By Manning Harris

“Mamma Mia!” at the Fox through November 6, is cotton candy, dance-in-the-aisles, and the infectious songs of ABBA.  When it opened on Broadway in 2001, one month after 9/11, what a welcome relief and joy it was to a city and nation still in shock.  It’s still running in the Big Apple, often selling out the Winter Garden Theatre.

Hollywood listened and “took a chance on me,” to quote one of its songs, and released a big budget film in 2008, starring Meryl Streep.  The movie was a huge international hit, grossing over half a billion dollars.  So much for worrying about whether Ms. Streep could carry a musical.

“Mamma Mia!” is a hit because it makes people feel good.  Period.  You can bemoan the paper thin plot and hiss the music of ABBA all you want.  The moment that peppy overture starts (how wonderful to hear a real overture!) you can start to tap your feet or turn into a grinch; but you’ll have a lot more fun if you do the former.  You may even cancel your therapist’s visit.

We’re on a Greek island, for heaven’s sake (forget the economy)!  Twenty-year-old Sophie (Chloe Tucker) wants to marry her fiance Sky (Happy Mahaney), and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle—but she doesn’t know who he is.  After perusing her free-spirited mother Donna’s (Kaye Tuckerman) diary, she learns it’s probably one of three charming men:  Sam (Christian Whelan), Harry (Paul Deboy), or Bill (John-Michael Zuerlein).  So she invites them all to the wedding, unbeknownst to  Donna.

Meanwhile, mom Donna invites two best friends, Tanya (Alison Ewing) and Rosie (Mary Callanan).  The three women used to be in a girls’ group called Donna and the Dynamos.  They all still enjoy performing, as you will discover.  There are plenty of attractive young men (Ethan Le Phong, James Michael Lambert, Christopher Hudson Myers, and others) to serve as groomsmen and catnip for the ladies.

But really, it’s all about the music; the songs are the stars here:  “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Honey, Honey,” “I Have a Dream,” S.O.S.,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez-vous,” and many others.  The music and lyrics are by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.  The book is by Catherine Johnson; choreography, Anthony Van Laast; director, Phyllida Lloyd.

The set, while serviceable, seems a bit barren after the lush color of the movie.  But c’est la vie.  “Mamma Mia!” is really two shows in one:  The second show begins with the curtain call, when the cast and the orchestra asks, or rather demands, dancing participation on the part of the audience.  If you refuse to at least stand and clap, you’re a real fuddy-duddy.

My advice is to join the party.  The cast is first-rate and quite magnetic.  “Mamma Mia!” runs at the Fox through November 6.

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Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.