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Review: ABBA-fueled 'Mamma Mia!' still a super trouper night out at theater


Presented for your approval, the proposition that musicals — and especially jukebox musicals — get louder and more raunchy the farther they are from the original production.

Case in point: The tour of Mamma Mia!, which opened its latest engagement in the Tampa Bay market (the seventh to pass this way, by my count) Tuesday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. This fall marks the 10th anniversary of the Broadway premiere (five weeks after 9/11). The original London production opened in 1999.

So, the ABBA musical is getting long in the tooth, and, yeah, even with a scaled-back band in the pit, the sound is louder than ever, right from the overture's piercing guitar, thudding bass and drums and tinny synth. As for the raunch factor, the show remains a sweet, good-natured romp, but the stage business between characters has grown broader and more naughty. For example, the lap dancing during Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) seems more explicit than I remember from productions past, and the crotch grabbing is blatant in numbers like Does Your Mother Know by Tanya (Alison Ewing) and the wedding-day courtship of Rosie (Mary Callanan) and Bill (John-Michael Zuerlein) in Take a Chance on Me.

How's it holding up? Actually, quite well. Unlike a lot of long-running tours, Mamma Mia! has stayed fresh. If I'm not mistaken, the lighting (designed by Howard Harrison) of turquoise, tangerine, green and purple pastels appears to have been pepped up, and I've come around to appreciate the work of production designer Mark Thompson. His Greek taverna once struck me as resembling a bomb shelter, but now I think it's a model of abstract simplicity and functionalism. The choreography (Anthony Van Laast) is a blast in the bacchanalian dance of Voulez-Vous and hip-hop has been added to Does Your Mother Know. Certainly, the audience is still there, largely made up of groups of women, with the occasional guy straggling along. Tuesday's attendance was 1,760.

No-name cast: Except for the movie (Pierce Brosnan, anyone?), Mamma Mia! has never needed stars. Aussie Kaye Tuckerman tops the cast here, and with her gamine hairdo, she is the most tomboyish Donna I've seen. Tuckerman is an uneven singer — inaudible in sections of her opening number, Mamma Mia — but put her into spandex and platform boots, and she kicks out the jams. As Donna's daughter, Sophie, Chloe Tucker is a plucky young bride.

Three favorite moments: (1) When Donna and her gal pals don their disco finery for the Dynamos' girl-power classic Super Trouper. (2) S.O.S., the duet by Donna and Sam (Tony Clements), which takes on a seductive darkness in a vocal arrangement that (I think) has been transposed down to compensate for Clements' lack of range. (3) Sophie's dream scene, Under Attack.

Why the show continues to appeal: In some ways, ABBA was the last gasp of melodic pop, before the deluge of punk and rap, but the Swedish group wasn't particularly big in the United States during its reign in the 1970s and early '80s, and some people are still discovering the music. The combination of songs whose point of view is mainly female and the mother-daughter story makes it an ideal chick show, never a bad thing in the theater.

Possibly relevant trivia: Phyllida Lloyd, director of Mamma Mia! (the movie, too), is one of only a handful of women to direct Wagner's four-opera epic, the Ring cycle. She directed it for English National Opera.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

. If you go

Dancing queens

Mamma Mia! has six shows through Sunday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Run time:
2 hours, 40 minutes, including
intermission. $42-$80. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045;

Review: ABBA-fueled 'Mamma Mia!' still a super trouper night out at theater 07/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 14, 2011 1:14am]
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