Imagine seeing an enormous wall of meringue advancing menacingly down the street. Just before panic sets in, you realize it's just meringue. It won't kill you -- in fact, you might even enjoy a taste or two, then push aside the remainder of the sticky-sweet concoction and go on your way.
That's how it feels as the monster musical hit Mamma Mia! (exclamation point mandatory) happily humps your leg like an affection-starved golden retriever for more than two and a half hours. Studded with 22 songs by '70s-era popsters ABBA, this show is less musical theater than a pseudo-concert, topped with a story as light as pixie dust.
Young and fatherless Sophie is getting hitched to hard-bodied Sky; it's a "big white wedding" at the tiny hotel belonging to Donna, her mother, on a fantasy-cute Greek island. However, a peek into Mom's diary has revealed that, 20 years before, then-rocker Donna had boffed three different guys around the likely time of Sophie's conception. So Sophie has tracked down all three sperm donors and invited them to her nuptials, in the hope that the real dad will emerge.
The show quickly sets aside all the questions that might not fit ABBA's playlist (such as, where the hell was self-absorbed Dad while Sophie was growing up?) and focuses instead on airbrushed memories and golden hopes. Two gal pals from Donna's rock group show up and reminisce, with Lori Haley Fox playing Tanya, a preening, wealthy divorcée, and a very funny E. Faye Butler forcing her middle-aged body to execute their old disco moves. Lauren Mufson as Donna ably holds together this cloying, bubblegum plot with a refreshingly dour attitude and an energetic delivery of her songs, particularly "The Winner Takes It All."
Much of the rest of the speaking-role cast is monumentally bland. The three father candidates are supposed to be quite different: One's an Aussie! One's gay! And one's, um, just right! But none of these actors makes his character stand out. Meanwhile another player, Gerard Salvador as Pepper, the hot-to-trot hotel employee, draws attention to himself with a collection of facial tics and grimaces that become progressively distracting.
But none of that matters as the peppy music, written by ABBA-ites Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, swirls amid shiny outfits and a large company of singing and dancing young folk, who all look like Thigh Master models. Appropriately, the evening ends with a post-curtain-call reprise of top-selling tunes, the cast and adoring audience waving their arms in synchronous tribute to the power of catchy, ephemeral music. If you love ABBA or meringue, bring a big spoon.
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