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Mamma Mia! Rocks the Proctor’s Stage

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Mamma Mia, Proctor’s Theatre, Review

Mamma Mia, Proctors, SchenectadyAlthough die-hard theater fans are sure to disagree, many people say that once a musical is made into a movie, the future stage-productions can be ruined for first-time viewers. The movies are polished to such perfection that they can only highlight the limitations of a live rendition. Computers, editing, scene cutting, and multiple takes produce pitch-perfect melodies, uniformly charming expression, and an overall flawlessness that is the hallmark of movie musicals. But if you were one of millions who flocked to the theater in 2008 to make the film version of Mamma Mia! the highest grossing movie of the year, you will be happy to know that you are not ruined for watching the stage musical, playing at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady this week. The stage show has all the excitement, charm and beauty of the film thanks to a talented lineup of actors and singers that audiences couldn’t help but sing along with on Wednesday.

Mamma Mia! was written for the stage and premiered in London in 1999. Written by British playwright, Catherine Johnson, the musical is based on the songs of the pop group ABBA and composed by former members of the band Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Since its premiere, more than 42 million people have seen the show, it has grossed over $2 billion worldwide and been performed in fourteen languages. The film version was released in July 2008, nine years after the show began, and starred Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth.

Basing an entire plot off a handful of pop songs sounds like a dubious idea, but Mamma Mia! is neither contrived nor silly. By contrast, it is quite imaginative and original without being too serious. A 20-year old girl named Sophie Sheridan is living on a Greek island with her single mother Donna, who owns a white stucco tourist getaway. Sophie is preparing for her wedding to fiancé Sky, to which Donna is somewhat opposed. But there is one hitch in Sophie’s big plans: she wants her father to walk her down the aisle, but doesn’t know who he is. After reading her mother’s diary, she discovers that there are three men who could possibly be her father, and invites them all to her wedding hoping to discover the truth. The hilarity that ensues is just as tense and madcap as you would imagine.

The show starts out with a roughly 3-minute deafening blast of music that is eventually discernible as an instrumental medley of songs in the play, against a blank wave-length blue-screen. This standalone boom of song is an apt opening for this show, where music is the source of excitement and the driving force. The first character we meet is Sophie, played by Chloe Tucker. While her singing has a touch of that campy Broadway-esque strain to it, she is definitely magnetic enough to charm every time she’s on the stage. Her scenes were heartfelt, funny and energetic throughout, and her chemistry with on-stage fiancé Sky was very sincere. But the true star of the show was Donna Sheridan, played by Kaye Tuckerman. With a shock of jet-black hair cut in a long pixie style, Tuckerman has a striking look even before you hear her voice. But her voice is what you look forward to throughout the show. It was powerful enough to hold its own amid the loud strains of ABBA’s music and had an energetic quality that makes you want to get up and dance in the aisles. And when she joined forces with the aged members of her former girl-group, The Dynamos, it was pure entertainment. Alison Ewing as Tanya and Mary Callanan as Rosie never stopped cracking jokes from beginning to end. The only disappointments were the dads, whose singing left a lot to be desired. Surprisingly this was also the case in the movie-version, so those who’ve watched the film won’t find any new drawbacks.

The very best part of the Mamma Mia! show was the familiarity of all the musical numbers. The catchy pop tunes are ones that almost everyone has heard, and you can practically feel the urge of everyone around you to get up and dance the exciting and often hilarious choreography along with the cast. Although you couldn’t usually tell over the thunderous instrumentals, during lulls in the music you could hear the dull hum of the audience singing along, which is usually a no-no for musical shows. Partly because you couldn’t discern it, and partly because you wanted to do the exact same thing, the audience participation only added to the general excitement of the whole show.

Mamma Mia! runs through July 10, 2011 at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady.

–Jessica Nicosia is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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