Honoring an often-mocked, but ultra-entertaining, Vegas production as it says goodbye
By STEVE FRIESS
There is a nasty rumor going around that as the last numbers began to swell through the Mandalay Bay Theater on Sunday at the final performance of Mamma Mia!, I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket to dab away some precipitation flowing from my eyes. I would like to inform everyone that I had spent the entire weekend laid up with a head cold, and there could be other explanations for why a hard-bitten journalist would need a Kleenex to regain his composure.
If that’s a non-denial denial, then it probably comes from the fact that I am in some sort of bizarre disbelief over the fact that this show is finit, that there will be no further chances to link up on the Strip with Donna and Sophie, Sophie’s three possible dads and a cast that somehow managed to make a decades-old catalog of ABBA songs into a meaningful soundtrack for my current, 21st-century life. I mean, here I am at 4 a.m. feeling the need to write about it when another perfectly good column for this week has already been in the can for days.
But, yes, it is true that I am a bit at bay. For some reason I don’t quite comprehend—it was still making money, damn you!—Mamma Mia! is gone, its last “Waterloo” gloriously and gratuitously belted by actors in bright spandex performing at the end, concert-style, the one song everyone needed to hear but nobody could figure out how to weave into the story.
I don’t often attend closings in Las Vegas, but then again the shows I love this much don’t tend either to last long enough to merit a closing of any emotional heft (Avenue Q, Madhattan) or to ever close (Mystère, Kà, Love). Siegfried & Roy never got a proper send-off, of course, because it went down amid tragedy and controversy; Wayne Newton leaves but always comes back; and I probably would’ve attended the finale of Céline Dion’s … A New Day if I hadn’t been out of town, but it wouldn’t have been the same.
And why not? Well, for one thing, I don’t worry about Céline Dion. She’s Céline Dion. She came, she conquered, she left in a shower of roses and plaudits and celebrity audience members, a red carpet and a new album and a world tour before her, not to mention a standing offer to resume making megabucks for Caesars and AEG Live whenever she deigns to return. The show-biz universe may have been skeptical at the onset that she could fill 4,000 seats a night for all those years, but she proved those skeptics wrong within the first few weeks and never looked back. Plus, if she needed a bump, she could always show up on Larry King Live.
No such luck for Mamma Mia!, which required constant love and attention to keep it noticed amid the cacophony of only-in-Vegas offerings that barrage visitors from the minute they book their rooms to the eons it takes to collect checked baggage at the airport. (As I write that, I wonder: Is there a deal with the resorts to move luggage slowly at McCarran to give advertisers around those carousels their money’s worth with a captive audience?)
Sure, the show was always mentioned—and always shall be, given its historic success—in stories about Broadway coming to the Boulevard. And it does receive due credit for having kicked off a more successful but less often noticed trend, the modern-day respect and interest by Vegas resorts in catering to female tourists after decades of this being strictly a hetero male’s fantasyland.Yet, if Céline departed as a head of state would, Mamma Mia! went out the way it always operated.
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