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How can you resist it?

Mamma Mia! is a fizzy burst of entertainment, but somehow the ABBA of it all gets lost

Some of the most infectious pop of the ‘70s comes to life in a show that resembles a casual farce. Photo credit: Kat Dollarhide

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Every now and again, it's fun to remember that ABBA -- the Swedish pop band responsible for some of the biggest hits in the history of pop music -- was once offered one billion dollars to reunite for a tour, and they turned it down. This offer was made in the year 2000, after ABBA's music had begun to make a resurgence in the zeitgeist, attracting new legions of fans, and reminding older admirers of what made their music so special. This also came after Mamma Mia!, a jukebox musical based on the music of ABBA, had its London premiere, where it soon became a monster hit.

A film adaptation and its inevitable sequel later, Mamma Mia! has arrived at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, expectedly bursting with a sort of fizzy glee. This is a show that places a firm emphasis on capital "e" Entertainment, with a featherweight plot buoyed even further by some of the most ebullient pop music of the ‘70s. The story plays like a farce on muscle relaxants: young bride-to-be Sophie (Maggie Barry) has, unbeknownst to her mother Donna (Linda Palacios), invited three men to her wedding, believing one of them to be her long-lost father, and hoping to suss out who in time for dad to walk her down the aisle. While this could set up many wacky hijinks, the show is too relaxed for much slamming of doors (and with the show set on an idyllic Greek island, the characters seem more inclined to go with the flow).

The three suspected fathers include Australian adventurer Bill Austin (Sam Barker), British fussbudget Harry Bright (Gary Chambers), and American romantic Sam Carmichael (normally played by Scott Polovitch-Davis, but portrayed at my showing by Jonathan Bill). It doesn't take long for these guys to figure out why they've been invited to stay at a resort on an island where they had all previously been 20 years ago. Donna, proprietor of the resort and mother of Sophie, has long since abandoned the carefree days of her youth, committing herself to her business and walling herself off from love. What can mend her heart? Why, the purifying power of ABBA!

There's a lot to love about Mamma Mia!, from the healthy doses of humor to the unexpectedly effective emotional beats. In fact, I found myself enjoying the dialogue portions, on average, more than the musical numbers. Unfortunately, some songs are not suited to being replicated with a live band, as was the case with this TMP production. ABBA is a group that possesses a positively sparkling sound, on record, and is let down in trying to replicate that sheen in a live setting. All credit in the world is due to TMP's orchestra, but this may be the one instance when utilizing a karaoke track might have been a better choice.

The performances are uniformly charming, easily capturing the charisma of this show, and Jon Douglas Rake once again does well directing and choreographing such a demanding production. My reservations with instrumentation aside, this is still a crowd-pleaser.

MAMMA MIA!, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Saturday-Sunday; 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 1; through Aug. 4, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31, 253.565.6867,

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