Volume 94, Issue 37

Friday, November 3, 2000


Eminem debate rages on

Kinnie Starr sets her own agenda with new album

London's crazy funk lords

Take a chance on Mamma Mia!

Take a chance on Mamma Mia!

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Gazette File Photo

Mamma Mia!
Starring: Louise Pitre, Tina Maddigan
Directed By: Phyllida Lloyd

By Rebecca Morier
Gazette Staff

Unless you're an ABBA fan – and how many of us are willing to admit to that? – chances are you rolled your eyes in disdain when you heard there was a musical dedicated to the disco quartet.

But rest assured, there is more to this glittering, effervescent musical than just spandex leisure suits and platform boots. Playing at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre until early next spring, Mamma Mia! will delight audiences of all ages, as well as surprise the most skeptical theatre-goer.

What's most surprising is that this isn't a nostalgic ABBA tribute show or an aggrandizing bio-musical. Rather, it's the intriguing story of a single mother whose 20-year-old daughter uses her impending wedding as a setup to uncover the identity of her father.

So where does ABBA fit in?

To give a glimpse of the way the story starts, the curtain rises to reveal the attractive bride-to-be Sophie (Tina Maddigan), singing the ABBA classic "I Have a Dream," which refers to her dream of finding her father. Each of the 22 ABBA songs is intricately woven into the context of the plot. For those unfamiliar with the tunes of the Scandinavian disco-pop superstars, the lyrics are so suited to the story, you'd think the songs were actually composed for the musical.

And for those who remember hits like "Take a Chance on Me," "Dancing Queen" and, of course, "Mamma Mia" from back in their heyday, you'll marvel at the deft and creative way in which the songs drive the romantic-comedy's story line and subplots.

This should come as no surprise since, beneath the seeming simplicity of ABBA's infectious pop melodies, specific life experiences are addressed and complex emotions reconciled. Although all the tunes seem catchy and engaging merely due to their repetitive choruses and toe-tapping beats, the music is actually theatrical, full of rich harmonies and complex instrumentation.

In delivering these classic songs, the company gives an all-around superb performance. Most notable is Western alumnus Louise Pitre, whose characterization of Donna, the self-reliant mother unable to face the men of her past, wins over the audience with her radiance and undeniable every-woman geniality. As Donna's daughter, Sophie, Tina Maddigan churns out the strong but na•ve character with grace and charm.

In fact, the women of the company lead the performance, which is a refreshing change from most musicals. Playing Donna's two equally independent, male-denouncing sisters are Gabrielle Jones and Mary Ellen Mahoney, whose vivacious personas inject even more hilarity in the already boisterous cast.

Right alongside these headstrong women are the burly yet quirky Gary P. Lynch, Lee MacDougall and David Mucci – the three contestants in the Guess-Who-Has-A-Daughter game. They lead the talented team of male performers who make scuba flippers sound better than tap shoes.

When it comes down to it, Mamma Mia! is the essence of pure fun, making it no surprise that David Mirvish snagged the musical for its first run outside the United Kingdom.

With its enchanting story, its gifted stage actors and, of course, its groovy music, Mamma Mia! is nothing short of marvellous.

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