Last Night: 'Mamma Mia' | Rock Candy

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Last Night: 'Mamma Mia'

Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 11:26 AM

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It's best not to think too hard or too long about “Mamma Mia!,” which opened to nearly packed house at Robinson Center Music Hall on Tuesday night. This is the second time the ABBA-stuffed musical has slapped on the spandex for Little Rock audiences and this run comes after the huge-selling adaptation for the big screen. At some point you would think the thirst for this jukebox musical silliness would be satisfied — but it hasn't happened yet.

When you concentrate too much on “Mamma Mia!” — specifically on the book concocted by Catherine Johnson — things start to bug. Sure, one of the first lines from the opening number mentions “fairy tale” but the whole plot — young girl on faraway Greek island clashes with her independent mother as she sifts for her father among three candidates before marching down the aisle to be wed — strains on your willing suspension of disbelief.

Also, there's a reason most jukebox musicals toss out story of any kind in favor of presenting the hits in a concert-like format. It's hard to make the plot fit the songs. “Mamma Mia!” is better at this than it even has a right to be, yet “The Name of the Game” isn't about a father and daughter being estranged and “Chiquitita” — well, I don't even know if ABBA knows what that song is about.

Then there's the matter of Harry Bright, one of those possible fathers. We are told when he was young he was called Harry Headbanger — headbanging mostly being associated with late '80s heavy metal — and had a Johnny Rotten T-shirt ('70s punk), but then he finds an old acoustic guitar and sings a song from the old days, and it's the most wimpy ABBA song ever. Later on, he sings about reveling in the days of “the flower power.” This guy gets around.

Even if you went in Tuesday night fresh from a frontal lobotomy, the production itself at times tried to push you away. In first 15 minutes the lead performers weren't amplified enough or simply didn't sing loud enough to be heard over the orchestra. The situation got better and volume seemed to increase after the intermission. There were several awkward pauses where either the actors or the orchestra weren't paying attention or were waiting for somebody else to pick up the cue. At certain points you could see stagehands fiddling with something on the set while the performers were out front in the middle of a scene.

Despite this, Mamma Mia! did deliver ample joy amidst fizzy musical numbers. “Dancing Queen” never seems to grow old and “Super Trooper” is pop at its blissful best. But live theater often works because of performances and this production has two great ones. Rachel Tyler, a tall blond who has legs for forever, and Kittra Wynn Coomer, a stout woman with close-cropped hair, showed off impeccable comic timing. Tyler had her moment with “Does Your Mother Know “ and Coomer, who couldn't cross the stage without setting off gales of laughter, had hers with her with “Take a Chance on Me.” In those happy moments, Mamma Mia! felt like the smartest and funniest show around.

Werner Trieschmann

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