Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mamma Mia, Here I Go Again

Every summer, the renowned Hollywood Bowl devotes a weekend of three performances to fully semi-stage a famous Broadway musical.   It's always been kitschy fun as the casts are populated with C-list stars and those supporting players on hiatus from their TV show which I have never seen.  There have been varying degrees of success.   Indeed, the pinnacle of greatness might have been last year when they did a spectacular rendition of "A Chorus Line" with many folks straight from the last Broadway revival.  

Now I was coming off a terrific Bowl event last Sunday when a bunch of Broadway types did "Sondheim on Sondheim" with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra led by their high-strung conductor Gustavo Dudamel.  So, six days later, I had high hopes for their annual musical event "Mamma Mia."   

Okay, who doesn't like "Mamma Mia?"  Let me rephrase the question.   Who doesn't like the music of "Mamma Mia?"   After all, the ABBA tunes are what everybody including moi comes to hear.   I've seen the show twice and enjoyed it twice.  In theaters that sat maybe 1,500 patrons.   In the 18,000 fanny packed Hollywood Bowl, the whole thing doesn't translate well.   And, in that cavern nestled off Highland Avenue, never before has that musical's threadbare plot looked and sounded more...well...threadbare.  

Alright, I know this isn't Shakespeare or Sondheim or even Comden and Green. The plot comes straight from somebody's old rejected spec script for "The Facts of Life." Young Sophie is getting married on some Greek island which she has been raised by her single mother/former 80s girl band member Donna.  Sophie wants her real father to give her away at the wedding but she doesn't know which of three guys it could be, so she invites all of them.   Got that?   Insanely absurd, yes.   But, all it's ever supposed to be is the paper clips that hold all the ABBA music together.  

Yet, in the Bowl mega-production with papier-mache sets that must have been built by the 8th grade art class at Antonio Villaraigosa Middle School, the plot's necessary interruptions are unwelcome and prevent the audience from getting super-engaged in the musical numbers, which is the only reason they showed up (some wearing lit halos around their head).  It's something akin to when you sit down for dinner and you keep getting calls from telemarketers.   When it comes to plot, "Mamma Mia" is definitely on my Do Not Call list.

Now the casting of "Mamma Mia" at the Bowl was predictably the good, bad, and non-working of Hollywood's lower echelon.  Again, there are performers here that I know nothing about until I got home and did a little research to see who was who.   

Let's start with the insanely good.   Jennifer Nettles as Donna and Dove Cameron as Sophie were clearly the cream of the crop.  Nettles, as it turns out, is a pretty big name in the country music world, which I know little about.  For all I knew, she could have been related to Yankee great Craig Nettles (she's not).  Well, she has some really good musical comedy chops and some Broadway producer should sign her up stat.  Cameron apparently has had a formidable, albeit limited career on a couple of Disney Channel shows, which is fitting since many of the ensemble players looked like they came straight from the Electrical Parade at Disneyland.

The rest of the supporting players were the typical lot, waiting to hear from their line producers about start-up production dates for their Fall TV premieres.  Tisha Campbell-Martin, who's been in a bunch of sitcoms I have never heard of, played fellow girl band member Tanya and should be given props for playing one scene in a bathing suit with thighs that are more suitable to be called peninsulas.  Steven Weber, from TV's "Wings" and a bunch of other stuff I never watched, plays one of the three would-be daddies and clearly was there because he's probably having his master bathroom remodeled.  

Another daddy is played by somebody named Jaime Camil who's on TV's "Jane the Virgin," yet another show I never watch.  Well, Camil's problem is his trumped-up accent which makes him sound like Ricky Ricardo.   I kept waiting for him to ask where "Frat and Athel" were.   Corbin Bleu, whose healthy following came from Disney's "High School Musical," played Sophie's fiance and the main problem there was that he looked to be at least 15 years old than Sophie.   This made all their romantic duets together have this creepy "hanging around the playground with candy for the little girl" feel.

And then there was some hot mess named Lea DeLaria as Rosie, (pictured above in the Bozo the Clown wig) the girl band's comic foil.   But, here the foil was more like a Japanese samurai sword as DeLaria cut through every moment on stage with a distinct lack of direction. DeLaria's credits include TV's "Orange is the New Black"...yep, another show I never watch.  After seeing her rotten egg rendition of Rosie, I was prompted to Google her and she turns up all over the internet with a "Fuck Trump" t-shirt. After her turn in "Mamma Mia," the Donald might not be the biggest problem facing America in 2017.  I personally know two other actresses who fit this role to a tee and could have done an infinitely better and less hammy job.  Clearly a graduate of the Carnegie Deli School of Method Acting, DeLaria is permanently on my "do not watch ever again" list for the rest of my life.   In what is supposed to be the playful "Take A Chance on Me" number, DeLaria turns it into a vanity number and beats it to death.   Hopefully, DeLaria will be subjected to similar treatment very soon.

Indeed, as I compare "Mamma Mia" to last year's stellar "A Chorus Line," the biggest difference is length.  The latter came in at a tight, no-intermission two hours with a story that managed to be intimate even in the ginormous Hollywood Bowl.  With its constant push and pulls for plot, "Mamma Mia" dragged on for an intermission-included 2 hours and 45 minutes.  Way too long for maximum audience engagement.  Sure, they did the usual "Mamma Mia" two song curtain call and the crowd really got into it.  But, you wanted and expected more.

How about a night composed of nothing but ABBA music?   With all the cast members, except for Lea DeLaria.   I'm in.

I think.

Dinner last night:  Grilled beer sausage at Karl Meyer Brewery in Universal Citywalk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not one moment of this show worked. It's not real musical theatre. Abba, Inc. decided to milk their song catalog and glued together this mess. It's like being trapped inside a jukebox gone haywire that you can't unplug. All Abba all the time.

After setting up its bad sitcom plot, 'which guy is my Dad?', they cheat the audience by never telling us. And the big wedding is dropped at the last minute but Mom gets hitched instead. Huh?

Thank goodness for the company of friends and the beautiful summer night.