On Theater: Two enduring shows offer comfort viewing

June 23, 2011|By Tom Titus
  • Amanda Hart, left, and Michelle Pedersen in "Steel Magnolias."
Amanda Hart, left, and Michelle Pedersen in "Steel… (Daily Pilot )

Stretching stories around a number of already established songs from a single source isn't a particularly new approach. Over 50 years ago, Hollywood produced the Oscar-winning "An American in Paris" with all-George Gershwin music and created an enduring classic with "White Christmas" from the Irving Berlin catalogue.

The latter show, incidentally, will be on view this holiday season at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts but currently that venue is housing another in the aforementioned breed — the center's third staging of "Mamma Mia!," in town for just one week and closing Sunday.

Now, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus aren't exactly household names like Gershwin or Berlin, but their music, as members of the ABBA pop singing group from Sweden, inspired Catherine Johnson to create a show around it that's been seen by over 45 million people worldwide and is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Broadway.

After two previous visits to the center and a Meryl Streep movie, "Mamma Mia!" is no stranger to local audiences, but a welcome frequent guest, judging by the show's hyper-enthusiastic reception on opening night.


And small wonder. It's a rollicking, dynamic theatrical experience, especially for those who mourn the passing of the disco era. It's flashy, sassy and, to a degree, classy in its depiction of romance — both newly found and retro — on a sunny Greek island.

"Mamma Mia!" demands a superior vocal talent in the role of taverna hostess Donna Sheridan (once the front woman for a trio called Donna and the Dynamos). This production has such a performer in Kaye Tuckerman, who tops an evening of electric entertaining with a mesmerizing solo, "The Winner Takes It All," that draws extended applause.

Donna, it seems, gave birth to a daughter (a terrific Chloe Tucker) two decades before, but isn't quite sure of the father's identity. There are three candidates, and daughter Sophie (after a peek at Mom's diary) invites all three to the nuptials — and they all show up. That's where the fun really begins.

There's the devoted architect (Tony Clements, a late replacement but quite solid), the Aussie adventurer (a showy Paul DeBoy) and the bashful Brit but onetime head banger (the low-key John-Michael Zuerlein). Each is eager to lay claim to his parentage.

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