Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama 2008: Hitting One Out of the Ball Park

When my neighbor told me I had been sitting in the end zone during the last night of the Democratic National Convention, I realized that Mile High Stadium is not that kind of ball park. So Barack Obama accomplished another first by hitting one out of a football field. I will retrace how he did that for those not lucky enough to be in Denver.

By the time I got to the very end of the security line for entrance to the Democratic National Convention, a helpful policeman told me that he sees a guy on the line that asked him how long the wait would be two hours ago. I prepared for the worst but I was through the gates in a little over an hour.

Thank you, Mr. Police, sir.

After flying through security, I grabbed a plate of enchiladas, a pizza, and a lemonade before finding my way to the end zone where I, straight out of Massapequa, sat between Taisha, straight out of Compton, and Merilyn, straight out of Berkeley. We all just met and we were all cheering and voting for Obama. What a world.

Jennifer Hudson sings the National Anthem

I must admit it was a lot easier to hear the words the speakers were saying when I was watching the proceedings online. (ABC News was streaming it live with commentary by creaky Sam Donaldson and some other guy who looks like a geek.) This evening, the last night of the Convention, the most rousing speeches were those given by the little people or as the DNC lists them, American Voices. Sure, Al Gore was inspiring but Roy Gross, Monica Early, Janet Lynn Monacco, Teresa Asenap, Pamela Cash-Roper, and Barney Smith - whose chant that we want a president who cares more about Barney Smith not Smith Barney was a highlight for all - spoke passionately and eloquently (!?) about their personal travails over the last eight Bush years.

Look closely at the bottle bobby-pinned to her hair

And then there's Obama - whom I could hear clear as a bell. I'm not going to reiterate what Obama spoke about in his speech but, suffice it to say, this man is the future of America. I fear for this country if he does not win this election.

John Legend and Will I Am sing Yes, I Can

About two-thirds of the way through his speech I left the comfort of my cushion between the two archetypes I had been playing with for the last five hours and got closer to the stage. (I always do that. Ask Carol Channing.) I soon found myself next to the ABC, CBS, and NBC news tents watching Obama orating magnificently. At the same time, I was watching Katie Couric, Charles Gibson and Brian Williams, our three national network news anchors, with their backs to the speaker, their heads down, and their eyeglasses perched on the tip of their respective noses, reading from pieces of paper.

Now granted, they were undoubtedly reading the speech on paper but they were not experiencing the speech as the rest of the attendees. They were reading words and dissecting grammar so they can have probing questions and insight but not one of them was experiencing the audience reactions or the speaker's expressions and movements. They were about to mislead their viewers.

And then it was over. Fireworks closed the evening and I literally ran out front to get a wide angle of the stadium and the sky. Enjoy!

And remember to vote for Obama on November 4, 2008!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama Tour 2008: DNC Day 1

ABC News is streaming the Democratic National Convention live with commentary by creaky Sam Donaldson and some other guy who looks more like a geek. This is online gavel-to-gavel coverage. Television has High School Musical and an hour of DNC highlights. Pretty cool.

It sounds like a gay man...excuse me - a gentleman with a semi-pronounced announcing Howard Dean as the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Nancy Pelosi drones on. I appreciate her but she's not someone with whom I've always agreed. I go out to the back yard to clean leaves from the pond and return to find her STILL talking.

Is Howard Dean still a Governor? How come he is introduced as Governor Howard Dean but I am not introduced as Tax Collector Teger?

Ted Kennedy brings electricity to the Pepsi Center. The crowd was immediately drawn to him and his recent health issue. Intersperse this with shots of Caroline, Maria, Patrick, and the other male cousin and the Kennedy mantle is clearly being bestowed upon Barack Obama.

Oy, an invocation. Can't we just keep God out of it? Means nothing to me.

Craig Robinson introduces his little sister with some childhood tales. Immediately responded to him because of my own experiences with a little sister.

[Barack's] a blank slate right now so we project all our dreams and hopes and desires on him. But he'll be a president for everyone.

Michelle is poised, confident, passionate, defined, articulate, giving, and lovely. Her speech inspires and brings emotions to the fore. She talks of her parents, Her family, her daughters, and Barack and charmed everyone. The crowd loves her and the couple's two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, who gave us a true glimpse of the family when Barack peered through a video window after his wife spoke. Very effective.

The gavel comes down on Day 1, Sam Donaldson says good night and I finally hear the geek's name: Rick Klein. Nice job, Rick.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama 2008: The Tale of A Ticket

Some might know of my current plans to sell a house in Denver and get back to the Bay Area in California. (Not that I ever left; I'll always be a Californian and a New Yorker - dual citizenship.) Well, during this summer of 2008, the operative words are indeed plans to as the house has sat on the market for three months without a bite. I don't know if it's the real estate market, the real estate agent, or the real estate we're selling?

When George and I put the house up in June we were so optimistic. We had a huge garage sale, the house looked great, and everyone was clamoring for it. We would be fielding multiple offers, ultimately, bringing the sale price up an additional $4,000. What a world! But I said to our agent, there is a pin to this bubble.

A pin?

Yes, whatever deal we accept we have to draw out the paperwork through the end of August so I can still be here and see history happen when Barack Obama accepts the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party at INVESCO Field.

She winked. We'll be sure to, Michael.

It's now three months later, the price has dropped 10%, George is in California, John McCain can't count as high as the number of homes he owns but he wants to be president, and I'm keeping a house clean for the first time in my life - what would Toby think?

Roughly three weeks ago, I heard rumblings about where to get tickets for Obama's INVESCO Field appearance. It was late at night but I went to the Colorado Democratic Party home page anyway and was able to sign up. A ticket, it seems, is referred to as a Community Credential. I also checked a box that asked if I would like to volunteer for the campaign for six hours to receive an All-Star Credential. After clicking Submit, I received an immediate confirmation via email that thanked me for signing up to ''receive information about INVESCO Field and other updates from the Democratic National Convention''.

The next morning, all hell had broken loose. Video, blogs, articles and news sources across the Internet were ablaze with the talk of going to the Colorado Democratic Party home page to sign up for your Community Credential. 80% of the available tickets were going to Coloradans and being a Coloradan (for convenience this one time) I'm planning to go.

What was that operative word?

There were so many requests, they stopped taking names after 80,000, the field's capacity. A few days following that milestone I received an email, with no mention of a credential, that discussed ways I might volunteer for the campaign. I called up the telephone number in the email and the woman on the other end explained that I had to volunteer six hours within the next five days. The email I received was just explaining my options. I took the next day off from work, went to the Barack Obama Campaign Headquarters on 1355 South Colorado in Denver (the office) and proceeded to do six and a half hours (just to be sure) of data entry and cold telephone calls.

Hi. I am working for the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama and Congressman Mark Udall...yada...yada...yada.

I went home psyched for the work and the people I'd met and for my plans to see Barack Obama at INVESCO Field.

What was that operative word? Oh, yeah.

Within a few days I receive a voice mail informing me that I was put on a wait list for a credential. So it wasn't first come, first serve. But I just volunteered so I must be getting one of those All-Star Credentials, right? I assumed my plans to see Barack Obama were struck down in their prime.

A week later, I receive another voice mail reminding me to pick up my credential starting Friday 10 AM and before Saturday 5 PM. Was this for real? So I picked up the telephone and called HQ. (Volunteers can use that acronym.) It turns out that well, I got it! And you can see it. Here is a video I made to show the Community Credential because the front image changes in the light.

As this is the Community Credential, I'm not sure what the All-Star Credential is, or if I will be upgraded to it. But I do know that my plans to see Barack accept the nomination on August 28 have come to fruition. What was that operative word again? Oh, yeah. Bodes well for the sale of the house now, doesn't it?

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Yiddishe Mama and Her Notes

I often have to search the internet for some Yiddish translation. Why? Because Yiddish is fun. Recently, in a search, I found Mendele: Yiddish literature and language. This seems to be a bunch of text files generated from email, dating as far back as 1991. The email contains a huge amount of Yiddish information - you just have to use Edit - > Find in your browser to search the term you want on a particular page. You just might find something you never knew before.

And in keeping with today's theme, here's a clip with the late, great Sophie Tucker singing My Yiddishe Mama - first in English and then in Yiddish.

And of particular interest to some might be this recording of the late, great Billie Holiday singing My Yiddishe Mama. Who knew? Just like me and Sophie! (Images of Barbra are a nice addition to the clip.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Congratulations to Ellen and Portia

The die is cast, come weal, come woe,
Two lives are joined together.
For better or for worse the link
Which naught but death can sever.

The die is cast, come grief, come joy,
Come richer or come poorer.
If love but binds the mystic tie,
Blest is the bridal hour.

-- Mary Weston Fordham

I'm fifty years old and I could care less about the sentiment in that poem. And then I saw the cover of People.

Mazel tov, ladies!!

I have watched the gay marriage debate from the sidelines. Never did it and never thought about it. That's how I was raised - in a time when marriage was not an option for me. I would surmise that getting married is nice but honestly I would rather be able to hold George's hand in a restaurant without fear of retribution (otherwise since it certainly wouldn't be divine). I want to be able to run to George in an airport like they did in those commercials from the 70s without getting stares and glares. (OK, I'm sure some would stare if we were running slo-mo towards each other, arms akimbo, but you know what I mean.) And I want people to understand the trials and tribulations and the love and the hate and the laughs and the cries that George and I face every day in our relationship is just like those faced by the straight couples to...get...married.

Dearest Ellen:
I can't begin to tell you the rush of feelings I had when I saw your lovely photo on the cover of People magazine. Yes, you were on the cover of People for coming out but that was you. And not to trivialize the decision but, you just came out at work. I've been living my life out at work since I've been...well...working. From cleaning toilets to tax collection for the City of Los Angeles; from high tech firms in Silicon Valley to little Paperback Booksmith - everyone knew and no one made it an issue. I was even an out and proud cabaret singer and comic before, during and after your coming out year of 1996. I realize Hollywood and celebrity are a different animal and I understand the impact you made globally and the effect it has and will continue to have on younger people now coming to terms and oldsters trying to navigate the minefield. But personally, been there done that.

Then I saw the cover of People.

Dear Portia:

I've seen you in Ally MacBeal. I also saw you once or twice in Arrested Development but that was only the episodes in which Liza was appearing. (Did I mention I was a gay man?) One day I read that you and Ellen were having a romance. Hmmm, I thought. Who knew? She must be a GREAT actress. And then I moved on - because you moved on. You were non-chalant which made it easy for everyone (certainly in the media) to accept your relationship with Ellen, even with the burden of prominence. Considering the tabloid/gossip/blog explosion that has occurred since your wife came out, you are a role model for many. And if I may say so, a woman with grace.

Then I saw the cover of People.

And now I am now thinking of marriage. The picture has touched my New York heart as have your nuptials. And those of everyone who has followed, or will follow, this path. Hell, if our coupledom has lasted five years, marriage should be a cinch!

So, where are you registered?

Or should I just send a Hallmark card?

all the best to you both,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Treat Ball starring Max

My Jack Russell Terrier, Max, uploaded a video made as an ode to his treat ball. He's not the best singer (although back in the day he was considered the Manilow of the dog park) but he's sincere. Max's lyrics are reproduced below.

The tune is Red Rubber Ball as performed by The Seekers and The Cyrkle. It was written by Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel) and Bruce Woodley (of The Seekers). Here is what Max was singing.

Early in my years I found out that I
Get so bored so easily - cloth chews I can't abide
Nothing comes out, no big payoff, that's a maudlin time
Falling treats that satisfy - that's a rockin' climb!

R-uuff, my life is oh so right
Yeah, the munchies coming down
The morning sun is shinin' all on my treat ball

Boy, what a life all I do is eat
And all my toys have food in them - what a fuckin' treat
Yea you know it's not the only ball that makes me gay
But throw that treat ball on the floor - I'm always gonna play

Woof, my life is oh so right
Yeah, the munchies coming down
The morning sun is shinin' all on my treat ball

All my pals in grime just grunt and look and stare
Roll the ball, some food comes out - am I missing something here?
Nothing beats the lasting taste and feelin' in my tum
Of nosing my treat ball round the floor; it's more than just a crumb

Yow, my life is oh so right
Yeah, the munchies coming down
The morning sun is shinin' all on my treat ball

Saturday, August 9, 2008

See CARRIE The Musical Online

On May 12, 1988, a friend called me a little before midnight apologizing that he hadn't telephoned earlier in the evening as planned.

Original Television Commercial

We got into Kennedy around 6 and had to grab a cab and run to the theater to see Carrie.

Carrie? The musical? It opened tonight.

Yea. I saw it.

You're kidding. What did you think?

It was electrifying. The standing O's were flying left and right. The show is intense and wonderful. I absolutely loved it. People were screaming and clamoring for more. It was incredible.

I guess I don't have to get my tickets just now. It'll run forever.

We all know how that turned out. The show closed opening night and turned into one of the most notorious flops in American theatrical history.

Opening number, In

But now you can watch CARRIE The Musical online in this version's entirety. (More info on that non sequitor in wikipedia.) Emerson College has staged and recorded an unlicensed production of the musical (for which amateur performing rights have never been released). They cut the video up into bite size pieces, uploaded the clips to YouTube, created a channel and, with a click on the full screen button, you are right there in the theater.

Open Your Heart/And Eve Was Weak

It's a good production too. There is no cast listing but the woman who played Margaret White is top-notch. Carrie - less so but she did grow on me. The gym teacher is very good as well. And the camera work is not imposing. Close-ups at the right time and zoom outs when called for. Excellent - only in the final scene of Act 2 is it a little out of view but I'm sure the photographer knew it as filming was proceeding and was pulling his (or her) hair out. Too bad.

Evening Prayers

The show itself is intense and emotional. Carrie The Musical is adapted from Stephen King's novel by Lawrence D. Cohen with lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Michael Gore (of Fame fame). And some of the music IS electrifying. I was getting all ferklempt watching this on YouTube. And since, I have found a treasure trove of clips from the original Broadway production. Betty Buckley as Margaret White is astonishing (play And Eve Was Weak) and I kick myself for not dropping the phone and going to see this show twenty years ago. Damn. Linzi Hateley (who is currently playing Donna in Mamma Mia on the West End) as Carrie is also excellent. Enjoy them now 'cause it was a moment in time. Although it's interesting to note that making a movie into a Broadway musical is a lot more common today than it was in 1988.

I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance

Wotta Night

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mamma Mia! It's ABBA But Is It A Musical?

After years of (a much-ignored) silence, I have decided to comment on the explosion in ABBA interest that took off in 1996, the year I stopped pushing modifications to the Internet's own ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Page. (More on that later.) The ABBA interest skyrocket culminates this summer with the release of Mamma Mia!, the movie musical based on the Broadway musical based on the songs of ABBA. Now sure Mamma Mia! is a whole lot of fun to watch (especially with an audience so get some friends to go with you) but as a dramaturg I say to you: it's ABBA but is it a musical? Don't let your bell bottoms ring too loudly yet because, before getting into the meat of the thesis, I display my ABBA cred.

  • 1975: I've been a fan since I first saw them perform on the Mike Douglas Show. (Toby, my mother, was a big Douglas fan - thanks, Toe.) I bought Greatest Hits although, due to the geographical location of my parent's house (North America), I did wonder how a first album can also be a Greatest Hits collection.

  • October 2, 1979: a dream come true when I see ABBA live at Radio City Music Hall in New York City from the tenth row. None of my friends wanted to go so I ended up taking a boyfriend from the night before. Good times.

  • 1992: start writing and graphic work on the Internet's first site devoted to ABBA, ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Page including the much-lauded Official ABBA Bootleg Page. Erasure releases ABBA-esque later that year.

  • 1993: write and begin performing one-man show, Funny Guy, which uses Thank You for the Music for its final.

  • 1994: more pages (including Ring Ring Wrong Wrong: A Controversy and The Complete ABBA Lyrics A - Y) are added and the site's footprint increases as ABBA Gold, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding are released.

Following my trip to Sweden, I stopped major modifications on ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Page. How does one top The Girls Without The Guys: Agnetha and Frida Post-ABBA? As the Internet grew, the number of ABBA sites being created grew. I'd already said everything I needed to say so ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Page went silent but remained relevant as the upsurge in ABBA interest and related sales really took off. Are these timings irony or, cause and effect? I'm just asking. I could be the American Görel Hanser.

Now, my dramaturg cred.

Do I need more? Then let's on.

I've gone to see Mamma Mia! three times now. (I do that with film musicals so Hollywood will continue to finance them.) The book - spinning the tale of a single mom, her nineteen year old daughter, and the three men who, one of which, might be her father - bears a close resemblance to the story line of the film Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell.

So, I wonder why the book couldn't be more arresting if it was aping this charming (from my misty memories) film. The Mamma Mia! book exists for the sole purpose of moving the viewer from one ABBA song to the next. Although the bright and bouncy tunes of Benny and Björn (and sometimes Stig Anderson) shine through, these musical vignettes (the word video is already taken) differ in how they adhere to the rules of musical theater and dramaturgy.

The ABBA songs that work best as show tunes in this musical comedy are Money, Money, Money, Mamma Mia, Chiquitita, Dancing Queen, the Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)/Voulez Vous medley, Does Your Mother Know and Slipping Through My Fingers. These are character-driven songs which propel the plot (as it were) forward while further revealing layers of the emoting characters. Money, Money, Money as sung by Donna (Meryl Streep) is a paean to the working class and introduces us to those in her life, her friends Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) and the characters of Villa Donna in the Greek Sporades Islands (a Greek chorus, if you will). It's an excellent song, used wisely within the context of the book, that is also an old-fashioned production number with some stunning shots of La Streep and a twenty foot train at the bow of a ship (a la Titanic).

I've got you now, my pretties!

Meryl follows Money, Money, Money with Mamma Mia, a spotlight production that reveals Donna's deep, dark passion in an energetic and humorous ensemble piece. Although it seems to come a bit too early in the story, it does play an important role in the characterization of the relationship between Donna and possible dad Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Mamma Mia is followed by an interesting and very satisfying version of Chiquitita in which Tanya and Rosie offer humor and pathos to a forlorn Donna. The song works unexpectedly well within the musical comedy framework and is performed brilliantly by the leading ladies. (And with its inclusion seems poised to generate more dinero for UNICEF. In 1979, ABBA donated all royalties received from Chiquitita to UNICEF, raising millions with the gesture.) Shockingly, Chiquitita is NOT included on the CD soundtrack. My guess is that Meryl's crying and her mucus sniffing got in the way of the vocal. The song also doesn't technically end - the last line is replaced with Meryl's dialog, "It's her Dad." Here is the scene.

This clip from the movie was pulled from YouTube because of copyright violations a few days after its upload. If it's gone from this embed window again, click here to open it in a new window from my web site.

It is obvious that these three older actresses are carrying this movie - an amazing feat of accomplishment by the creative team in agist, sexist Hollywood. Kudos to director Phyllida Lloyd, writer Catherine Johnson and producer Judy Cramer - three, if I may be so bold, older women themselves. Ain't nothing wrong with that!

These female-driven songs are followed by the ultimate production number to the ultimate female-driven ABBA song, Dancing Queen. The give and take between the femme cast members, the Greek chorus, and the whole town involved in this newly-minted anthem about empowerment becomes uplifing and relevant. The number also boasts the first appearance in the film of a member of ABBA: Benny takes to the 88 for the famous Bada bada bada, looking suspiciously like a seafaring W.C. Fields. The video below mashes up the Dancing Queen sequence from Mamma Mia! with footage from the original ABBA video. It's an excellent example of how close the orchestrations used on the soundtrack are to the originals. Most of the songs are faithful renditions with the actors fronting an orchestra that contained many of the same musicians that played on the original recordings with Benny producing. Kudos to the videographer. (Benny can be seen at 2:58 in the video.)

The Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)/Voulez Vous medley is a perfect complement to the bachelorette/bachelor parties the night before the wedding. The ladies start the party with the former tune and are then joined by the men for the latter as all hell breaks loose. The Name of the Game, sung by Amanda Seyfried (Donna's daughter, Sophie) and Stellan Skarsgard (possible dad Bill) was removed from its place between between Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight) and Voulez Vous. (The track appears on the soundtrack CD in the correct sequence.) The former scene's inclusion between the latter songs in the film would've definitely slowed down the party. As edited, it is a ball joined in by the entire company. Here's the actual music video (not film vignette, remember?) with Amanda singing Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight).

Meryl and Amanda's Slipping Through My Fingers is a lovely duet between the mother and daughter. Originally sung by Agnetha Falkskög, it's always been a meaningful song when heard as an ABBA track; it's placement in Mamma Mia!, as Donna readies her daughter to be married, adds phenomenal depth to the book and the characters' relationship.

Immediately following this moment of poignancy, Christine gets loud and raunchy singing her distaff version of Does Your Mother Know to a slew of hot, young men on the beach. Although her campy delivery and the crazy dance steps (which I secretly covet) seem a tip o' the hat to the gay community (with La Baranski herself something of an icon from her performances in Cybill), the lyrics are also surprisingly relevant in expanding character depth. Tanya is just a riot! But, let's flip the coin here and show a video of ABBA performing Does Your Mother Know live with Björn on lead, real instruments and everything!

Not so lucky in the dramaturgy department is Honey, Honey which Sophie sings about her unknown father. Considering this is the first full-length song of the film, the lyrics are laughable and immediately oft-putting. You're a doggone beast? You're a love machine? To a man who is supposed to be her father? Maybe Ring, Ring would've worked better. Maybe Take A Chance On Me to the three men who don't know they have a daughter? Or even, although I'd have to re-read the lyrics to be sure, I've Been Waiting For You has a song title that seems ready-made. Although it was probably a mandate to start the film with an uptempo tune, some extra thought might have made the scene work better.*

Even one of my favorite ABBA songs, The Winner Takes It All, stops the film's forward motion. Streep sings the song powerfully but the plot points have already been addressed in the songs Mamma Mia and SOS. More importantly, it makes Donna seem flighty and feels as though her character development is taking a step back. Even Sophie gives her mom an exasperated look when she arrives late to the wedding (because she was singing The Winner Takes It All); here is, unfortunate to write, a song that should have been relegated to a deleted scene on the DVD.

Hurry, girlfriend! You're late!

The dancified Lay All Your Love on Me is sung on the beach by Sophie and her fiance, Sky (the invisible Dominic Cooper). It contains what seems to have become the most controversial scene in the movie: Sky's bachelor party friend's in flippers and swimsuits dancing on a pier. The dance is funny and cute, working in the same vein as Tanya's aforementioned hoofing. And the song works fine here but, to tell the truth, they relegated Waterloo, arguably ABBA's greatest hit (and 1974 Eurovision winner), to an encore over the credits when it could have been used as the couple's love song to better effect...unless the author felt that teens today would not know what Waterloo was. Not buying it though. (If true, teens today are not studying.) The encore version of Waterloo does though include the second appearance in the film of a member of ABBA: Björn can be seen as a Greek god holding a lute. In honor of the song itself, here's ABBA singing Waterloo in French.

Colin Firth (possible dad Harry) takes the first swing at the beautiful Our Last Summer to sing (sounding a little like Björn) about his history with Donna. Though not initially called out as a top-notch show tune, Our Last Summer works brilliantly with three lead vocals when Sam and Bill take over the lyrics to reminisce about their history with Donna. It's a sweet take on a lovely song that provides further details about these men and their history with Donna. Pierce also does a good job speak singing When All is Said And Done which deserves applause because my favorite ABBA song is finally used in Mamma Mia!. It doesn't deserve the applause though because the song is about breaking up and neither Pierce nor Meryl are going anywhere. (It does appear towards the end of the movie so maybe that is what is done.) Pierce also duets with Streep on SOS; he has been drubbed for his vocals but I think he unlike Benny. (Irony or cause and effect? I'm just asking again.)

Mamma Mia! Men!

Super Trouper is an interesting song and another personal favorite. In a musical comedy format, it can really only be sung by an entertainer - considering what a super trouper actually is; so the leading ladies get it together to sing the song they used to perform when they were Donna and the Dynamos. It fits well in context - unlike Rosie's Take A Chance on Me which seems to have been stuck at the end because it was a number 3 United States hit and would've disappointed the fans if not there.

Take A Chance on Me does not feel integrated with the rest of the story. Julie is freakingly funny (loved the Bangles t-shirt she wore upon her arrival on the island) and the scene, with Skellan, adds a light touch to the tune although it might have been better placed, in this context, earlier in the film. Another option would have been to make more of a possible relationship between the two lone wolves earlier in the film. Even more disappointing than how the song was integrated into the book is that the version of Take A Chance on Me available on the soundtrack CD is different from the version used in the film. On the CD, Julie's voice is almost unrecognizable, mixed with the comapny - in the film, her vocal is sweet and nervous and front and center. Speech. Speech. That is the version that should have been immortalized on the soundtrack CD just as they did with Does Your Mother Know?, the other 'older woman that isn't Meryl' solo. Maybe someone thought it wouldn't sell records (yes, records) but isn't it selling tickets?

I guess he's not that invisbile.

Portions of other ABBA songs used throughout the film include:

  • Amanda's version of I Have A Dream begins (in a prologue version) and ends the film's narrative.

  • An instrumental Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight) is scored over a montage of the lead hommes arriving in Greece and at Villa Donna (and finished during Honey, Honey).

  • An instrumental Waterloo is scored over a montage of the lead femmes arriving in Greece and at Villa Donna.

  • There is an interpolation of Knowing Me, Knowing You as Sophie shows her three dads into the Old Goat House. As an aside, Knowing Me, Knowing You is glaring in its absence from the film.

  • Streep hums Fernando as she walks into the Old Goat House.

  • I Do (x5) is partially sung by Pierce and Meryl towards the end.

  • A wet and wild reprise of Mamma Mia follows Aphrodite's eruption at the story's end.

  • Donna and the Dynamos, dressed in platform boots and sparkly, spandex clothing, perform Dancing Queen as an encore after the end of the film's narrative. It is as redundant as this bullet point.

  • The encore Waterloo follows the encore Dancing Queen with the rest of the cast in spandex joining the Dynamos; this song deserved integration into the book. Knowing Me, Knowing You could have then been the final encore.
    We just have to face it
    This time we're through
    (We're really through)

  • Thank You For The Music is sung sweetly by Amanda over the end credits unlike this version.

Rare footage of the aforementioned Thank You for the Music finale from my 1994 multi-mediacal [sic] show, Funny Guy. Yes, its multi-mediacal (just look at the mediacals behind me) but even I admit that it sounds like a duet between Benny and Agnetha.

Possibly the only non-ABBA music in the film (not non-Benny/Björn, I suppose) is the interstitial wedding music played as the bride walks down the aisle. I didn't recognize it as an ABBA interpretation. Couldn't they have used Arrival? I also heard some tick, tock type music when Donna is setting the table that didn't sound particularly ABBA-esque either.

Hypnotically beautiful black and white photography

From a cinematic point of view, Greece has never looked so flat; it doesn't come off as hypnotically beautiful as one would assume. Maybe it was the movie theatre. (Same one. 3 times.) Even the black and white Never On Sunday (also filmed in Greece) had more depth and beauty to its cinematography. Except for the lighted path to the church and the Dancing Queen number, the scenery seemed uninspired. On the other hand, the choreography, though cheesy, works in context and the cast is uniformly good. Meryl was born to play this role although I can't see her getting the Academy Award - the movie is just so much fluff and it doesn't really seem a hard part to play. Colin was quite adorable. Love Amanda (Veronica Mars, Big Love). I predict Christine to pick up a prize at year's end. Julie - always a pleasure from as far back as Educating Rita. Pierce - lucky dog. Skellan - token Swede whom I loved in The Exorcist: The Beginning. (Not really but I did see the movie.)

Prince of Wales Theatre (London) where Mamma Mia!, the show, premiered.

Mamma Mia! is delightful fun (uh, 3 times) and everyone involved has the world's appreciation for bringing ABBA's timeless tunes to the fore but to answer the titular question, Mamma Mia! doesn't get high marks as a musical. The story is a pastiche - never digging deeper than needed to propel us to the next ABBA song. I understand that Mamma Mia! is part of a genre referred to as jukebox musicals and people go for the music but I've always been a lyrics kind-of guy. I believe the story kinks could have been worked out and possibly put Mamma Mia! on a par with CHESS and Kristina från Duvemåla - neither of which, in the spirit of disclosure, has made anywhere near the amount of money that Mamma Mia! has.

Wait. I've got it. I'll write The Winner Takes It All: Another ABBA Musical. It'll be about a couple living in Las Vegas and going through a divorce and one of them wins the lottery. There will be so many levels to these characters and the book will be deep and involving. Oh, but it's got to be after the one I'm writing now. (Is Sondheim reading this?)

I deserve a Ph.D. in ABBA for this.

* UPDATE: I received an email from a friend that read simply: I thought that Amanda was supposed to be reading from her mother's diary, and that's where the [Honey, Honey] lyrics were coming from. Well blow my nose with a rubber hose. As Emily Litella used to say:

There goes my Ph.D.