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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

"Mamma Mia!" is a musical featuring songs by the pop group ABBA; it tells a story of a bride, her mom and her three possible dads. It's been a hit on Broadway since 1999. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: "Mamma Mia!" opened in London in 1999, and on Broadway in 2001.]

Now Bob Mondello says a cast not really known for singing has brought it to the cineplex.

BOB MONDELLO: A big fat Greek wedding is in the offing with guests arriving by the boatload at an island in the Aegean. Love is in the air, as is the music of ABBA. And not on the radio, but on the tip of everyone's tongue, including Meryl Streep as a super-trooper single mom who has met her wedding Waterloo and is sending up an SOS.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mamma Mia!")

Ms. MERYL STREEP (Actress): (As Donna) (Singing) I work all night, I work all day to pay the bills I have to pay.

CHORUS: (Singing) Ain't it sad.

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me.

(Speaking) Don't sit down there.

CHORUS: That's too bad.

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) It's broken.

MONDELLO: What Donna doesn't know just yet is that her daughter has sneaked peeks at a 20-year-old diary, done a little math and posted invitations to three mentioned men in three different cities on the theory that based on the dates in the diary, one of them pretty much has to be her father. And they all show up, and Donna is less than thrilled.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mamma Mia!")

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) Okay, I'm going to - I'm going to arrange for a boat to take you all back to the mainland.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) I have a boat.

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) You have a boat? Good. Get on it. And anchors away. Away, away.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Hey, Donna, it's good to see you.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) It's good to see you.

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) It's good to see you.

MONDELLO: As you're probably gathering, this plot is not being taken terribly seriously. It is mostly a pretext for songs that are mostly a pretext for acting silly.

(Soundbite of song, "Dancing Queen")

MONDELLO: The folks directing, scripting and producing "Mamma Mia!" are the same ones who did the show on Broadway. They are not movie people, and it shows at times. The performers have been encouraged to overdo. But then subtlety is not really what this musical is about.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mamma Mia!")

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) When you're gone...

Mr. PIERCE BROSNAN (Actor): (As Sam Carmichael) (Singing) When you're gone, how can I even try to go on?

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) ...how can I even try to go on?

MONDELLO: The women sing more comfortably than the men: Pierce Brosnan looks like he's in pain during his vocals, but Streep can really belt. Most of them, though, are not trained in acting songs, which means there's a lot of extra pushing and gesticulating. Sometimes - though not always - that's on purpose. If you're going to take an ABBA song and turn it into a one-scene Greek tragedy, for instance, you have to build emotion pretty fast, as the authors do. On the way to the wedding, in telling off a guy for whom she's been carrying a torch for two decades, Meryl Streep's Donna starts conversationally.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mamma Mia!")

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) I don't want to talk because it makes me feel sad. And I understand you've come to shake my hand.

MONDELLO: Then comes the bill.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mamma Mia!")

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) I apologize if it makes you feel bad seeing me so tense, no self-confidence. But you see, the winner takes it all.

MONDELLO: Twenty-three seconds and we're in grand opera territory, which would be more persuasive if you'd felt any real chemistry between Streep and Brosnan. But how could you? They've been singing ABBA songs at each other for two hours. None of which will matter to the 30 million or so baby boomers who made "Mamma Mia!" a stage hit.

Make no mistake, brides and grooms notwithstanding it's the older folks who are central, carousing and acting like kids while their children are so conventional and responsible; they're kind of a snooze. It's the boomer's revenge: second childhood, complete with an end-credit curtain call in goofy outfits. Mamma Mia, here we go again.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mamma Mia!")

Ms. STREEP: (As Donna) (Singing) My, my, how can I resist you? Mamma Mia, does it show again?

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