'Mama Mia,' 'Chicago' and all that jazz
Published September 2007
By Carol Davis
Book by Fred Kander and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
From the original book by Maurine Watkins
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Broadway San Diego
San Diego Civic Theatre
1100 Third Ave. (at B Street)
Through Sept. 9
ABBA fans got a double whammy of their music this summer in San Diego. First, the San Diego Symphony's Summer Pops had an ABBAMANIA program which I heard was a true love-in fest, "the real stuff" with fans dancing on the stage (really), and then Broadway San Diego brought back "Mamma Mia" again for the umpteenth time. It's fun and the songs and music of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus written originally for ABBA are, of course, the main attraction. The book by Catherine Johnson is so ho hum that after awhile you just look forward to hearing the music which is made to fit around the story of the young Sophie Sheridan (Vikki Noon), who is planning a conventional wedding and always dreamed about having her Dad walk her down the aisle.
No problem for those who know who their dad is. Not so in the life of Sophie. You see her mother Donna (Mary Jane Raleigh), feisty, forty-something and single, had a tryst with three different young men when she and they were young and footloose on a small Greek island 21 years ago. Donna never told Sophie about them. Sophie gets hold of an old diary of her Mom's, finds out the names of the three men in her life at that time, and sends all three an invitation to the wedding, unbeknownst to her Mom. Bada-bing!
There was Sam (Sean Allan Krill), Bill (Kurt Andrew Hansen) and Harry (Ian Simpson). All three left the island leaving Donna there. She now runs a nice little hotel and cantina and ekes out a living for both herself and Sophie. None knew she was with child and now all three show up thinking Donna invited them. She's as confused as they, especially after Sophie asks all three to walk her down the aisle. Needless to say, it all works out, conundrum aside, and ABBA fans get to hear no less than 23 favorite songs including "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia," "Take A Chance On Me," "Winner Takes It All," "Voulez-Vous," "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and "Slipping Through My Fingers," among others.
The production? It's tired. No one in the cast really stood out on opening night, but that didn't deter any of the fans from getting up on their collective feet when they came out for curtain call. Noon has a pleasant enough voice and an innocence to pull off the "I want my Dad to walk me down the aisle" bit. Raleigh's Donna finally comes to life in the second act. Her old girlfriends, Tanya and Rosie (Christine Sherrill and Allison Briner) stole the show with their antics and good humor, especially Sherrill, whose legs don't stop. The three "fathers" are about as exciting as watching grass grow. The talented ensemble of young people, who do most of the small set (Mark Thompson, production design) changes, do yeomen work and Phyllida Lloyd's direction is pedestrian.
Hopefully, Broadway San Diego will give "Mamma Mia" a rest and and shelve it for now. If anyone wants to see it, it has been playing in Vegas for eons and is currently playing at venues around the world. If you happen to be in Israel in October, you can catch it there.
Following quickly on the heels of "Mamma Mia," "Chicago" is still at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sept. 9. The dancing and gangster shoot 'em up 1920s-era Broadway musical from 1975 with book by Fred Kander and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb taken from the original book by Maurine Watkins was a mega hit on Broadway and was nominated for 11 Ton's, but garnered none. It was up against "Cabaret" and that says it all. The 1995 revival, however, earned six and the music still razzle dazzles!
If you didn't see the movie with Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah (which I think most in the audience had) or previous stage productions, the story is about two real-life convicted killers and their lawyer who made a media circus of their trial, not unlike some of the big-time celebrity trials of today. Think O.J., Phil Specter and Michael Jackson.
Velma Kelly (Terra MacLeod), who killed her husband and sister for cheating on her, and Roxie Heart (Michelle DeJean), who killed her lover when she gets caught and then convinces her husband, Amos, (Eric Leviton) to take the rap, vie for the attention of big-time defense lawyer Billy Flynn played hesitatingly by none other than (the big draw?) George Hamilton, who was more window dressing than anything else, but more on that later. Helping out in all this razzle dazzle, is Matron "Mama" Morton (Roz Ryan). And who doesn't like to see mayhem, murder and violence all in the guise of entertainment? Well, I guess we all do from the looks of the opening night audience. The Civic was packed to capacity.
With Bob Fosse's signature choreography, bowler hats and all-black costumes in full view, both male and female ensemble danced and performed with energy and grace. Macleod, who made her Broadway debut as Velma, is an absolute wonder to watch. Stylish in both dancing and singing, she is perfect as a tough-edged nightclub dancer. She never once sounded out of breath, no matter how much dancing she did. Her voice is strong and her acting convincing. DeJaen is both cunning and cutesy as Roxy Hart, who outsmarts Velma for the attention of Billy Flynn when she pretends to be pregnant. As opposites, they work well together.
Leviton presents a pitiful and pathetic picture as Amos, the wronged husband. His one moving number, "Mister Cellophane," is a showstopper and he does it well. Ryan gets everyone's attention with her number, "When You're Good To Mama." As a bigger-than-life figure, she could have been more energetic and commanding. The role of "Mama" in the movie is more involved than the stage version; so much of Ryan's Mama is played in the background.
Hamilton, who is known more for his good looks and perpetual tan than as a stage and screen idol, did what he was supposed to do ... look good and when all else fails, smile. His voice is acceptable (Richard Gere, who played Flynn in the movie, is not known as a song and dance man either) but give me a break on the dancing. Oh well, the audience ate it up, so go know!
Overall, this is a "Chicago" that will entertain. It's solid, the music lively, and regardless of the subject matter and the cast has some of the best talent seen on these road shows in a long time. Check it out.
See you at the theater.