Mamma Mia! offers trip to Planet ABBA | VailDaily.com
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Mamma Mia! offers trip to Planet ABBA

Special to the Daily/Denver CenterLaura Ware, Lisa Mandel and Laurie Wells in the national tour of "Mamma Mia!" now playing at the Denver Center.
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DENVER Imagine a world, if you can, where all complex human interactions can be interpreted through the lyrics of old ABBA songs.Having trouble? Fact is, such a world really exists. Its called Mamma Mia!, the ridiculous yet thoroughly entertaining musical making a stop at the Denver Center this month.For what its worth, heres the premise: On the eve of her wedding, 20-year-old Sophie is visited by three men all of whom could be her father. She discovered their identity by reading her mothers diary, and invited them to the wedding thinking shed know her dad when she sees him.It doesnt quite work out that way, needless to say. Donna, the Mamma in the equation, is as ignorant as Sophie as to the identify of the real father, and shes amazed when all three former lovers show up at the Greek taverna she runs. It seems darling Sophie didnt bother to tell her shed invited them. Confusion and hilarity ensues.If all this sounds like a premise for an unknown Shakespeare comedy, things swiftly veer into an alternate universe when Donnas friends Lisa and Tanya cheer her up with a rousing rendition of Chiquitita and then Dancing Queen.

The audience eats it up, which begs the question of whats going on here? Last I heard, ABBA was a largely reviled cultural artifact best left in the 70s. Whats driving the enormous popularity of a modern musical based on those silly old songs?Heres one theory: Bjrn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, who wrote ABBAs music, were like pastry chefs who put an extra cup or two of sugar in everything they created. When food critics pointed out that all that extra sugar was a cheap way to pump up the flavor, Bjrn and Benny simply pointed out the enormous number of people consuming their pastries and they made more.It worked so well, in fact, that they were able to stop many years ago and let fans continue to eat up the reruns ad nauseum. It took a few decades to figure out a clever way of repackaging it all in the form of a musical.Watching audiences consume Mamma Mia! with all the zeal of preschoolers in a field of cupcakes, its easy to see that old Bjrn magic is alive and well. And even if one leaves the theatre fairly redolent with cheesy feelings, well, we all enjoy an ice cream cone or cotton candy now and again anyway, regardless of our age.

The cast in Mamma Mia!! is accompanied by a live and very loud band, and they move through all the hits, from the title song to The Name of the Game, S.O.S., Super Trouper and just about everything else off that well-worn copy of ABBA Gold. About the only thing they couldnt find a home for was Fernando, which seemed a tremendous oversight couldnt they have done a number about a leering pool boy or something?Some of the most entertaining moments in Mamma! Mia come from the surge of mirth and incredulity that comes from the audience as they realize whats coming next. Sometimes, its more of a groan, as is the case when the cast launches into Money, Money, Money when Donna makes the slightest mention of the rigors accompanied with running her business.There are a few places in Mamma Mia!! where the number seems shoehorned into the plot, as well as a few lesser songs from the ABBA cannon included simply because they fit. Overall, though, its hard not to offer strong props to Catherine Johnson, who wrote the book for Mamma Mia! and, presumably, figured out which songs fit where. Mamma Mia! is a bizarre celebration of all thats saccharine and kitschy and yes, lovable and infectious about pop music. The touring show now in Denver is an extravaganza of sound, color and pure joy that works the audience shamelessly, recalling us to the days when we first heard Voulez-Vous or Knowing Me, Knowing You. And here I thought I could live the rest of my days without hearing these again.No doubt newcomers to ABBA music will have as much fun, for the songs are as timeless as bundt cake, appealing as strawberry lip gloss. Just try to have the next day free: Youll need hypnotherapy to get the tunes out of your head.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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