The national tour of "Mamma Mia" reaches Charlotte about as often as elections for the U.S. House of Representatives. So the lone question playgoers are likely to have is this: Does this fifth version differ significantly from the ones that have bounced through Belk Theater every couple of seasons since 2002?
I can't relate it to any but the last, which I enjoyed just as much. The four comparative adjectives I'd use are giddier, truer, louder and simpler.
"Giddier" because unfailing energy often turns into craziness. The male chorus struts, jives and preens like high school boys in a locker room. Sophie (endearing Chloe Tucker) tells her bridesmaids about her mom's diary, which identifies three men who may be her dad, and their gigglefest now feels like a pajama party.
"Truer" because Kaye Tuckerman nails the part of Donna Sheridan with a depth of feeling I never expected here. You believe she was once a hard-rocking singer who partied just as hard with three men in succession, two of whom she barely knew. This Donna was a wild child who doesn't want daughter Sophie to make a youthful mistake, even in wedlock. When she sings "The Winner Takes It All," she means all: She's angry and lonely and regretful, a strong woman confronting turbulent emotions.
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"Louder" because, from the sixth row, the overture and entr'acte blasted the eardrums. The little band (capably conducted by Charlotte's Bill Congdon, as it was last time) blew with all its force on big numbers, and the show suddenly felt like a rock concert. (Yes, ABBA songs qualify.)
And "simpler" because every lyric must now be underscored by an action. If someone uses a shooting metaphor, you know a singer will cock finger and thumb like a gun.
Jokes get underlined; reactions are extended or exaggerated. Actors play more directly to the audience, rolling their eyes in a "Can ya believe I said that?" fashion that may appeal to repeat customers - by now, "Mamma Mia!" is an old friend to many - but seemed over the top to a guy on his second visit.
The cast, which looks entirely new since 2009, has remarkable vivacity. Tony Clements joined the tour in Charlotte as Sam Carmichael, who still strikes romantic sparks with Donna; his energy and appealing voice may have lifted the show a notch, as new leading actors sometimes do, but principals and chorus put their hearts wholly into their work.
P.S. The audience is overwhelmingly female, so the intermission line for the women's rest room was probably the longest in Belk Theater history. A word to the wise should be sufficient: Don't let anything interfere with your ability to get to your feet and dance during the rousing curtain call.