A Review

Thank You For The Music

By R. J. Donovan

"Mamma Mia!" has played Boston several times over the past few years. The novelty this time around lies in the super-trouper performance by Boston's own Mary Callanan.

The story of a wedding on a Greek island, attended by the single mother of the bride and three men, one of whom may be the bride's long-lost father, has been seen by more than 42 million people around the world. Fashioned by playwright Catherine Johnson who tells the tale through the chart-topping songs of ABBA (composed by Björn Ulvaeus / Benny Andersson), "Mamma Mia" is designed to be a joyful, if mindless, pleasure -- all of which comes from the vibrant musical numbers that have become so universally adored.

Ms. Callanan (far right), who resides on the South Shore, has a long list of professional credits with theater companies around town from Lyric Stage to SpeakEasy, New Rep and beyond. She's also known for her winning cabaret act. Across the board, she has a loyal and well-deserved following in Boston.

And so she scored a coup when she was cast in the national tour of "Mamma Mia!" This past week, she triumphantly brought the show home when she took to the stage of The Opera House with her co-stars.

Playing Rosie, the comic relief friend of mother-of-the-bride Donna (Kaye Tuckerman, center above), Callanan was greeted with a roar of approval when she made her first appearance on stage. Thoughout the night, she lived up to that audience embrace, delivering a sharp and funny performance. Callanan is that rare and gifted gal who's completely confident and totally at ease on stage. Warm and affable, she's always in control without ever making it seem forced.

She's also got the best pipes in the show -- she shines in "Chiquitita" and "Take A Chance On Me" -- along with a well-crafted touch for physical comedy. (She has a hysterical moment that involves sliding out of bed.) As well, she's got one of the funniest lines of the night . . . although it's only mouthed.

The other bright spot in the show is Alison Ewing (above, far left) as Tanya, the cougar who flits and flirts with whatever young gent is adjacent. Ewing has her moment in the spotlight with "Does Your Mother Know," putting the moves on one of the guys who works at the hotel (a very energetic Ethan Le Phong).

This time around, the production has been scaled back a bit, which is not a serious problem. What's more of a concern is that the production itself could use a jump start from director Phyllida Lloyd. When it's played here in the past, there was an electricity in the air from start to finish. It's still fun and it never drags, but at the moment it often appears to be running on auto pilot. Plus a couple of the cast members sound like they're singing in a key that's not their own.

But the audience on Opening Night was enthusiastic no matter. From "Dancing Queen" and "The Winner Takes It All" to "S.O.S.," "I Have A Dream," "Voulez-Vous," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Thank You For The Music" and "The Name Of The Game," the house of all ages relished the night.

Beyond that, some smart and savvy producer needs to snatch Mary Callanan up and give her a platform for bigger things. 'Cuz that's the name of the game.

"Mamma Mia! " is at The Opera House through June 24. For information, call 1-800-982-2787.

-- Production Photo: Melissa Proser

-- OnStage Boston




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