Review: `Mama Mia!’


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This article by Simon Saltzman

was prepared for the December 12, 2001 edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `By Jeeves’

There are presumably fans and followers aplenty of

P.G. Wodehouse’s whimsical stories about the idiotic upper-crust


Bertie Wooster, and his ever-resourceful and bemused valet (not a

butler as I have been assured by a colleague and born-again


Jeeves. That should insure some interest in the sorry little musical

that composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and scribe Alan Ayckbourn have


One would think that 26 years of toying and tinkering with a musical

that would be respectful of Wooster’s clueless nature and Jeeve’s

incredulous jollity would turn out better than it has.

After several London (and its environs) productions over the years

that met with lukewarm responses, and recent tryouts at Goodspeed

(the show’s producer), Connecticut, and at Washington’s Kennedy


"By Jeeves" has found a home at the intimate Helen Hayes


With more delicacy than one gets from the daffy business on the stage,

tea and cookies (nary a scone with clotted cream) are being served

to the audience under the marquee.

What has arrived is a witless, charmless, and amateurish ode to pure

silliness that makes one wonder what the gifted Ayckbourn and Weber

could have on their minds. One’s mind reels with what is passing for

a plot and posing as a score. That it has actually been created by

the gifted writer of over 60 plays (most recently the London hit


and Garden") and the renowned composer of those popular


with cats, chandeliers, and roller skates, is astonishing. However,

with Ayckbourn at the helm of his own creation, it is possible to

see how he may be blinded by his own adulation.

The premise is a show-within-a- show, as Bertie (overplayed with


grins and grimaces by John Scherer) has consented to play his banjo

at a church benefit to raise money for a new steeple. When the banjo

disappears, Bertie entertains the audience (us) with inane stories

and anecdotes about his circle of high society cronies and their


romantic misadventures.

Despite Bertie’s inept ingenuity with props and costumes, there is

precious little to delight the eye, never mind the ear. The stories

— a sort of "La Ronde" for knuckleheads — have the

remarkable ability to make you want to start going over your Christmas

shopping list.

Devotees will undoubtedly respond gleefully to characters with names

like Honoria Glossip, Bingo Little, and Harold "Stinker"


As expected, mistaken identities and bits of foolish business,


a burglary involving a pig mask, leads us back to a recovered banjo,

an Elvis spoof and a "Wizard of Oz" costumed finale. Light

and digestible as they are, the songs are, nevertheless, as


as the reason for them being sung.

Although he is credited as "one of Britain’s most distinguished

stars," Martin Jarvis (the only Brit in the cast), as Jeeves,

gives no evidence of this accolade in his performance. The rest of

the 11-member company (American), that run around designer Roger


monumentally cheesy tiered multi-door setting, give no evidence or

indication they have ever played comedy before. A small band does

play the treacly music with aplomb. The aisles are deftly used by

the cast, but not as frequently as by members of the audience, many

of whom did not return after intermission at the performance I caught.


— Simon Saltzman

By Jeeves, Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street,

New York. For tickets, $75 & $85, Tele-Charge: 800-432-7250 or


Closes December 30.

Top Of Page
Review: `Mama Mia!’

Two highly anticipated musicals have arrived on


One — "Mama Mia" — is full of life and the other —

"Thou Shalt Not" — is full of death. While the former

soothes the mind with a brainless plot and giddily familiar music

the latter boggles the mind with its unfocused story and an inadequate


So what’s wrong with entering the theater already humming the songs?

Perhaps you are willing or able to remember the days when radio


continually played the songs from hit-tune-laden shows like "South

Pacific," "My Fair Lady," and "The Music Man"

while they were still having their pre-Broadway tryouts.

The idea of being prepared for a new musical is nothing new. Although

Benny Andersson (music) and Bjorn Ulvaeus (lyrics) of the Swedish

pop group ABBA have been represented on Broadway with an original

score for "Chess," they are not generally considered theater

composers. But, whether or not you are fans of ABBA, you have


been dancing and singing to many of their numerous hits like "Mama

Mia," and "Dancing Queen" at discos, weddings and bar

mitzvahs for a generation. "Mama Mia," the musical with a

book (using the term loosely) and 22 ABBA hits, is still a huge hit

in London after two sell-out years. It has arrived at the beautifully

re-claimed (after 18 years of "Cats") and refurbished Winter

Garden Theater (celebrating its 90th birthday this month) after a

lengthy and successful multi-city pre-Broadway tour of the United


Be warned, however, that many in the audience feel they have the right

to bounce in their seats and mouth the words karaoke-style as one

song after another is wedged, with a minimum of validation, into a

story invented by Catherine Johnson. Johnson is careful not to let

her story interfere more than is necessary with the music and the

dancing. One line of dialogue and two opening notes are all the clues

needed for half the audience to greet each song with applause.

Donna (Louise Pitre), once a former lead singer with a disco girl

group, Donna and the Dynamos, is now a middle-aged unmarried owner

of a tavern on a Greek island. She is in the midst of preparations

for her spunky daughter Sophie’s (Tina Maddigan) wedding to Sky (Joe

Machota), her equally enthusiastic fiance. Donna’s best friends, two

former Dynamos — the many times married vamp Tanya (Karen Mason),

and the still single cookbook editor Rosie (Judy Kaye) have arrived

at the tavern with sass and sparkle to spare and ready to shake it

up for the festivities.

On the sly, Sophie has sent invitations to three of her mother’s old

lovers, with the hope that one of them will be revealed as her father

and agree to give her away. It will not surprise you to learn that

each of the three men — Sam (David W. Keeley), a macho divorced

architect; Bill (Ken Marks), a single travel writer; and Harry (Dean

Nolen), a banker — is convinced that they are the father. It


take a genius to guess that a few matches will be made before a


twist ending finds everyone celebrating in designer Mark Thompson’s

revolving hot white and azure blue Greek Island setting, over-lit

with brilliance by Howard Harrison.

We are not talking about a ground-breaking musical here, but rather

an stage-shaking one, its deafening retro beat used as an excuse to

propel a silly, but uplifting, fantasy — something that won’t

do us any harm at a time like this. While the men in the show are

fine enough, it remains for the women to knock our socks off. Mason

and Kaye, two terrific middle-aged musical theater pros, who never

cease to amuse and to amaze, give the show a broad comic wallop,


in their south-of-the-border flavored "Chiquitita." But it

is up to the feisty and formidable Pitre to take charge of the show’s

more musical dramatics, as she does with her show-stopping belting

of "The Winner Takes It All."

There’s are as many opportunities to laugh at the light-hearted script

as there are at the way the songs are interpolated. Credit


Anthony Van Laast for making old steps seem knew again, and musical

arranger Martin Koch for renewing those great, not so old, songs.

Take the advice of one song — "Take a Chance on Me." You

won’t be sorry. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated.

— Simon Saltzman

Mama Mia, Winter Garden Theater, 1634 Broadway at 50th

Street, 212-563-5544. $98.50.

Top Of Page

Puttin’ On the Ritz, 915 White Horse Pike, Oaklyn, has

auditions for "A Raisin in the Sun" on Sunday, December 15.

Performance dates are March 5 to April 13. To schedule, call


Top Of Page
Participate Please

New Jersey Museum of Agriculture offers winter camp for

kids on Thursday and Friday, December 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. to 4

p.m. Crafts, visit animals, and workshops. $40. Register. Call


Arthritis Foundation, New Jersey Chapter will send a


and small gift from Santa in exchange for a $5 donation. Send check

payable to Arthritis Foundation with child’s name, address, age, and

sex, to: Santa’s Village, c/o Arthritis Foundation, NJ Chapter, 9

Tanner Street, East Entry, Haddonfield 08033-2418. Call 732-283-4300.

Mercer Community College seeks summer and fall housing

near both campuses for students. The college will serve as a listing

agent for residents wishing to rest a room or apartment. Call


ext. 3435.

EurAupair seeks community volunteers to share American

culture, provide orientations, and guidance to au pairs and host


EurAupair provides training, support, and guidance, and reimburses

for expenses. Call Susan Borelly at 800-901-2002.

VSA Arts of New Jersey offers a 16-session workshop


"Multicultural Storytelling and the History of the Drum,"

on Wednesdays, from January 9 to May 8, at North Brunswick High


Led by Vince and Karen Ector, the program is geared toward adults

with developmental disabilities. To register, call 732-745-3885.

Monroe Township Library offer engraved pavers with a


message as a milestone such as birthday, graduation, anniversary,

memorial for a person, event, or organization. $50. Forms available

at the library, 4 Municipal Plaza.

Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association now

provides non-medical, day-to-day, free transportation to the senior

community within Mercer County. For information or to volunteer, call


Arts Council of Princeton seeks crafters, artists, food

and merchandise vendors, nonprofit organizations, and local performers

for Communiversity 2002 to be held on Saturday, April 27, from noon

to 4 p.m. Call 609-924-8777.

Top Of Page
Call for Entries

Women’s Heart Foundation Craft Show and Festival is


entries from artists and crafters for its May event at Washington

Crossing State Park, Titusville. To enter, submit three slides


of works to be shown. Deadline is March 1, 2002. Call 610-687-8535.

New Jersey Poetry Society seeks entries for the Winter

Spring 2002 contest. The theme "Crisis," may be in any form

of poetry with a 32-line limit postmarked by March 1, 2002. Prizes

range from $12 to $50 U.S. Bonds. Call 609-882-4784 for complete


rules and information.

Arts Council of Princeton seeks submissions for its 14th

edition of "Underage," an anthology of short stories and poems

from children under the age of 18. The deadline is Friday, March 15,

2002. Call 609-924-8777.

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve provides paid


to qualified students wishing to learn about native plants and public

gardens. The program begins in May or June and runs for ten to fifteen

40-hour weeks. Call 215-862-2924.

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