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Saturday, 07 June 2008 18:00

Mamma Mia!

Written by Rose Martelli
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The Fox Theatre

Through June 8, 2008
Reviewed by Rose Martelli
In the same pre-curtain announcement that asks theatergoers to turn off all cell phones, the audience for the Broadway musical Mamma Mia! is warned that the show contains the use of white spandex. That's just the first in a slew of soft-shelled, if toothless, jabs at 1970s pop culture taken by the musical, which is based on the songs of Me Generation pop supergroup ABBA.

Witless apologies abound for such bad-taste mistakes as sequins and fat Elvis, not to mention the freewheeling bed-hopping of that post-Pill, pre-AIDS era. Yet the show reserves no shame for ABBA's bubblegum, disco-tinged hits. Twenty-plus ABBA singles -- think "Dancing Queen," "S.O.S." and the titular "Mamma Mia" -- are mounted as if bona fide Broadway showstoppers.

Maybe that conceit could have worked. Except that the songs are strung together by a story that manages to be basic yet implausible all at once.

Sophie, an apple-cheeked, earnest vrigin raised on a Greek island by her American-born single mom, decides she wants to find and invite her father to her upcoming wedding. Problem is, according to her mother's diary from 1979, Dad could be one of three former flings. Sophie scehems to bring all of them to the island behind her mother's back. A low-stakes, baby-daddy dramedy ensues, egged along in slapstick fashion by Mom's two best friends, who have also flown in for the nuptials, and some of the groom's fratty-brained buddies.

The whole thing is assembled like a game of Mad Libs. The musical numbers are plopped rather irrelevantly between bits of dialogue. They do nothing to forward the plot. Oftentimes, they don't even seem to coincide with it.

Flashes of sly comic relief arrive thanks to actresses Michelle Elizabeth Dawson and Kittra Wynn Coomer, playing the mother's friends as bawdy baby boomers who don't take themselves too seriously. The two perform "Dancing Queen," the show's most soaring number by far, much as teenyboppers probably did back in the 70s, employing hair dryers as microphones and tennix rackets as guitars, just a couple of girls having a silly good time in their bedroom.

The set design is eye pleasing in its ocean tones, the choreography veers between cleverly giddy and altogether absent, and the cast sure does want to put on a fun show. Overall, though, Mamma Mia! should go down in the genre of musical theater as one, big Waterloo.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Fox Theatre through Sunday, June 8.  For ticket information, you may call 314-534-1111.

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