Thursday, August 5, 2004

'Mamma Mia!' raises the roof

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
Enquirer staff writer

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are the perfect time for Mamma Mia!, the Abba songbook joined together by a three men and a grown-up baby plot on a sunny Greek isle.

The show is like lying on a beach without a care in the world, a crashing pop beat substituting for crashing waves.

Mamma Mia! returns for a short stay at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble Hall through Sunday. I'm sorry to report that the last cast was stronger, but Abba fans aren't going to care.

The hits are there, mostly packed into the first act, the action bounces along lickity split to connect the songs, and the sets and costumes are eye candy in all the best crayon colors.

This pop concert-stage musical hybrid invites its audiences to clap along to the beat, keeping it at a volume that pounds through your chest. At the end, the show smartly reprises Abba's biggest hits, getting the audience to its feet and sending it out into the summer night on a nostalgic high.

The no-brainer plot centers on a wedding. Bride Sophie (Sara Kramer) has invited three men who might be her dad, not telling mom Donna (Lauren Mufson) who used to be lead singer in a girl trio and for years has run a taverna on the island.

Of course Donna never has gotten over one of them. Everybody sings the hit list - 22 songs, of course including "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "The Name of the Game" and the title song - to the roof.

Kramer is the sole off-note. She is adorable as Sophie but her vocal delivery is strident, screaming her songs as often as singing them. For Mufson, the hits keep on coming, but there's not enough warmth hiding under Donna's thorny exterior.

The male chorus had a grand time backing up "Lay All Your Love on Me" in scuba gear and flippers, always a giggle fest for the audience.

One of my favorite musical moments was the surprising R&B spin E. Faye Butler, playing former backup singer and comic relief, put on "Take a Chance on Me." It worked and then some.

Mamma Mia!, through Sunday, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., downtown. 241-7469.


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