- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Call me a wallflower at the disco: The musical "Mamma Mia," inspired by songs from the 1970s Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA, is infectious in its boppy energy but that's about it.

If you like your music loud and synthesizer-laden enough to rouse the ghost of Andy Gibb and plot developments that would make the writers at "The Days of Our Lives" blush, then "Mamma Mia" is for you.

"Mamma Mia" is one of those cute, screamingly bright shows, similar to "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in its mishmash of styles and high-octane zestiness. But when all is said and done, the musical doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

The boisterous crowd sang and clapped along the audience included ABBA fan Secretary of State Colin Powell and seemed unconcerned that the cast's Australian and English accents seemed to have traveled by way of the Bronx and that the costumes and choreography were inspired by episodes of "Sponge Bob Square Pant."

Audience members didn't even seem to mind that "Mamma Mia" is set in the now and reflects on events that happened 20 years ago, which would be 1979 tops.

Yet the show reflects an earlier time, when disco ruled, not when it was on the wane.

The show takes place on a mythical Greek island. Donna (Dee Hoty), a fiercely independent single mother, is preparing for the wedding of her daughter, Sophie (Michelle Aravena), and a handsome, ambitious lad, Sky (Ryan Silverman).

Donna, a free spirit from the 1970s, is worried about her daughter getting married so young she's 20. Sophie has other things on her mind, such as finding out who her father is.

After stealing Donna's diary, Sophie gleans three prospects: Sam (Gary P. Lynch), a manly architect who broke Donna's heart 20 years ago; Bill (Craig Bennett), a hearty Aussie outdoorsman and travel writer along the lines of "Crocodile Hunter"; and Harry (Mark Zimmerman), a nice steady man once called the Headbanger but now a banker in London with a "friend" named Peter.

Unbeknown to Donna, Sophie invites them all to the wedding. Needless to say, mirth and mayhem ensue.

With the aid of her buds, Tanya (Mary Ellen Mahoney), a clone of "Absolutely Fabulous" Patsy, and Rosie (Gabrielle Jones), a peppy feminist, Donna not only sorts this mess out, but fulfills an old, achy dream of her own.

The soap opera-ish plot is carried out through the songs, and some of them are an awkward fit. To have Donna tear her heart out over such songs as "The Winner Takes it All" and "S.O.S." as if she is singing Kurt Weill is just plain mawkish.

When Sam has his big moment belting out "Knowing Me, Knowing You" as if it were the "Soliloquy" from "Carousel" makes one blink in disbelief.

The pure pop numbers are the most ingratiating. A joyfully uninhibited bachelor party throbs to "Voulez Vous," and the title song, "Mamma Mia," is a hot flash set to music as Donna faces her three old flames.

Rosie (the supremely adorable Miss Jones) has a terrific moment with Bill as they play an adult game of cat and mouse in "Take a Chance on Me," and "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" is a production number for which the whole cast gleefully pleads with Donna to take the plunge.

You must have a sweet tooth for disco and inane lyrics in order to fully appreciate "Mamma Mia." If not, you are the lone Sex Pistol in a sea of Village People.


WHAT: "Mamma Mia"

WHERE: National Theatre, 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through June 8

TICKETS: $35 to $75

PHONE: 800/447-7400


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