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Put on a happy face for an old friend

And you thought you hated Swedish dance pop.

This particularly virulent form of musical expression -- fuel for endless disco dance parties and '70s teenage sleep-overs -- drives the action in "Mamma Mia!," the long-running mega-musical franchise that beamed back into Shea's Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night after a two-year absence.

This production takes the sugary pop tunes of ABBA -- the band that billions love, millions detest, and absolutely no one feels indifferent about -- and injects them with the sort of elation and buoyancy normally reserved for strong hallucinogens. Try as you might to resist, "Mamma Mia!" will stop at nothing to flood your every synapse with synthetic pop joy. So you might as well give in.

The uninitiated (among which I count myself) could be forgiven for thinking that the stage version of "Mamma Mia!" has anything to do with the celluloid tragedy of the same name that was released last year and starred Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski. But the two are different in both spirit and execution. With minor exceptions, the cast of this particular tour could trounce Streep and company with their hands tied behind their dance belts.

For the show's legions of fans and repeat customers, explaining its appeal is unnecessary. For its critics, nearly pointless. But here's for the three people still undecided:

Remember when you were a teenager and you got buzzed with your friends on Mike's Hard Lemonade (or Boone's Farm, or Zima) and the whole evening devolved into an impromptu dance party set to whatever music was on the stereo? No? Well, "Mamma Mia!" is kind of like that, except with marginally better costumes, props and choreography. It is completely unpretentious and self-consciously silly fun, and that's exactly what has kept fans coming back to the show in droves since its auspicious Broadway debut in 2001.

The show's "story" -- essentially an excuse to cram 25 hit ABBA songs into slightly less than two hours -- involves a character named Sophie (Rose Sezniak) who is about to get married on a shimmering Greek island. In the diary of her mother, Donna (Susie McMonagle), Sophie discovers that her father could be one of three men, and so she invites each of them to the wedding.

Enter ABBA, and off we go.

As Sophie, Sezniak is perfection. Her voice is strong but sweet, her delivery imbued with just the mixture of defiance and innocence her character calls for. Susie McMonagle, as Donna, has a quieter voice but an equally charming stage presence, as do Geoffrey Hemingway as Sophie's one-dimensional fiance Sky (yes, Sky) and Monette McKay and Nicole Laurenzi as Sophie's hangers-on. As Rosie, the boisterous and vivacious friend of Donna, Kittra Wynn Coomer turns in possibly the show's most magnetic and comically accomplished performance.

But try as its cast admirably does, the Zima buzz that is "Mamma Mia!" wears off almost completely by the second act, when the dramatic artillery provided by ABBA is just not enough to float the show's emotional boat. By that point it hardly matters, though, because by the end of the evening, whether you've reconciled your anti-ABBA feelings or not, there will probably be a smile on your face.



>Theater Review

"Mamma Mia!"

Review: Three stars (out of four)

Opened Tuesday night and runs through Sunday in Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. For more information, call 852-5000 or visit

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