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Mamma Mia

                                       By Michall Jeffers

Suggestion: if you have out-of-town visitors this summer, take them to see Mama Mia. At the performance I attended, the audience was filled with foreign tourists, many of them Asian, and they were having a ball. Letís face it, the plot is simple, and the language is easy to understand for anyone with a working knowledge of English. Several of the people with whom I spoke had seen the movie dubbed into their native tongue. So what were they doing there? Rocking out to the good old music. There was a group of school kids in the balcony; they were having a great time, too.

Adding to the nostalgia factor is the fact that the show is closing on September 5th, after a 14-year run, and 5,765 performances. Itís the 8th longest running show in Broadway history, no mean feat. Only 5 currently running Broadway musicals have run for more than 10 years. The play is a global hit, and still brings in the crowds in London, where it originated. In fact, Mama Mia has been seen by over 54 million people, in 16 languages, 49 productions, and 400 cities around the world.

Itís great to see the combination of seasoned vets playing the leads, and kids playing younger roles and chorus members. That helps to keep an old show fresh and vibrant. The basic premise works as well as ever: Donna (Judy McLane) lives on a beautiful island, where she runs a small inn. Her daughter, Sophie (Elena Ricardo), though only 20, is going to marry her boyfriend, Sky (Jordan Bondurant). Sophie wants her dad to be at her wedding. One small problem; she doesnít know who he is, and neither does her mom. The bride-to-be finds Donnaís old diary, and narrows down the possible suspects. Is her father Sam (Victor Wallace), Bill (Ben McHugh) or Harry (Paul DeBoy)? They all show up on the island, which complicates, rather than simplifies, the dilemma.

The fun begins when Donnaís friends from her erstwhile singing group, Donna and the Dynamos, arrive. Upscale Tanya (Alison Ewing) and fun loving Rosie (Mary Callanan) convince Donna to sing with them, and the result is a medley of ABBA songs, including the title tune, which delight the audience.

Donna has a clear favorite among her former suitors; Victor Wallace does an especially nice job playing Sam as desirable, earnest, and more than a little confused. His big number, S.O.S., is compelling and very well sung. In fact, all of the men are enjoyable to watch; my only criticism is that they seem a little young for the roles.

For the many who have seen the movie starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, my advice is to just leave that experience behind you. The stage version of Mama Mia has a charm all its own, and if we arenít shown the lush island and the deep blue sea, we can easily use our imaginations.

Does Mama Mia still hold up after all these years? If the show only had great numbers like the toe-tapping Dancing Queen, it wouldnít have survived. Behind the fun, the familiar melodies, and the silly glitzy outfits on both men and women, thereís a real heart. And even though the end is near, in a lyric from the show, when itís really time to say goodbye after the summer, we may well wonder Why, why did I ever let you go?

Mama Mia, through September 5, 2015
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44 St.
Cast: Judy McLane (Donna), Alison Ewing (Tanya), Mary Callanan (Rosie), Elena Ricardo (Sophie), Victor Wallace (Sam), Ben McHugh (Bill), Paul DeBoy (Harry), Jordan Bondurant (Sky)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Choreographer: Anthony Van Laast
Music and Lyrics: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus