"Mamma Mia!" - the fizzy valentine to disco-era surround-sound featuring the music of '70s popsters ABBA - has landed at the Colonial Theatre.
And if you're among the minority who has yet to succumb to the well-deserved worldwide hype, you will want to catch it. (Some 30 million theatre-goers have attended over the past eight years, contributing to an international gross exceeding $2 billion). Pretty rich pickings for a musical genre that was generally the target of ridicule even in its garish heyday.
Fond nostalgia fuels this tale of a former "girl power" rocker turned Greek isle tavern-keeper Donna Sheridan (Mary Jayne Raleigh) preparing what she feels is a premature wedding for her 20-year-old daughter Sophie (played with assurance and aplomb on opening night by understudy Whitney Claire Kaufman).
Sophie has discovered a diary her mother kept nine months before her birth, and in it, passages pointing to not one but three possible fathers. Unbeknownst to Mom, Sophie has invited all three - British banker Harry Bright (Ian Simpson), Aussie adventurer Bill Austin (Milo Shandel), and American architect Sam Carmichael (Sean Allan Krill) - to her nuptials.
This surprisingly sturdy scaffolding - Catherine Johnson's book is as witty as it is succinct - is merely a pretext for piling on 20-odd ABBA songs, which somehow outshine themselves in the context. Anthony Van Laast's popping choreography helps tremendously, as do Mark Thompson's sunny, facile set and cheery resort-wear costumery. And no, you needn't brace yourself for two hours of beglittered, slit-to-the-navel bell-bottom unitards: they're reserved for the curtain call.
Boston's opening night - the national touring company's fourth ascent on the city so far - featured two understudies taking over lead roles, and it was still a knockout. Don't be surprised if Kaufman eventually graduates to one of the eight standing productions in locales as far-flung as Moscow and Las Vegas. With her pure, clear voice - gentle or forceful as called for, but always beautifully placed - she really deserves to vault straight to Broadway. Plus, her acting is as compelling as her singing - a trait shared by her three dads, but lacking, alas, on the maternal side.
Sure, the burdened-single-mom role entails a certain pillishness, but Raleigh - seen here a few years back in "Man of La Mancha" at Stoneham Theatre - consistently under-delivers, right up to her big 10 o'clock number ("The Winner Takes It All" ), which ends up a case of not quite enough, way too late. She's invariably upstaged by her two comic ex-bandmate sidekicks: down-to-earth Rosie (Annie Edgerton, yet another understudy, aced a scene of cartoonish seduction in "Take a Chance on Me") and her chic counterpart Tanya (Christine Sherrill, whose showgirl stature doesn't prepare you for a killer voice married to the comic alacrity of a Lucille Ball: she's a must-watch wonder).
Until I finally saw "Mamma Mia!" for myself, I'd tended to disbelieve the raves of repeat attendees. Now I'm sold.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, a review of the musical "Mamma Mia!" in the Thursday Style & Arts section gave a wrong name for the performer who plays Tanya. It is Christine Sherrill.