Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mamma Mia!, PlayhouseSquare

 There is an understandable urge to resist shows that give off the aura of being entirely irresistible.

Take Mamma Mia!, the jukebox musical of tunes spun by the pop- rock group ABBA, which is now at PlayhouseSquare. It’s so cheerful and bright, and packed with infectious tunes, that you find yourself smiling and tapping your foot even when you’re trying to ignore the temptation.

Better to give in: ABBA is bigger than all of us, even though they haven’t recorded or performed as a group for 30 years. But no matter, Mamma Mia! will run forever, giving middle-aged actors the chance to dress in 1970's rock drag, and middle-aged audience members the opportunity to remember when they could boogie with the best of them.

The music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus is as bulletproof as always, and the direction by Phyllida Lloyd has been frozen in amber since the show's 1999 debut.

In this iteration, the older women are led by slim Kaye Tuckerman, who gives taverna owner Donna a wired, slightly hyper presence. Although Tuckerman can’t hit the low notes with much oomph, she nails “The Winner Takes It All” near the end of the second act.

As her back-up rock group now gone to seed, Alison Ewing is a nicely jaded and breast-enhanced Tanya. Mary Callanan plays Rosie with a sweet affect that could stand to be a little earthier and more edgy. But they both sing well and look appropriately out of place in their glam-rocker outfits.

As for the old dudes who used to date Donna, one of whom might be the father of her daughter Sophie, it’s a mixed bag this time around. Paul Deboy handles the “head banger” role of Harry Bright with good-natured ease, and John-Michael Zuerlein has a couple interesting moments as the Aussie.

But Christian Wheelan never quite connects as Sam Carmichael, the guy Donna clearly has the most current vibes for, both positive and negative. And his singing feels forced, as if he’s stretching every neck tendon to hit his notes, which is a less than attractive way to approach most love songs, be they ballads or soft rock.

Among the young tikes (the 20-sometings), Chloe Tucker is fun and endearing as Sophie, and the aptly named Happy Mahaney plays her fiance Sky with a nearly permanent smile that warms rather than irritates.

The book by Catherine Johnson blissfully ignores simple resolutions to the problems set forth (paternity tests? hello?), but all the confusions are eventually resolved in a welter of more songs.

And that’s just what the audience wants, ending with a mini-concert that sends everyone off humming and waiting for the next touring company of Mamma Mia! to roll through town.

Mamma Mia!
Through July 22 at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 216-241-6000. 

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