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Mamma Mia!, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Powder puffery spun into sickly sugar, this Abba retrospective regales us with 22 tunes (inexplicably excluding "Waterloo" and "Fernando") by the Swedish songbirds, who peddled bubblegum from the early 70s into the 80s. The finale, a full-throated salute to disco madness, is thrilling but shows what's wrong with this musical: nothing else is as much fun. Unlike a Sondheim ballad, the only context "Dancing Queen" needs is a concert stage. But this hit parade is attached to a silly story about a cautious girl who learns from her maverick 70s mom to follow her heart rather than race into marriage. Catherine Johnson's characters seem computer generated--they're just excuses for the music, which still comes across as unmotivated. Phyllida Lloyd's staging, which treats even the groaner jokes with respect, merely underlines the overkill.

Abba fans, however, will joyously endure the treacly contrivances and sitcom stereotypes in order to bask in the nostalgic glow of the title song and savor headliner Louise Pitre's go-for-broke "The Winner Takes It All." They may even enjoy the hoochie-coochie vulgarity of "Take a Chance on Me," sung by a man-crazed Gabrielle Jones.

The honest thing would be to ditch the story and, in the style of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, simply re-create Abba's career and last concert. That's what the audience wants anyway. Nobody should have to pay for this plot as well as the songs.

--Lawrence Bommer

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