Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Mamma Mia" (Rhoades)

‘Mamma Mia’ Is
ABBA-solutely Marvelous

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I’ll let you in on a secret: You can often get into sold-out Broadway shows if you turn up at the box office ten minutes before curtain time. They sell off the unclaimed and canceled reservations for half price.

That’s what I did a few weeks ago as I was walking past the Winter Garden Theater in New York where the long-running hit “Mamma Mia” was playing. What a nice matinee it was, with all that happy ABBA music and a vibrant live performance. Yes, people were dancing in the aisles.

But I have to admit, I preferred the movie version – opening today at the Tropic Cinema.
Why? In a word (or two): Meryl Streep.

It’s a role – that of a free-spirited mother who runs a small hotel on a Greek island – she seems born to play. Showing her acting range, this is as opposite her uptight editor role in “The Devil Wears Prada” as you could possibly get.

The plot’s loosely based on a 1968 movie called “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell”: In this new version, the hotelkeeper’s soon-to-be-married daughter invites three of her mother’s old beaux to the wedding, knowing that one of them is likely to be her father.

As the title says, Mamma Mia!

Amanda Seyfried (“Alpha Dog”) is delightful as the daughter in search of a dad. And Pierce Brosnan (that former 007 smoothie), Colin Firth (“Then She Found Me”), and Stellan Skarsgard (“Amistad”) are perfect as the three bewildered old boyfriends. Add Julie Walters (“Becoming Jane”) and Christine Baranski (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) as Streep’s best gal pals and you have the cast – except for prospective groom Dominic Cooper (“The Escapist”) and all those wonderful background singers and dancers.

Of course, the movie (and play) is built around the ’70s hits of Swedish pop group ABBA. The group’s name is an acronym formed from the first letters of each member’s given name (Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad).

Yes, you’ll hear your favorite tunes: “Honey, Honey,” “SOS,” “Voulez-Vous,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Does Your Mother Known,” “The Winner Takes It All,” and many others – including “Mamma Mia!”

This is what’s known as a “jukebox musical,” a story woven around previously released popular songs.

Meryl Streep – as all the cast – does her own singing. I’d nearly forgotten her performance as a country singer in “Postcard from the Edge” and how good her voice sounds. Pierce Brosnan’s warbling is little rough, but charmingly enthusiastic. And pretty Amanda Seyfried performs like a songbird.

Stay for the credits and you’ll be treated to a concert-like performance by these aging hippies in full Elvis regalia, a lively rendition of “Dancing Queen” with Meryl Streep as the terpsichorean diva.

You’ll walk out of the theater humming the songs. And trust me, the movie’s a lot cheaper than a Broadway ticket – even at half price!

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