple emotional breakdowns ensue. The show ends with a complete role-reversal in the wedding, and although Sophie never learns exactly who her father is, she gains the family she’s always wanted and more.
Mamma Mia!’s first act flies by in a riot of song, color and dance. Highlight numbers include “Lay All Your Love On Me,” with a squadron of hilarious (and sizzling hot) dancing scuba divers, and “Voulez Vous,” a dancefest orgy so sexually charged it leaves the audience a bit titillated themselves. It’s an LSD trip back to the seventies, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the second act doesn’t fare nearly as well. By nature, following such an energetic whiz with emotive song after emotive song is a mood killer, and it’s hard to regain the first act’s buzz. Singing got notably pitchier as the show went on as well. Some numbers, including a fantastic “Does Your Mother Know,” work hard to redeem it but can’t quite overcome the slog towards the end.
Mamma Mia!’s standouts are clearly Mary Callanan and Alison Ewing. Callanan, playing Donna’s dumpy and endearing best friend, has a knockout voice and hilarious stage presence. Ewing, as Donna’s feisty, gold-digging friend Tanya, spices the show with her Real Housewife carriage and is the focus of all of her scenes.
Kaye Tuckerman gives a two-sided performance as Donna. Her fierce appearance and angular voice are alternately completely fitting and too harsh for the part. Chloe Tucker, fresh out of college, is lovely as Sophie. Her moods, voice, and carriage are all filled with youthful exuberance and naïveté; Tucker couldn’t’ have played it better.
Donna’s lovers are a mixed bag. Christian Whelan (Sam) is disappointing, with a pitchy, over-vibrato-ed voice. John-Michael Zuerlein flings his Crocodile Dundee-esque role as Bill around without reserve. Zuerlein can overdo it at times, but what would Mamma Mia! be without over exaggeration? Paul Deboy does Harry well, hitting the middle-aged-but-still-“hip”-gay-man spot on.
Mamma Mia!’s sets leave something to be desired, and are too spare to invoke the lush atmosphere of Grecian isles. The costuming makes up for the set’s deficit with outrageously campy threads. This show is inseparable from those David Bowie-meets-Teletubbies monstrosities, and that’s okay.
Thought it is cheesier than Velveeta chili dip, Mamma Mia! is still an enjoyable time. Nostalgic fans, lovers of the film, and those obsessed with campy, corny musicals should have no problem enjoying themselves. Despite its flaws, the first act alone is reason to go, and anyone who can’t find a reason to enjoy any part of Mamma Mia probably has a Grinchian hole somewhere inside of themselves.
+ Mamma Mia continues at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, April 29. For tickets and more information visit