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‘Mamma Mia!: The Sing-Along Edition’ is irresistible

Friday night and the lights are low Looking out for the place to go Where they play the right music, getting in the swing…

I don’t sing.

Actually, I

can’t

sing.

Before I’d try karaoke I’d need to know that everyone else in the room was even more wasted than I was.

At funerals and weddings I fake it, silently mouthing the words to the hymns. (Also, I’m usually reading ahead to see if I agree with the lyrics.)

So the idea of movie musical sing-alongs was lost on me.

Or so I thought.

On Wednesday the people at Universal Studios, which is behind “Mamma Mia!: The Sing-Along Edition” opening today, invited fans of the movie and some media types to a preview screening.

It’s the same film that opened here six weeks ago, except now the lyrics are splashed across the screen in big colorful letters. The idea is that you can sing along with Meryl Streep and the other cast members.

The cynic in me wondered if this wasn’t just an effort to squeeze a few more bucks out of a film that already has sold $333 million in tickets.

But duty called. Nights like this are why I earn the big bucks.

Anybody could be that guy Night is young and the music’s high With a bit of rock music, everything is fine You’re in the mood for a dance And when you get the chance ….

“Mamma Mia!” is a worldwide stage phenomenon that has been seen by more than 30 million people in 170 cities — and a lot of that was repeat business. The show’s fans are rabid.

It’s a ridiculous story — a bohemian named Donna runs a hotel on a Greek island with her daughter, Sophie. Now Sophie is getting married and, having sneaked a peek at Mom’s old diary, she realizes that one of three men may be her father.

So she surreptitiously sends out wedding invitations to the three unsuspecting middle-aged guys who haven’t seen Donna in 20 years.

But the story isn’t important. The music is.

“Mamma Mia!” incorporates a slew of songs by ABBA, the Swedish pop group that ruled the charts in the ’70s. Unless you listen to nothing but right-wing radio you already know tunes like “Dancing Queen,” “S.O.S.,” “Money, Money, Money” and “Take a Chance on Me.”

They’re as tuneful as they are lyrically suspect (this is what happens when you write lyrics in a second language), and once heard they burrow into your brain and won’t let go.

About 130 folks showed up at AMC’s Town Center for the sing-along’s KC debut. Universal encouraged us to pick up a plastic tiara and brightly colored chicken-feather boa from a cardboard box just inside the auditorium door. Reps told us that looking ridiculous might shrink our inhibitions.

Just about everybody took advantage of these mood enhancers — couples (a distinct minority in this crowd), obvious gatherings of girlfriends (many on their second or third screening of the film) and especially a big contingent of men who took up most of two rows in the middle.

Turns out they were members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus, invited by the movie company to help the musically challenged get into the swing of things.

I asked Kelly Marzett, a 16-year veteran of the chorus (he sings tenor), if he were familiar with ABBA’s songs.

He looked at me as if I’d just fallen off a turnip truck.

Duh

!!!” he said.

Then Marzett proudly informed me that he’d seen the original London stage production of the play.

“Before it was cool to have seen it,” he said.

In fact, ABBA was one of the big musical influences of his youth.

“Music brings back memories,” Marzett said. “Good times. What you were doing when the songs came out. Old times and old friends.

“Besides, ‘Dancing Queen’ is a song that all gay men adore. That and ‘Does Your Mother Know.’

“Think about it.”

I would have, but the movie was starting.

“Feel free to sing along,” studio representative Debby Brookstein told us before the lights went down. “Dance in the aisles if you like. We want to encourage you to get into the movie.”

Easier said than done.

For the first few songs only the 30 members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus seemed to be singing along with the actors. The rest of us sat like stones, intimidated.

I sat in front of Marzett. Even if you can’t sing, being surrounded by people who can is a moving experience. I mean, these dudes were even singing harmony.

Thirty minutes into the movie, Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters and a huge chorus of Greek peasant women began singing “Mamma Mia!” — and dancing all over their picturesque island.

At that point the audience began to rock. Folks sang, laughed, clapped along with the music. In front of me heads bobbed in four-four time.

And at the end of the number the theater erupted in applause. After that, ovations followed every musical number.

I once had a friend who maintained that people who applaud movies probably also talk to their radios. I thought of him for a moment, then forgot him. I was too busy clapping madly.

I’d caught the theater’s infectious buzz created by all those live voices, and I was grinning at the screen like the village idiot.

A few numbers later I realized that Pierce Brosnan’s rendition of “S.O.S.” — one of the movie’s weak points when I first saw it last month — sounds much better when he’s accompanied by 30 gay guys in the audience.

That’s when I started singing, too.

Not really loud. I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s fun.

Just enough to feel part of the party.

You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life See that girl, watch that scene, diggin’ the dancing queen.
OH, MAMMA!

•“Mamma Mia!: The Sing-Along Edition” opens today at AMC Town Center, Barrywoods and Independence theaters.

•To hear some of the sing-along and read our original ★★★ review, go to

KansasCity.com/fyi

.

•Since the movie opened July 18, it has made $126 million in the U.S. ($333 million worldwide), ranking 12th (for now) in summertime box office. It cost only $52 million to make. More about box-office winners

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