Friday, December 14, 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 in July to see the next stage-to-screen movie, "Mamma Mia!"

I'm really looking forward to seeing 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 Street 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 thinking about a line from "I Have A Dream," "Dancing Queen" or "Honey Honey."

"Mamma Mia!" is light and sweet and the story is told with a lot of humor and great pop tunes. I loved Carolee Carmello as mom Donna Sheridan, and Carey Anderson as daughter Sophie, who invites three of her mother's ex-flames to her wedding, in hopes of discovering which one is her father.

(Although I have to say that no one in the show looks like the dark-haired bride on the original cast recording).

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.

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

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