Oct. 15 2016 02:50 PM

‘Mamma Mia!’ offers playful, ABBA-fueled romp

Get out your spangled spandex and channel your inner “Dancing Queen,” because “Mamma Mia!” is back at the Wharton Center. The latest tour of the cotton candy jukebox musical is nothing exceptional, featuring a cast more functional than fantastic. But if you’re looking for a night of sing-a-long nostalgic escapism, you could do worse than “Mamma Mia!”

For those of you who — like me — managed to miss this 14-year-old Broadway smash or the film adaptation, “Mamma Mia!” is essentially ‘70s Swedish pop supergroup ABBA’s greatest hits strung together with a loose romantic comedy plot. There’s a surprisingly insightful theme of acceptance and self-discovery running through the story of 20-year-old Sophie (Lizzie Markson) trying to discover the identity of her father before her wedding. Apart from that, “Mamma Mia!” is a frothy fantasy, gleefully devoid of substance.

The strongest aspect of this production by far is the music and the band in charge of pounding it out. Conductor/keyboardist Kevin Casey directs a top notch band that blasts through the speakers, turning the theater space into a rock concert. If you like cranking up your car stereo when ABBA comes on, you’ll love being enveloped by a wall of sound in Wharton.

On stage, mother Donna Sheridan (Betsy Padamonsky) and her two gal pals Tanya and Rosie (Cashelle Butler and Sarah Smith, respectively) are standout singers and performers. Whether performing in costume as their ‘70s stage trio, “Donna and the Dynamos,” or just dancing around the bedroom singing into hair dryers, the three have voices that blend beautifully and share a warm, sisterly bond. They each get great solo numbers and comic scenes to shine on their own. One particular highlight is Donna singing the title song when confronted by her three former lovers. Sinking along the wall into a state of panic, Padamonsky adds honest subtext to what is otherwise a nearly nonsensical song.

And so it goes with the rest of the show. Some songs lend themselves well to story integration — like “Take a Chance On Me” and “Money, Money, Money” — while others, like the excruciatingly slow “The Winner Takes It All,” feel like a cynical attempt to shoehorn every last hit into the show. Despite a few slow moments, the show moves along swiftly, despite the 2-and-a-half-hour runtime.

The rest of the cast give honest, professional performances, but none are particularly charismatic or captivating. But it really doesn’t matter. The three song encore — complete with costume parade — serves as a reminder to audiences of why they’re there. Forget about story, and just thank ABBA for the music.

"Mamma Mia!"

8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16

Tickets start at $41

Wharton Center

750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing

(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com

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