Performing Arts Fort Worth's 'Mamma Mia!' at Bass Hall offers plenty of warmth but little real heat

FORT WORTH -- The sun-drenched Greek isles look pretty good right now.

Performing Arts Fort Worth is trying to warm us up with its presentation of a touring production of the popular musical Mamma Mia! at Bass Hall. The romance takes the frostbitten hits of the Swedish pop group ABBA and uses them to tell a story set in the warmth of the Aegean Sea.

This show, written by Catherine Johnson, is one of the biggest Broadway smashes ever. It opened on the Great White Way in 2001 after opening in London in 1999 and remains there still, closing in on 4,000 performances. It is often cited as a major factor in the current trend toward jukebox musicals. And it spawned a 2008 movie that inexplicably starred Meryl Streep.

The plot, which may matter even less than it usually does in a musical, deals with Sophie (Chloe Tucker), who is about to be married to Sky (Happy Mahaney). Sophie wants to be properly given away at her wedding, but we learn that her mother, Donna (Kaye Tuckerman), is such a naturally friendly person that her father may be any one of three men: the too-good-to-be-true architect Sam (John Bisom), the Crocodile Dundee-like Bill (John-Michael Zuerlein) or the staid British banker Harry (Paul DeBoy).

So, without informing Mom, Sophie invites all three to the shindig in hopes of sorting out her parentage before the "I do's."

This production is likely to satisfy fans of the show. But it is probably not so good that Mamma Mia! will make new friends.

Its strongest element is the pairing of Alison Ewing and Mary Callanan as Tanya and Rosie, the other members of the ABBA-like group that Donna was part of about the time Sophie was conceived. When those women join forces, the result is electrifying. They are far more effective as a duo than individually or in a trio with Tuckerman.

The other standout feature is a deceptively simple but highly versatile set. A small white building serves for all the locations by being spun around or opened in a particular way. It is a bit sparse but compensates with cleverness.

The rest of the show falls mostly in the passable range.

Tucker makes Sophie a sympathetic character, but her vocals dazzle in only a few places. Tuckerman is more problematic. She captures Donna's fierce personality, but her singing is not outstanding enough for the load she is supposed to carry.

Among the men, only DeBoy, an exceptionally natural actor, is at all memorable.

In defense of the cast, however, it did not help that Tuesday's opening-night performance seen for this review was attended by only a few hundred hardy souls who braved the cold and ice.

There may well be more electricity generated when the house is fuller.

But maybe this warm and sunny musical has been around long enough now, and features music that has been around even longer, that it is what it is. The material is so slight that there isn't much room for developing it beyond a point, which we already know well.

Stay through the curtain calls. I have reviewed this show more than once, but because it is so long (21/2 hours), deadlines have never allowed me to see the end.

It turns out you have to wait until after the bows to hear Waterloo.