Proud to be danc­ing queen

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mary McNa­mara

I was strangely trou­bled as I came away from Fri­day night’s per­for­mance of that un­likely yet in­de­fati­ga­ble in­ter­na­tional hit “Mamma Mia!” at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl.

Not by the pro­duc­tion, which was per­fectly de­light­ful, from the cool blue of Derek McLane’s nifty set to the ac­com­plished cast mem­bers, directed and chore­ographed by Kath­leen Mar­shall, who all seemed to be hav­ing a great time. But by the au­di­ence.

Be­fore Fri­day night, I would have bet ac­tual money that few sen­tient hu­mans could hear ABBA’s “Danc­ing Queen” and re­main un­moved. Or at least un-mov­ing. Even for non-ABBA lovers, the swoop­ing key-

boards and Europop hooks are pretty ir­re­sistible.

And yet when Jen­nifer Net­tles, Tisha Camp­bel­lMartin and Lea DeLaria launched into an en­er­getic, full-throated ren­di­tion of what some have called the best pop song ever, no body stirred.

The Bowl seats 17,500, and though it no longer re­leases at­ten­dance num­bers, I’ll show off my math skills and say it was pretty full. Yet I was one of, say, a dozen peo­ple even re­motely danc­ing in their seats (and two were my daugh­ters). Even those who had bought and donned the show’s whim­si­cal flower crowns just sat there (and you could tell when they moved and didn’t be­cause their heads were all lighted up).

Se­ri­ously. “Mamma Mia!” at the Bowl and ev­ery­one frozen through “Danc­ing Queen” as if Gus­tavo Du­damel were con­duct­ing the Ring Cy­cle. (If Du­damel had been there, you can bet your ba­ton he’d have been seat­danc­ing.)

Per­haps ev­ery­body was sim­ply rapt or ex­hausted from work or too self-con­scious to pub­licly ac­knowl­edge that they just hap­pened to re­mem­ber every ABBA lyric ever writ­ten. But the show was pref­aced by a de­light­ful mash-up of ABBA songs and the na­tional an­them, so clearly we were there to have fun. And you know what? When DeLaria sings “Danc­ing Queen” right in front of me, I am go­ing to sing it right back.

To be fair, “Mamma Mia!” is a bit of a bumpy ride at first. The show is not so much a mu­si­cal as it is a clever yet nar­ra­tively ab­surd op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to sing ABBA songs, and nowhere is the nar­ra­tive ab­sur­dity more ev­i­dent than dur­ing the ini­tial ex­po­si­tion. On a Greek is­land, a young woman named So­phie (Dove Cameron, greeted vig­or­ously by her many “Liv and Mad­die” fans) is about to marry Sky (Corbin Bleu, ditto by his “High School Mu­si­cal” fans), and she pre­pares for the wed­ding by invit­ing three men who could be her fa­ther.

With­out of course telling her mother (Net­tles), who, though now a fraz­zled sin­gle mom/owner of a Greek tav­erna, was once the wild­child lead singer of Donna and the Dy­namos.

The Dy­namos — Rosie (DeLaria, “Or­ange Is the New Black”) and Tanya (Camp­bell-Mar­tin, “Dr. Ken”) — ar­rive for the wed­ding, as do the might-be dads Sam (“Jane the Vir­gin’s” Jaime Camil), Harry (Hamish Lin­klater, “The News­room”) and Bill (Steven We­ber, “13 Rea­sons Why”).

(If noth­ing else, you gotta love any pro­duc­tion with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive range of “High School Mu­si­cal” to “Or­ange Is the New Black.”)

When Donna catches sight of Sam, who broke her heart, and the two men who sub­se­quently, er, con­soled her, hi­lar­ity, pathos and many, many songs en­sue.

Which, mer­ci­fully, all of the cast mem­bers are more than able to sing. (Any­one who has seen the movie knows that this is not al­ways the case.) Cameron is a per­fect So­phie, sweet-faced, sweet-voiced and win­some enough to sell the ridicu­lous plot as if it were some­thing a per­son might ac­tu­ally do.

Net­tles has a tougher job. While every other char­ac­ter is along for the farce, Donna is ac­tu­ally wor­ried, hurt and an­gry, of­ten in a very nonABBA way. But af­ter the shock of see­ing the three men (and a strangely ag­gres­sive per­for­mance of the ti­tle song) wears off, Net­tles hits a groove and all the high notes splen­didly. DeLaria and Camp­bell-Mar­tin, who have most of the best lines and some of the best songs, are clearly hav­ing a ball, as are the male stars, even when drop­ping a line or two.

By the fi­nal num­ber of the first act — a buoy­antly chore­ographed “VoulezVous” — au­di­ence mem­bers could be heard softly singing the words “voulez-vous,” and by the sec­ond act, ev­ery­one was much more re­laxed. Many more il­lu­mi­nated flower crowns had been pur­chased and per­haps a few more drinks. (Good for you, man in crown who briefly stood to sing dur­ing “SOS.” )

Camil nailed “SOS,” by the way; Bleu de­liv­ered the story’s brief turn­ing-point mono­logue with strik­ing depth, and Net­tles de­liv­ered a “The Win­ner Takes It All” so pow­er­ful and trans­for­ma­tive that it seemed out of place but was so good you didn’t care. DeLaria and We­ber turned “Take a Chance on Me” into a zo­o­log­i­cal courtship dance im­pos­si­ble to de­scribe.

Spoiler alert: It’s a happy end­ing, and for the fi­nale, the au­di­ence was fi­nally, di­rectly, urged to its feet and fi­nally, ABBA lyrics rang through the Hol­ly­wood Hills just as they should each and every Fri­day night if some of us were in charge.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

THE CAST of “Mamma Mia!” gets into the mu­sic of ABBA at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl. Fri­day night’s au­di­ence was a tad tame for re­viewer Mary McNa­mara.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

THE JOY is ev­i­dent in this spot­lighted dance dur­ing a Hol­ly­wood Bowl stag­ing of “Mamma Mia!” on Fri­day.

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