Sarofim Sell-Out for “MAMMA MIA”

Readers who have not yet secured any of the high-priced tickets for the current run of MAMMA MIA in the enormous Sarofim Hall theater of Houston’s Hobby Center had
better move fast or risk disappointment. The show is selling out for all
performances now through next Sunday’s close. As for the lucky ticket holders
in the audience of which I was part, elation was the order of the evening as
joyful patrons left the theater with wide smiles at the end of the performance.
Who could blame them?

Written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, the plot is cleverly constructed around the popular songs of ABBA that were previously composed by former members of that band, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. (Stig Anderson
collaborated in composing some of the show’s songs, and Catherine Johnson wrote
the book). The original London production opened in April of 1999 and continues
to wow audiences there. Likewise, the Broadway production (which opened just
weeks after the terror of 9/11 in 2001) is approaching celebration of 10 years
at New York’s Winter Garden Theatre this fall. (It is such a perennial that it
even found its way into the Broadway masthead photo atop this critic’s website
at ThePeoplesCritic.com).

Phyllida Lloyd brightly directs this current and very successful national tour of a show
familiar to many from the popular screen version starring Meryl Streep and
Pierce Brosnon. But the high-energy excitement Mamma Mia brings to the
live stage could never be fully captured on film. The forgivably far-fetched
plot surrounds a single mother named Donna (Kaye Tuckerman), and her daughter,
Sophie (Chloe Tucker), who live on the lovely Greek Island of Calicos where
Donna operates a taverna guest house. Twenty year-old Sophie is about to
be married to her beloved Sky (Happy Mahaney) and longs to know which of the
three men her mother had flings with years before could be her real father. In
hopes of solving that mystery she has secretly invited the three to her
forthcoming wedding. When the gents arrive (Paul Deboy as Harry, John-Michael
Zuerlein as Bill, and John Bisom as Sam) the real fun gets underway. Adding to
the fun is the arrival of Donna’s feisty old girlfriends, Tanya (Alison Ewing),
and Rosie (Mary Callanan). Years before the three gals had their own singing
group known as, “Donna & the Dynamos.” Before show’s end they unite for
some spectacular numbers.

The action plays out on what I found to be a simple, yet very appealing set, depicting the tavern’s Mediterranean-style stucco buildings, capped by the lacy
silhouette of a tree and an occasional rising moon. The secret of this
successful simplicity rests with the ever-changing and brilliant pastel
lighting designs of Howard Harrison, which give an airy and romantic look to
many scenes, and electrifying excitement to others like the explosive, “Money,
Money, Money.” With such popular hits as, “Dancing Queen”,
“Chiquitita, ” “Super Trouper,” “Take A Chance On
Me,” “Voulez-Vous,” “SOS,” “Thank You for the
Music,” “The Winner Takes It All”, and the tender, “Knowing
Me, Knowing You,” the fun-filled and lovely tunes overshadow the twists
and turns of the convoluted plot. But as wedding day approaches, there are
enough mysteries and surprises to keep it all interesting, while the dynamic
voices in the cast add to the magic. Kaye Tuckerman brings fierce vocal power
to her numbers and Chloe Tucker’s voice is pure perfection. With sweet vocal
harmonies, the Ensemble cast support is strong throughout. One regret for this
critic was the apparent insistence of production sound engineers to
over-amplify many musical numbers to distortion levels. That, in my opinion, is
a disservice to both composers and vocalists, whose ability to make beautiful
music does not in any way require such annoying levels of volume.

The flashy choreography of Anthony Van Laast is ever-present as a highlight of the
production, and don’t miss the hilarious flipper-footed dance of the scuba
divers. And speaking of “don’t miss,” there were two kinds of sweet justice
meted out at the end of the show. First, as the hardworking performers began to
take their bows, there were the usual rude theatergoers who hopped out of their
seats and headed for the exits in their efforts to be first out of the parking
lot. Little did they know that a highlight of the show was about to take place:
Following the curtain calls, with our leads now suddenly dressed in the glitz
of ABBA-style costumes, the cast again exploded on stage for perhaps another
twenty minutes of joyful encores including “Dancing Queen,” and, of course,
“Mamma Mia.” And finally, more importantly, cast member Mahaney stepped forward
to address the audience on behalf of the worldwide Broadway Cares /
Equity Fights AIDS
campaign. Cast members were then at the exits to greet
the many happy audience members who cheerfully contributed to that worthy
cause.

MAMMA MIA continues at the Hobby Center with performances tonight at 7:30, Friday & Saturday nights at 8pm, matinees both Saturday & Sunday at 2pm, and a final performance at 7:30 this coming Sunday night, May 15th. To capture any of the few remaining tickets call 713-315-2525 or visit the website at http://www.thehobbycenter.org/ .
Those who miss out may want to have a peek at the tour video available at:
http://www.mammamianorthamerica.com/land/tour/?gclid=CO62uufX4qgCFUHr7QodtjZGCw

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
This entry was posted in Dance Reviews, Miscellaneous Reviews, Theater Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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