April 14, 2012

Review: Dancing queens dig 'Mamma Mia' on Modesto stage

Bell bottom pants, feather boas and platform shoes are a good fit for the Gallo Center for the Arts. Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner gives the touring production of the ABBA extravaganza "Mamma Mia" three stars.

Bell bottom pants, feather boas and platform shoes are a good fit for the Gallo Center for the Arts.

The touring production of ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!," which runs through today, already has sold a record 5,500 tickets and is the center's most successful show yet, Gallo Center executive director Lynn Dickerson told the opening night audience Friday.

It makes sense that in these gloomy times of budget cuts and high unemployment, people are looking for some disco-fueled escape. The show has every 1970s hit the Swedish group recorded, performed at top volume, including "Take a Chance on Me," "Waterloo," "Dancing Queen" and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"

This cast sings far better than Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan did in the 2008 film version, and their dance moves, choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, are flashy enough to keep up with anyone at a nightclub.

Set on a Greek island, the show centers on Sophie, a 20-year-old woman who invites three men to her wedding in an attempt to figure out which one is her father. Her decision horrifies her mother, Donna, who never wanted to see her ex-lovers again.

Alyson Lange, who played Sophie on Friday, has a sweet voice that is reminiscent of a Disney princess. But it's Kaye Tuckerman, who plays Donna, who is the real star of the show. She has a powerful voice and a charismatic stage presence and shows both a tough and tender side.

She cuts loose with Alison Ewing and Mary Callanan in "Dancing Queen," which is performed in a bedroom with a hair dryer and brush used as microphones.

That scene underscores one of the endearing traits of this show, which is that it acknowledges that ABBA's songs are more than a little silly. When other cast members later sing "Lay All Your Love on Me," the backup dancers are young men in scuba gear and flippers. Director Phyllida Lloyd makes sure there's lots of humorous moments throughout the production.

Christian Whelan, John-Michael Zuerlein and Paul Deboy have wit and charm as Donna's ex-lovers, but they don't have too much to do since this show centers on the women's perspective.

The musical does run a little long for such lightweight stuff, and the songs can seem repetitive after awhile. The cast at times seems a little worn out from performing all the high-energy numbers, but it's hard to blame them when they've spent months on the road.

Judging from the smiling faces on the people who left Friday's show, none of that matters. The dancing queens in the audience were more than satisfied.


Rating: ***

Where: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. April 14 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 15

Running time: 2½ hours, including an intermission

Tickets: $39-$109

Info: (209)338-2100 or

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