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Solid talents keep ‘Mamma Mia!’ running hummingly

The best thing about adult fairy tales is the same thing as regular fairy tales. You can enjoy them over and over, and never get tired.

One of the most tuneful of these is “Mamma Mia!” – a show that has become as enduring as “Cats.”

“And why is that?” you may ask. On the opening night of “Mamma Mia!” at the Tucson Music Hall, one reason could be the national touring company’s stage fantasy of life on a Greek Island. Or the chance to look back nostalgically to 1979 when youth got the best of reason.

Or the conviction that a good memory deserves lots of bright colors, bouncy dancing and mock-acting with piles of hammy gestures.

Although all the songs are those totally irresistible, bass line-driven disco ballads by ABBA, one of the clues about the audience for this show is in the laughter when Sophie talks about 1979 as “the olden days.”

Such nostalgic time jokes keep slipping into the dialogue between songs, although most of the show is the songs themselves. And nobody goes to an ABBA concert expecting the muscle of the Rolling Stones or the depth of Leonard Cohen.

ABBA is closer to those surf and sports car songs of the Beach Boys.

“Mamma Mia!” wants to be cross-generational – feeling good about the past for one generation, and facing the future with a sunny smile for the new generation. If things can turn out well for Donna, who is happy for daughter Sophie, who is getting married to a nice young man, then there is still a chance for anyone who might have regrets about being too impetuous.

If “Mamma Mia!” has a secret to its enduring popularity, this must be it. Aside from celebrating the songs of ABBA, this show with its book by Catherine Johnson celebrates the sanctity of marriage. But even more than that, young Sophie insists not only on getting married but on setting her mom straight by discovering the identity of Sophie’s father.

Since she makes the biological lineage important, instead of just throwing up her hands with a hazy smile toward the fickle finger of fate, “Mamma Mia!” plants itself firmly in the conservative camp of tradition.

Meanwhile on the surface, a cast of 30 bright-faced young performers keep jumping around on a stage full of goofy costumes splashed with cascading colors that pump up their enthusiasm. The message is that we may be crazy on the outside, with all these frothy songs full of adolescent yearning, but deep down inside we want the stability of family values.

The cast in this particular production is equally balanced. There aren’t any stars of the future, no sparkling performers who have that “it” quality, but all are solid talents who keep the performance running smoothly at a very satisfying level.

Michelle Dawson as Donna, the mom, doesn’t look that much older than Liana Hunt, who plays Sophie, the daughter. But it doesn’t take much suspension of disbelief once Dawson starts to sing. Her big show-stopping finale in “The Winner Takes It All” is the show’s emotional peak.

Also good is John Hemphill as Sam, the regular guy whose dream is to settle down with his happy family in a home of his own design.

Sam’s big numbers are “S.O.S.,” and the more tender “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Adding comedy relief is Rachel Tyler as sophisticated Tanya doing the older woman-younger man thing with Pepper (Adam Michael Kaokept) singing “Does Your Mother Know.”

By the time this eager cast got to sing the title tune, “Mamma Mia!,” the audience had turned the evening into a Broadway musical singalong.



What: The national tour of “Mamma Mia!”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

Price: $25-$69, discounts for seniors and military personnel

Info: 903-2929, www.broadwayintucson.com

Grade: B

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