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'Mamma Mia!'

by Gretchen Collins

May 8, 2007 -- Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Legions of fans from T-Town turned out in their finest polyester and platform shoes to experience “Mamma Mia!”  Celebrity Attractions’ president Larry Payton continues to bring what his subscribers want to see and this was definitely it. He last presented “Mamma Mia!” in 2003 and people haven’t stopped talking about it. This eight-performance run was sold out  before it opened, thanks in part to the “Mamma Mia!” grapevine. As one British reviewer said, “‘Mamma Mia!’ could put Prozac out of business.” And so it goes.

There wouldn’t be a “Mamma Mia!” without ABBA (Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad), the Swedish supergroup who rose to near world dominance in the 1970s’ disco years. Even after the music stopped in 1982, their songs continued to sell. Today and every day, 3500 ABBA records are snatched up around the planet.

A long way from the April 1999 opening in London’s West End Prince Edward Theatre, this production proved once again that it has universal appeal, especially in the United States’ great Southwest. The story has been criticized by some as a bit anemic, but it was written to be fun, and it is. (A practical storyline, such as DNA testing, would have ruined the whole adventure.)

Mary Jayne Raleigh played Greek inn owner Donna Sheridan with Vicki Noon as her snoopy daughter, Sophie, in search of her roots. Noon, who opened the show, seemed to have a few butterflies early in her first song, but then found her focus, and let her strong, clear voice go. Raleigh’s voice seemed thin during the first act, but she held nothing back during “The Winner Takes It All.” But it was Christine Sherrill as Tanya, who belted out her solo. She vamped her way through scene after scene adding camp and zing to them all.

When Allison Briner added her Rosie to the mix, she, Sherrill and Raleigh made beautiful music together in “Super Trouper.” Costumed in white and silver outfits--possibly left over space suits from the “Star Trek”costume shop--they hammed it up big time. Just what the audience ordered.

In her solo, Briner did her best with “Take a Chance on Me” as she made amorous advances on Milo Shandel as Bill, whose Australian accent mysteriously disappeared from time to time. This particular scene always seems more embarrassing than funny as two lonely middle-aged characters play musical chairs on the way to a meaningful relationship, especially since reaching one’s middle years often means an end to such shenanigans.\

Both Michael Butler Murray as Harry, singing “S.O.S,” and Sean Allan Krill as Sam, performing “Thank You for the Music,” did topnotch vocals.

The dancers of “Mamma Mia!” were an integral part of the success of the production. In the darkened background the dancers marched and whirled, in slow time, often with humor, thereby moving the action from one scene to another. The lighting design by Howard Harrison was expertly done to make this device work.              

It was the full dance numbers where they were really allowed to go all out. There was a good deal of shtick and fun in a real 1970s’ get down. There was some excellent partnering, a few leaps of pure joy,  nice “line” dancing, and a little patty-cake thrown in making for a great closer to act one. The scuba dancers, er, divers are a hoot!

One dancer stood out. Corey Bradley as Pepper did a wonderful solo. He had energy to spare, but left the audience huffing and puffing in his wake.

Even with some minor imperfections, we all left smiling. Days later, I’m still humming “Dancing Queen” as are thousands of area residents who took a chance on an evening of song and dance.

The Dancing Queen continues her reign in Tulsa!

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