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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Take a Chance on Mamma Mia! at The Paramount

Also see David's reviews of Red and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Mamma Mia!
Alison Ewing and Cast
The third time around for the tour of the Abba songbook smash Mamma Mia! may seem a bit frayed to the critical eye, but Chiquitita, the opening night embraced it like a long lost friend. The hit film starring Meryl Streep came out since the show last played Seattle, winning more audiences over to the show. and a wide age range of audience members from 7 to 70 were on their feet by the end of opening night.

But for repeat viewers such as myself, there is a little something extra missing this time around, despite several top drawer performances among the principals. Benny Andersson and Bjðrn Ulvaeus' songs (some written with Stig Anderson) may not be theatre music, but they are frankly irresistible candy pop from the ubiquitous title tune to "Dancing Queen." The songs are far more reason for the show's enduring appeal than Catherine Johnson's threadbare book which owes almost every bit of its storytelling to the film comedy Buena Sera Mrs. Campbell which it borrowed from so heavily. Then again, that film (which inspired the short-lived Lerner and Lane Carmelina) is barely remembered and Mamma Mia! keeps running and running, with its tale of a young bride inviting her mother's three long ago beaus, each possibly her unknown papa to attend the ceremony at the Greek Hotel and Taverna run by her mom. Mom Donna was quite the songstress in her days, and the other two thirds of her long ago singing trio attend as well and, by the finish of the show, a wedding does take place, and the whole cast does a mega-mix of Abba songs, including a few they couldn't fit into the story. Director Phyllida Lloyd (whom also directed the film) and comically inventive choreographer Anthony Van Laast deserve endless credit for packaging such an engaging piece.

The show is stolen away by actresses Alison Ewing as the cougarish Tanya and Mary Callanan as the randily delicious Rosie. It's a toss up whether I enjoyed Ewing's playfully naughty "Does Your Mother Know" (sung to Ethan Le Phong's comic and limber Pepper) or Callanan's explosively amusing "Take A Chance on Me" (shared with John Michael Zuerlein's jaunty Bill). Kaye Tuckerman, in the star role of Donna, gives a professional performance that somehow never really takes off, despite her obvious song and dance chops. Her big power ballad "The Winner Takes It All" never moves one as it should, due to her cool approach to playing Donna. Indeed, her brightest moments are shared with two co-stars. Paul DeBoy as her ultimately out and proud ex-lover Harry on "Our Last Summer" and a genuinely affecting turn singing "Slipping Through My Fingers" to her stage daughter Sophie, beguiling, sweet-voiced Chloe Tucker. Young Ms. Tucker bookends the show with a lovely "I Have a Dream" and is well cast opposite raffish Happy Mahaney as her fiancé Sky. Finally, as Sam, the man Donna most likely regretted losing the most, Christian Whelan shows off a strong baritone that is in contrast to a rather stiff approach to his character.

The impeccable production design by Mark Thompson and top-flight lighting by Howard Harrison still look wonderful, but the sound (particularly the musical numbers) by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken is set-your-teeth-on-edge loud at times, and many of the vocalists' lyrics are ill-served as a result.

But, happily, the overall end result is that Mamma Mia! is still a show with, to borrow from Noël Coward, "a talent to amuse." And certainly to make you sing along.

The Mamma Mia! national tour runs through March 25 at The Paramount Theatre, 9th Ave & Pine Street, downtown Seattle. For further information visit the Paramount online at www.theparamount.com and www.MammaMiaNorthAmerica.com.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David Edward Hughes



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