Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Molly Beth Brenner, Fri., March 28, 2003
Mamma Mia: SOS
Bass Concert Hall, through March 30
Running time: 2 hrs
I love musicals, perhaps more than any other kind of theatre.
I love ABBA.
But after seeing the national touring production of Mamma Mia, the hit musical that features dozens of hits by the Swedish pop band, I felt like I'd been violated from behind with a candy cane.
Look, there's nothing wrong with fluffy, frothy shows done just for fun. I am a great fan of Bob Hope movies, blithe musicals like 42nd Street, and even lowbrow Jim Carrey comedies. But all of these combine their cute with cleverness. Not so with Mamma Mia. While the show has its fun, silly moments, most are rooted in lowest-common-denominator humor and already-famous pop songs, calculated to please. ABBA's tunes are fabulous in their own right and might make great musical-theatre fodder in the hands of other artists; but here, thoughtlessly crammed into a ridiculous plot like an elephant in neon pink latex tights, they made me nostalgic for the band's late-1970s original recordings.
Worse is the way that Mamma Mia is utterly invasive in its attempts to win over its audience. It relies on hackneyed response-getters (flat sexual innuendo, inane choreography, silly costumes) all wrapped up in a treacly book which has a character exclaim in the last scene, "I learned something here tonight," with no irony in sight. I felt hostage to the "you will feel good!" imperative implicit in the show, especially the way it was blasted at me from the stage. The sound was loud enough that when the music began after the intermission, the elderly couple in front of me jerked violently, making me concerned for their health. The cast featured many excellent singers, actors, and dancers -- although Kristie Marsden (Sophie) hit a few noticeably nasal, flat notes -- but their muscled Broadway voices, which could have been used as finely honed tools, were unleashed to the point of near violence.
The posters for the show insist you'll be cheering on your feet by the end, and many were. While I have come to suspect that Austin's theatre seats are embedded with hidden springs that are triggered at the end of a show to prompt an ovation no matter the show's merit, here the ovation was actively encouraged by the cast; they physically beckoned the audience to stand and dance. As in some experimental works I've seen, I stood secretly praying the show would just end.