Decca Broadway Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/06/2000
It was inevitable, I guess. With the resurgence in interest in the Swedish pop-dance group Abba, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a Broadway-bound musical shaped around their music. (Don't forget the movie Muriel's Wedding from a few years ago as well.) It's kind of a natural fit, if you think about it for a minute. Abba's music was a bit theatrical in and of itself, and it always seemed to be bigger than the basic structure of the songs. It was almost like listening to a mini-movie soundtrack.
Who better to create such a musical than Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the two male forces behind Abba? (Side note: As much as I've run hot and cold on Abba's music, I have to hand it to all four band members, who have refused many lucrative offers to reform, preferring to let their music speak for itself. That's integrity you don't often see in this business.)
That show, Mamma Mia!, is making its way around the United States now, expected to land in New York in the fall of 2001. Until then, unless you live in one of the cities that's targeted for the pre-Broadway tour, the original cast recording of Mamma Mia! will have to tide you over - and it's not a bad collection.
If you're looking for me to give away some of the plot of the play - well, sorry, gang, but I ain't gonna do it. I have good reason, too... I have no idea what's going on (and the official web site didn't tell me very much), so you're kind of on your own.
But in a sense, you don't need to know the plot to appreciate the music contained on this cast album, especially if you remember the glory days of Abba. Hearing these modern renditions of such favorites as "Dancing Queen," "Chiquitita" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You" should evoke memories of the originals.
In a way, though, you have to divorce the past of these songs in order to try and appreciate them in the context they're meant to have now. It's not the easiest thing to do - especially, on a track like "Take A Chance On Me," when the male rhythm vocals kick in. I think I have an idea what's supposed to be happening in the play when this song is highlighted, but the moment I hear the men kick in, it's back to 1977 for me.
Not every new version on Mamma Mia! is stellar, though. Some of the vocals on "Dancing Queen" aren't the strongest I've heard, and I don't remember "Super Trouper" or "The Name Of The Game" sounding a bit lifeless. Yet other tracks, such as "I Have A Dream," "The Winner Takes It All" and "Slipping Through My Fingers" shine on this disc. The cast should be proud of their accomplishments; they faced a daunting task of bringing this music into the 21st Century without sounding camp, and they succeed.
Mamma Mia! is the kind of cast recording which makes me somewhat interested in seeing the production - and knowing that it comes to Chicago in May, I might just get my chance. Whether you're a fan of Abba's or you just like well-executed cast recordings, this is one you'll want to make room for in your CD rack.