Mamma Mia! at PPAC

The global mega-hit Mamma Mia!, now in its twelfth year and currently playing in more productions around the world than any other musical, is once more at the Providence Performing Arts Center. And really, who are you to resist?
It’s not that you’ll come to any earth-shattering insights, be spiritually inspired or challenged in any way, really (unless you’re priggish enough to take exception to the odd boob joke). But entertained? You betcha. Even the stiffest audience members had an arm around a loved one’s shoulder and were singing along by the end of last night’s performance. That’s the thing – like it or not, you know ABBA’s songs, and admit it or not, you love them. And while the story that weaves them together is tenuous, the cheese factor is high and, in this production, the cast isn’t uniformly excellent, this is an updated version of old-fashioned musical theater that is nothing if not good-humored.
The action opens at an inn on a Greek island, where Chloe Tucker, who plays ingenue Sophie Sheridan, reveals that she’s searching for her father, whose identity she doesn’t know, by inviting three of her mother’s old lovers to her upcoming wedding. Right there, of course, we know it’s time to suspend all disbelief. But the play does a better job than the movie of dealing with the turgid plot line; good as Meryl Streep is as a serious actress, she was nothing if not uncomfortable singing and dancing in Mamma Mia! the movie. The excellent Kaye Tuckerman, on the other hand, gets her cabaret-seasoned teeth right into the role of Donna Sheridan, providing a solid core for the production.
Unfortunately, while she’s a great dancer and has a lovely singing voice, Tucker is nowhere near as confident as Sophie. It’s her first major role, and some pitch issues in the opening song make for a shaky start to the night. Things move more smoothly as other actors get their turn in the spotlight. But despite fun choreography, some great physical humor and mostly great performances – handsome John Bisom as Sam Carmichael, Mary Callanan as Rosie and Alison Ewing as Tanya stand out – Tucker has too big a part, and is too tentative, for the audience to truly relax and abandon themselves to the wonderfully silly action. I found myself watching her slightly worriedly whenever she was on stage in case there was going to be another slip.
I should say, however, that my six-year-old companion shared none of my concerns. Her only complaint was that I kept shushing her as she sang along loudly. She loved every minute of the show, and well she might. It’s fun, more fun than the movie; a bit more saucy, a bit more theatrical, with much better singing and dancing, and the plot seems less improbable, more universal, in this setting. In short, it’s well worth seeing, and there’s one sure-fire guarantee: you’ll be humming the songs as you go to bed. It’s at PPAC until this Sunday, January 2, and there are plenty worse ways to welcome the new year.