Thursday, May 16, 2002

Dancing queens make 'Mamma Mia!' goofy fun

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The hunky young male chorus dances by in flippers and snorkel masks, the heroines are middle-aged disco goddesses who can still balance on their platform boots. And who doesn't love a Greek wedding?

        Mamma Mia!, an international stage hit featuring ABBA's greatest hits, has arrived at the Aronoff as part of Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati. It's a wildly successful combination of goofy, good-natured and shrewd.

        Goofy? The plot is flimsy, sort of a Three Men and a Babe wherein bride-to-be Sophie (Kristie Marsden) secretly reads mom Donna's 20-year-old diary and invites all the likely paternal suspects to her wedding, because she wants her father to walk her down the aisle.

        Shrewd? The plot is bubble gum to hold together a string of 20-plus ABBA favorites that work like a time machine. Suddenly memory takes over, and it doesn't matter who's singing. What matters is the song, where you were and who you were with.

        Shrewder, the smartest thing about Mamma Mia! is the way it makes ingratiating fun of itself. What's not to love about Donna (Monique Lund) and her two best buddies, her former back-up singers who have arrived for the wedding? No, they can't do what they used to. Boy, does most of the audience know that story.

        Despite her summer of love way back when, Donna is your basic Mary Tyler Moore. The tall, blond sidekick (Ellen Harvey) could stand-in for Patsy on AbFab. The short chunky one (Robin Baxter) could be cousin to Kathy Najimy in anything.

        They are all terrific, and they make the physical comedy look effortless. What's more, they make you want to hang out with them.

        Which is another reason why Mamma Mia! works. It tells you that girlfriends are still allowed to shriek together. How bad can things be if you and your best friends still can dance around a bedroom pretending hairbrushes and blow dryers are hand mikes?

        So here's Donna's problem, or three problems, to be more precise (even she isn't sure which one is Sophie's dad): the candidates are an Australian crocodile hunter; a buttoned-down London banker and former head-banger; and the American architect who broke her young heart.

        No point in going into details. Everybody but the three gals are boring. (If we're going to be honest, most of us were boring when we were 20.) They don't need to be interesting; they need to sing up a storm and have energy to burn, which they do.

        When people aren't singing, they're delivering sitcom-like lines. There are so many boob jokes it could be a promo for The View. They go over well with the audience.

        Mamma Mia!, through June 2, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, Aronoff Center Procter & Gamble Hall. 241-7469.


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