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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MUSINGS OF MEANDERING MIND: AUGUST Ď08 (article first published : 2008-09-11)

This morning I was treated to a screening of Mamma Mia based on all those wonderful ABBA songs, a film which premiered at Benny Anderssonís Rival Theatre in Stockholm on July 4. Now, this is not the same as the theatrical show which opened on the London stage in April 1999 and premiered worldwide to enormous acclaim. This film version is directed by Tom Hanks and his wife (who also turned the stage version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding into such a successful movie) and sports a storyline which sort of spoofs all the marvellous songs of the three Swedes and one Norwegian who collectively had over a decade of musical hits as ABBA. Itís been said of Benny and his writing partner Bjorn Alvaeus, by several highly-renowned classical musicians, that they are two of the finest composers of the last Century, and indeed their simple but catchy lyrics, together with the Wall of Sound achieved by over-dubbing the voices of Anni-Frid and Agnetha in multiple harmonies, have left an unforgettable legacy of pop songs for more than one generation to enjoy.

And what a talented cast this film boasts, the young female lead played by the highly accomplished Amanda Seyfriend, someone Iíve not come across before but who was utterly charming in the role of Sophie, and then Ė a huge delight to me, as Iím such a fan Ė Meryl Streep playing her mother, and demonstrating that she can add singing to her many other gifts, not to mention displaying a great degree of athleticism for a woman of mature years!

Her two sidekicks, played by Julie Walters (of Educating Rita and Billy Eliot fame) and Christine Baranski (who I recalled as a superb comedienne from a television series starring Cybil Shepherd) are just a laugh a minute as they reconvene on an idyllic Greek island where Donna is planning her daughterís upcoming wedding, and the threesome recall their performing days as Donna & The Dynamos, kitted out in flashy, over-the-top ABBA-like attire as they entertain the villagers against a backdrop of stunning seaside scenery. Sophie, too, has many an opportunity to perform well-loved ABBA songs, accompanied on occasion by her own two best friends, in whom she confides that, after discovering her motherís diary, written during her youthful lallygagging days, sheís secretly invited three of Donnaís former boyfriends to the wedding in the hopes of discovering which of them is her father, in order that he might walk her down the aisle.

Suffice it to say there is much hilarity as Sophie pursues this quest, with much singing and dancing along the way, and it was amusing to see a former James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) SINGING his lines for a change - not quite as well as Meryl Streep, let it be said! But while on the subject of THAT talented lady, if she doesnít bag yet another Oscar for THIS role I shall literally eat my peaked sun-visor that I wear when I swim outdoors in this hot city!

One huge delight for me personally was to discover an ABBA song that Iíd not heard before, the very moving Slipping Through My Fingers, in which a mother sings of her daughter setting off each day, schoolbag in hand, waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile, whereupon Mom experiences that well-known surge of sadness requiring that she sit down for a while to recover Ė something I could relate to SO well, as I raised my own child from the age of 15 months more or less as a single mom and, in fact, each time she went off for her weekend with her daddy I would experience just those emotions. (I actually penned a poem when my daughter was around eight or so, which I titled Life in a Single-Parent Household and which, oddly enough, Iíve sometimes thought would make an excellent song!)

Well, the ending to this toe-tapping romp of a story is not quite as predictable as one might imagine Ė but itís absolutely glorious! And, just when I muttered to my companion, during the rolling of the credits, that my only disappointment was that my very favourite ABBA number had not been included Ė well, letís just say it had been saved for last, and that the five words of the title of THAT particular song would be highly appropriate if etched on my tombstone one day!

Another song which holds a special place in my heart and my memory is the Bobby Darin number Dream Lover - and thatís because singing it at The Palm Grove while on holiday in Margate at the age of around 15 won me the Sunday Night Talent Contest! I wasnít familiar with THIS singerís life story so was thrilled to catch the film Beyond the Sea on television recently Ė an appropriate title since that song was one of Darinís biggest hits, yet personally I think Robbie Williams gives a far superior rendering on his Swing While Youíre Winning album, and I do wish Rob-of-the-Rude-Reputation would use his marvellous voice only for decent music Ė though I have to admit the man does have an ability to write good lyrics, and they can be quite profound at times!

Anyhow, Kevin Spacey, though also not the finest singer Iíve ever heard, did manage to convey the somewhat troubled life of Darin pretty convincingly, as we learned that Bobby was raised in the Bronx and never knew who his father was, since the woman heíd believed for most of his life to be his mother turned out, in fact, to be his grandmother, whose daughter had fallen pregnant at only 17, and theyíd come up with this cover-up to save face all round Ė a fact he only discovered in adulthood, and took the news extremely badly! Touching indeed was the fact that he finally did make peace with Nina, acknowledging her as his actual mother during his final performance, before he collapsed and was rushed to hospital, where he died. And very poignant indeed was his final song, incorporating the words Weíve Shared a Moment and Now the Curtain Falls - which it did, quite literally, on his life right then. However, once again I was to discover a piece of music in the score that Iíd not heard before and that was the Bob-Dylanesque Simple Song of Freedom, which took me back to the days of my own youth, and all the nights spent hanging out at The Troubadour in Johannesburg, listening to protest songs in the1960s.

But I canít end without some mention of music in a different class entirely, and once again Iím literally singing the praises of my all-time icon, Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis, for Iíve managed to get my eager paws on not one but two fairly new releases, both of them including some truly Magnificent Moscow Musicians! The first is a real bonus as it comprises not only a CD of a live performance recorded at the Herod Atticus Theatre but also a DVD with excerpts from that concert, featuring guests such as George Misailidis and Deborah Myers, with whom Mario performs duets, but also other Russian singers Iíd not heard of, fine talents such as Elena Svechnicova, Oleg Shagotsky and Kelly Tousmanof Ė but the real thrill is the Novaya Opera of Moscow Orchestra and Choir, magnificently conducted by Evgeny Samoilov.

The more recent purchase is an album I thought I might have trouble sourcing, and was SO eager to locate, since Iíd read on the Internet that Mario (Frangoulis) had been approached to portray Mario Lanza in a film to be made of that singerís life story. This is a magnificent CD, with Mario backed on this occasion by the Ossipov National Orchestra of Russia, under the baton of Vladimir Ponkin. And, should you be a fan of Hayley Westenraís, as I most certainly am, youíll be thrilled with Track 7, a wonderful rendering of Be My Love, with Hayley singing in a lower register than Iíve heard from her before Ė magnificently duetting with my Mario! Get yourself to your nearest Musica outlet now and buy them both, do! - Bev Pulť (August 31, 2008)




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