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Wednesday, April 7, 1999 Published at 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK


Mamma Mia: Critics give their verdict

The producers of Mamma Mia!, the Abba-based musical which opened in London's West End on Tuesday, may be feeling pretty chuffed with the show's reception with the critics.

Although highlighting the way the band's songs are worked into the plotline, there is near unanimous appreciation of the feelings the show inspires.

Lyn Gardner in The Guardian reflected the mood, writing that the evening was "catchy, enjoyable, melodic but overall a bit bland".

"Think Shirley Valentine meets Pennies from Heaven meets Saturday Night Fever meets an early 80s Shirley Conran novel and you are in the right territory for this absurdly simple story," she said.

She added that part of the evening's fun was in trying to guess in which order the songs would pop up, and in admiring the ingenuity of the book's author, Catherine Johnson, in bending the scenario to the lyrics.

Paul Taylor in The Independent said the show was "ridiculously enjoyable", concluding that it generated "a terrific mood of airborne silliness and the songs, a curious mix of the buoyant and the haunting, are genuine golden oldies".

"Abba is pop's pithiest palindrome and, whichever way you read it, Mamma Mia! looks like being a hit."

Benedict Nightingale of The Times termed the use of the songs "creative shoe-horning".

But he said: "Fortunately our librettist is Catherine Johnson, who has a nice, naff story to tell and her tongue stuck so far into her cheek that it tumbles out of an ear and down to a knee."

How else, he asked, could she get away with setting a story on an Aegean island where there are "no suntans, no music that doesn't hie from Sweden, and - apart from a priest dressed as an Anglican vicar - nary a Greek to be seen?"

Kate Bassett in the Daily Telegraph said it seemed the "spangly Swedish foursome" and their hits would - like platform soles - never wear thin.

But, she said, "one might cynically wonder if money, money, money wasn't the main attraction for some of the creative artists" involved in the show.

Yet they had made the show a "notch above those recent West End musicals which have rehashed yesterday's pop songs with shabby sets and scrappy storylines charting rock stars' lives".

Benedict Arnold put the success of the band over the years down to the "pounding rhythms" and "melodies that remained relentlessly upbeat whatever the emotional provocation".

He concluded: "Abba fans will doubtless forgive anything. And with so much fun in the theatrical air, the rest of us might as well indulge them."

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