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In the wings

with John Fleming

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'Mamma Mia!' still dancing strong

Do you have a favorite ABBA song? Depending on my mood, I'm partial to Super Trouper or Thank You for the Music or Voulez-Vous or S.O.S., but there are so many good ones that I could come up with an entirely different list tomorrow.

No doubt other theatergoers are making their picks this week as Mamma Mia! returns to Ruth Eckerd Hall. Here are a few thoughts on the show.

Repeat viewing: I have seen Mamma Mia! at least four times, including the original cast on Broadway eight years ago, and I didn't have high expectations for this tour. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover how strong the cast is and how fresh the production remains. Tuesday's opening night may have been the most enjoyable performance of the show I've seen.

What keeps it fresh? Catherine Johnson's book has much more wit than it's given credit for, and the production design (Mark Thompson) and lighting (Howard Harrison) perfectly evoke a sun-drenched Greek island. The shtick between characters — when Donna (Michelle Dawson) and Harry (Michael Aaron Lindner) mimic sharing a joint during Our Last Summer, for example — is wonderfully good natured. And the cast is obviously having a blast performing all the great songs.

Mom and daughter: Dawson is gorgeous as the frizzy-haired rock chick turned taverna owner, but either her low-pitched voice is not suited for a song like Mamma Mia or she was having an off night Tuesday. As Donna's daughter, Sophie, Liana Hunt is a charming young bride.

The guys: The camaraderie among Lindner's Harry, Martin Kildare as Bill (the "awesome Aussie") and John Hemphill as Sam is amusing. Hemphill is the best singer of the three and solos in Knowing Me, Knowing You. Adam Jacobs, playing the groom Sky, looks hot in a wet suit.

The gal pals: There is no more fun moment in theater than when bimbo Tanya (Rachel Tyler), butch Rosie (Kittra Wynn Coomer) and the mother of the bride come out in platform shoes and spandex as Donna and the Dynamos for Super Trouper.

If you go: Mamma Mia! continues through Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes, including intermission. $47-$67. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.

An opera director's job

What does a director do in opera? One of the best, Tito Capobianco, explains in a master class as part of the VOICExperience lineup of events. Capobianco, former artistic director of the Cincinnati, San Diego and Pittsburgh operas, staged many productions for New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. He made his Met debut in 1978 with Thais, starring Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes, artistic director of VOICExperience. The class is 7:30 p.m. Friday at TECO Theater of the Patel Conservatory at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. (813) 222-1033, option 1. Pay what you can.

Opera onscreen

The Beach Theatre screens three operas this month, starting Sunday at 7 p.m. with a Salzburg Festival production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, starring Christopher Maltman and Erwin Schrott, followed by Gounod's Romeo et Juliette (Aug. 23) and Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims (Aug. 30). $20. (727) 360-6697; beachtheatre.com.

'Fences' cast changes

Alan Bomar Jones, who was to play Troy Maxson in the American Stage season-opening production of August Wilson's Fences dropped out to take a TV job. He has been replaced by Evander Duck, whose credits include Troy in a staging of Fences by the African Globe Theatre.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs at Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

'Mamma Mia!' still dancing strong 08/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 9:19pm]

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