'Mamma Mia!' soars past fluff stereotype


POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

Forget anything you may have heard about “;Mamma Mia!,”; the hit musical comedy featuring the pop chart hits of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, being cheesy.





        » When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays (7:30 p.m. May 30); and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through May 30

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall


» Cost: $40 to $85


» Info: (877) 750-4400 or hsblinks.com/ah




“;Cheesy”; doesn't draw an estimated 30 million people over a 10-year period any more than it made ABBA international pop music icons. Moreover, it didn't make Ulvaeus and Andersson a song-writing duo whose work resonates with fans of all ages more than two decades after ABBA's last public performance.

Many of ABBA's songs expressed vibrant adult emotions in the '70s and are now contemporary pop classics. “;Knowing Me, Knowing You”; still captures the tragedy of a dying romance. “;The Winner Takes It All”; still describes the pain of a shattered heart.

Best of all, Catherine Johnson's book, an imaginative reworking of “;Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,”; would be the basis for a great comedy even without the irresistible commercial appeal provided by the ABBA songs.

Fluff? No more so than many other recent Broadway musicals!

Sophie Sheridan, raised on a Greek island by her unmarried mother, Donna, discovers by reading her mother's diary that she was fathered by one of three men who were on the island in 1979. Sophie invites all three to her upcoming wedding—in her mother's name, but without telling her mother that she has invited them—with the hope that bringing them together will result in her biological father making himself known. (If you're wondering how Sophie found their mailing addresses before the advent of Google, then you're taking her story much too seriously!)

Bill Austin turns out to be an outgoing Australian explorer and writer, while Harry “;Headbanger”; Bright is a staid English banker whose one break from conformity was his fling with Donna. Sam Carmichael is an American architect; he drew up the plans for Donna's taverna but left before it could be built.

The wedding party also includes Sophie's best friends, Ali and Lisa, who arrive early in the story and then disappear for most of the show, and her mother's best friends from the wild and free '70s. Tanya is slinky, high-fashion and wealthy after three advantageous divorces; Rosie is carefree, casual and apparently never married—and is played in this production by Kittra Wynn Coomer with superb comic timing throughout.

Make no mistake about it, “;Mamma Mia!”; is first and foremost a musical comedy, and the comic roles dominate. Monette McKay (Ali) is the comic catalyst in “;Honey, Honey,”; one of the earliest numbers. Rachel Tyler (Tanya) and Adam Michael Kaokept (Pepper) star in a beautifully choreographed performance of “;Does Your Mama Know”; in which a sophisticated, 40-something woman enjoys a sassy sensual interlude with a group of hungry, 20-something men.

The action also includes sexual double-entendres, bawdy bits about women's breasts and male genitals, and an act of spontaneous sex—in short, enough “;adult”; humor to make “;Mamma Mia!”; perhaps too risqué for some preteens.

For laughs of a more innocent type, look forward to Tyler, Coomer and Michelle Dawson (Donna Sheridan) reliving the carefree '70s in ABBA-style costumes, and another scene in which the male chorus line dances while wearing swim fins.

Michael Aaron Lindner (Harry), Martin Kildare (Bill) and John Hemphill (Sam) are convincing actors and strong singers in the key roles of the suspected fathers. Lindner is a versatile comic actor; Kildare is delightful whether playing Harry for laughs or with poignant humanity. Hemphill's talent as a singer and actor makes “;Knowing Me, Knowing You”; one of the show's emotional highlights.

And just in case the happy, albeit unconventional ending isn't enough to send everyone on their way home raving about the show's all-around wonderfulness—there's more!

The cast returns for a concert-style performance of “;Mamma Mia!,”; “;Dancing Queen”; and “;Waterloo”; with Coomer, Dawson and Tyler again performing in ABBA-style costumes and Hemphill, Kildare and Lindner joining them in matching garb to create a bigger-then-life sextet version of ABBA to sing along with at the end of the show.