Okay fine, I’ll admit it. I like ABBA. A lot. So you can imagine how disappointed I am that I can’t recommend the national tour of “Mamma Mia!” part of the Broadway in Chicago series and boasting—although that’s probably too generous a word—a so-so ensemble including several Windy City actors. Now, dramaturgically speaking, I know not to expect too much from a show like “Mamma Mia!” but I’ve seen enough first-class mountings (including the Broadway premiere in 2001 only weeks following the World Trade Center incident) to know this guilty pleasure has the potential to deliver a rollicking, feel-good experience for both fans and non-fans of the Swedish quartet’s catchy music. Unfortunately, this sluggish and weakly sung production is likely to make newcomers to “Mamma Mia!” wonder what all the fuss is about, not to mention drive Abba-aficionados scrambling for their copy of ABBA Gold in search of some musical payoff. The challenge is that the show, with its shamelessly stupid plot—although that’s definitely too generous a word—is musically very complex (the London premiere demanded that a new theatrical sound system be created in order to exact the studio sound the composers wanted for the performance). If the singers are uninteresting, tentative and/or vocally thin, like they mostly are here, the show’s purest attribute—its unapologetic musical exuberance—is lost. Indeed, on press night it was interesting to note that the same clap-happy audience that had burst into uncontrollable applause at the first sounds of the synthesized overture were barely bringing their hands together during the curtain-call, mega-mix finale. The aisles were empty, butts were firmly rooted to their seats and there were sadly no dancing queens to be found anywhere. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, (312)902-1400. Tue 7:30pm/Wed 2pm & 7:30pm/Thu 7:30pm/Fri-Sat 8pm/Sat & Sun 2pm. $37-$85. Through Dec 31.