Mamma Mia! at the Paramount Theatre
Also see David's recent review of Claudia Kelly's 500 Hats
I have never been an ABBA fan, so I waited to see Mamma Mia!, the mega-successful book musical built around Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus' Songbook (some songs with Stig Anderson), until it hit Seattle. Well, I may never be the songwriting team's biggest fan, but by golly I sure enjoyed the heck out of this garishly entertaining crowd pleaser.
As has been noted by many, Catherine Johnson's book for Mamma Mia! bears more than a little resemblance to the '60s film comedy Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (later the flop Lerner and Lane musical Carmelina) in its tale of a young woman trying to determine which of her Mother's old beaus is actually her father. Johnson sets the tale in Greece instead of Italy, on the eve and day of her young heroine Sophie's wedding to her boyfriend Sky. Behind her still sexy mother Donna's back, she invites the three likely dads, Harry, Bill and Sam, to the wedding, then gets herself into hot water when each wants to claim her as his own and walk Sophie down the aisle. Donna's friends and former performing partners, Tanya and Rosie, keep the mother of the bride from losing it, and many ABBA tunes and plot twists later, there is a wedding and a happy ending.
Phillipa Lloyd's spirited direction and Anthony Van Lasst's way too funny and campy choreography, Mark Thompson's glitzy, gaudy and grand production design and Howard Harrison's splendid lighting design earn points, but ultimately you need a captivating and vocally tireless cast to sock those ABBA songs across the footlights, and not a soul in this national tour of the show fails to meet the task at hand.
As Donna, Monique Lund is an eyeful and an earful, and even when her voice showed signs of tiredness in her climactic "The Winner Takes It All" solo, her emotional power socked the number across the footlights. As her old girl group cronies Tanya and Rosie, Ellen Harvey and Robin Baxter lend stellar support, not just in vocals but in their hilarious characterizations. Harvey lends an Ab-Fab sort of zeal to her trampy tour de force on "Does Your Mother Know?" while Baxter is smashingly man crazy in her rendition of "Take A Chance On Me." As Sophie, Kristie Marsden carries a lot of the vocal demands of the show and makes a heroine worth rooting for, ably abetted by Chris Bolan as her Prince Charming, Sky, but their roles are essentially the romantic relief. James Kall, Pearce Bunting and Don Noble are all in top form as Donna's varied assortment of old paramours, and the ensemble has enough vocal and dance energy to power the Paramount all by themselves.
ABBA-savvy audience members will have the best time, especially seeing how songs like "Dancing Queen," "Super Trouper," and many more are woven into the fabric of a book musical. But anyone seeking handsomely produced escapist musical fare will come out of the show smiling, dancing and maybe even looking into buying an old ABBA album, to hear the songs in their original form.
The Mamma Mia! national tour runs through June 29 at The Paramount Theatre, 9th Ave & Pine Street, downtown Seattle. For further information visit the Paramount online at www.theparamount.com.