Mamma Mia!

Catherine Johnson's musical created out of Abba's songs

Sure, when I was in high school, I hated Abba, but I've come around some since then. The group's shimmery, tinselly pop, with those clanging, slightly out-of-tune pianos, the layered synthesizers, and Anni-Frid and Agnetha's soaring, overdubbed vocals -- it's all pretty irresistible, despite the dopey lyrics. Creating a musical out of Abba's songs isn't the worst idea (coming to "Best of Broadway" in April -- Saturday Night Fever!), but Catherine Johnson's book for Mamma Mia! is the kind of hack job you'd expect for a Disney/ABC Sunday Night Movie starring Mary-Kate and Ashley, the Olsen twins. A talented writer could have created a fizzy, campy farce with the music's joyously disposable qualities. Instead we get the soapy tale of the soon-to-be-wed Sophie (Tina Maddigan), who has grown up fatherless on a Greek isle with her expatriate mother, Donna (Louise Pitre). Unbeknownst to Mom, Sophie invites the three men who could possibly be her father to the wedding -- Three Men and a Baby meets The Parent Trap.The nine-piece band does a credible (and loud) job of reproducing Abba's sound, but several songs become vocal solos lacking the original harmonies. Far worse, most of the cast sings slightly behind the beat, for the standard, Les Miz, fraudulent soul effect. (Anni-Frid and Agnetha would never have pulled that shit.) Maddigan acquits herself the best vocally, but she's a boring actress (in a boring role). Gary P. Lynch as the American possible papa has a nice presence, but warbles with way too much vibrato. Mark Thompson's set looks like an abandoned water tank. (Has he been to Greece?) The most enjoyable portions of the evening are the overture, entr'acte, and curtain call (this last to the tunes "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo," and "Mamma Mia"), when there's no worthless story -- just the music.


Through Jan. 7. Admission is $33-75; call 512-7770.
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F.

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