Monday, December 31, 2007

Can't stop the musicals

This has been an especially great couple of years at the movies for fans of musical theater, starting with last winter's "Dreamgirls," then "Hairspray!" over the summer, and now, "Sweeney Todd."

While the cinematic version of "Sweeney Todd" is too intense for my tender sensibilities, there's no question that I'll be heading to my local multiplex on July 18 to see the next stage-to-screen production, "Mamma Mia!"

I've seen the trailer, (thanks to Chris for the link) and it's gotten me pretty excited. One of the things I liked about the movie version of "Hairspray" was the way director Adam Shankman opened up some of the numbers, like showing Nikki Blonsky's Tracy Turnblad making her way to school in "Good Morning Baltimore." He really brought the song to life. I'm hoping the same will happen with "Mamma Mia!"

I'm really looking forward to watching Meryl Streep, America's greatest living actress, singing and dancing on a sun-drenched Greek island - a perfect combination! Not to mention costars Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Julie Walters.

In the Telegraph, Charles Spencer has an interview with three of the creative forces behind "Mamma Mia!" Judy Craymer, the producer who had the idea of turning Abba's hits into a stage show, Catherine Johnson, the writer, and Phyllida Lloyd, the director.

Craymer talks about getting Meryl Streep for the movie: "She saw the show on Broadway and wrote us a fan letter saying what a great time she'd had. And it all happened rather fast. We spoke to her agent, her agent spoke to her, and apparently she said: "Mamma Mia!?? I AM Mamma Mia!?" and the next thing we knew, we were on a plane to see her, like over-excited teenagers."

Lloyd says that Streep threw herself into the project. "She told us she thought the role would really stretch her - it gave her a chance to be a singer, a rocker, a mother, and to use her looney-tunes farce skills."

And Johnson adds that she's pleased she got to keep the sole writing credit on the movie. She tells Spencer, "I kept expecting to be replaced at any moment by David Mamet or somebody."

I saw the stage version of "Mamma Mia!" at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre in July and I had a great time. It was the first show in my sumertime musicals marathon - seven tuners in five days.

You know how sometimes a little snippet of music just pops into your head? Well, although I was never a huge ABBA fan, the songs have definitely stayed with me - every once in awhile I'll find myself humming a verse from "I Have A Dream," "Dancing Queen" or "Honey Honey."

"Mamma Mia!" is sweet and charming and funny with very likable characters. At the core of the story is the relationship between mom Donna Sheridan, a singer turned tavern owner played on Broadway by Carolee Carmello, and daughter Sophie, played by Carey Anderson. Sophie invites three of her mother's ex-flames to her wedding, in hopes of discovering which one is her father. Carmello and Anderson bring lots of energy heart to their roles.

(I have to say, though, that no one in the show looks like the dark-haired bride pictured on the original cast recording and posters).

And the show has had incredible staying power, spawning productions around the world. "Mamma Mia!" has played more than 2,500 performances since opening on Broadway on Oct. 18, 2001, and manages to fill nearly 90 percent of its seats every week - without resorting to stunt casting. It's one of those shows that appeals to theatergoers of all ages, and from what I could tell, all nationalities.

Although I do wonder how parents explain the plot to young children - a woman who invites three men, one of whom is likely her father, to her wedding. What happens when they ask, "Why doesn't she know which one is her daddy?"


Anonymous said...

Hi Esther, hope you don't get this twice as it's my second attempt at posting a comment!

Thanks for your comment on my blog. Have added you to my blogroll, hope that's OK.

Happy new year!

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I'm really looking forward to seeing "Mamma Mia!" - it ranks as one of my guilty pleasures on the stage. I figure with Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski, how can I go wrong?!

Esther said...

I'm so glad I can share in your guilty pleasure! "Mamma Mia!" is a lot of fun. I thought the ending was very sweet and poignant. And I love the mini concert you get at the very end. It'll be nice to be able to compare the movie and stage versions, too.

Esther said...

Welcome to my blog! Thanks so much for commenting and adding me to your blogroll. I will definitely return the compliment.

Have a happy new year!

Matthew S. Urdan said...

ABBA is more popular in the States than at any time in their history--thanks to the long running Broadway show, the Permanent Las Vegas Production, and two national touring companies. And there's no end in sight...

At the end of the day, in a world of economic instability, chaotic and incompetent politics, and a tuned out electorate, Mamma Mia gives the people 100% pure escape for just a couple hours from the horrors and realities of our world today. And not only does Mamma Mia offer pure escapism, it does so with 22 of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Unlike any other musical, with Mamma Mia, the show tunes are not only well known, but they are world classics

When Meryl Streep and company bring Mamma Mia to the Masses, watch out.

Esther said...

Hi Matthew:
Thanks for the comment and happy new year!

I agree that the songs are terrific, and "Mamma Mia!" has certainly given ABBA a level of immortality that it might not otherwise have had. It's really become a worldwide phenomenon.

And the show is great escapism. But it's also got interesting characters and a poignant story. It's about a young woman's search for her father, about the relationship between a mother and daughter. Both elements - the music and the story - work so well together.

I'm so glad I had a chance to see it on stage. And I'm very excited about seeing Meryl and company, too!

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Matthew's point on the popularity of ABBA is very interesting to me. I agree with what he's said.

It makes me all the more thankful that when I was a mere freshman in college, some of my newfound friends who happened to be from a place outside the United States where ABBA was infinitely more popular, talked me into going to see ABBA on their one tour of the U.S. I saw their "Voulez Vous" tour (1979) and thus rank among the relatively few Americans who ever had the opportunity to see this global mega-group in concert.

Almost exactly 20 years later, I found myself in the London audience for the brand new West End musical Mamma Mia! and discovered anew just how wonderful and enduring ABBA's music still is.

Nearly thirty years after seeing the real deal, I'm still thankful to Miguel, Carmen and Connie for talking me into going.

Esther said...

Steve, what a sweet story! I didn't realize that ABBA only had one U.S. tour. You really did have a unique experience. It's great that you found such wonderful, discerning friends when you were a mere freshman!

I remember I was agonizing over which two shows to see on the first day of my July theater marathon. My original choices, "Company" and "Radio Golf" had closed. Out of everything I was considering, you recommended "Mamma Mia!" and "110 in the Shade." They were two great suggestions. I loved them both!

This is a little off topic, but the year I was in Tel Aviv, an Israeli singer won the Eurovision Song Contest. It's an event that's wildly popular everywhere but in the United States! (In fact, ABBA won the contest in 1974 with "Waterloo," so maybe it's not off-topic at all!)