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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

"Mamma Mia!" in French and on tour

Imagine for one moment you hadn't seen the title of this piece, and instead you were asked to sing - in English - the lyrics of "Dis oui, dis oui, dis oui, dis oui, dis oui", "Un homme après minuit", or "Viens tenter ta chance".

How would you fare?

Would you even know which songs you were being asked to sing?

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

Just for the record (ouch) they are in order, "I do, I do, I do, I do, I do," "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" and "Take a chance on me".

Yes welcome to Abba sung in French.

After a hugely successful two-year run at Le Théâtre Mogador in Paris, "Mamma Mia!" is on tour - packing 'em in at every stop.

The whole shebang kicked off in September 2012 and is due to wrap up at the beginning of March.

There's no need to recap the rather thin plot. You're probably all familiar with either the original London show which opened back in (gulp) 1999 or one of the many international productions, and most probably the 2008 (ah, that's better) film starring Meryl Streep.

It was and remains a vehicle for Abba songs - and there's nothing wrong with that.

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

So what of the French version of the "Worldwide smash hit"?

Well it lives up to the positive reviews it has received. The acting, although not brilliant, isn't required to be. Hence the "hammed up" and ever-so-slightly camp aspect in no way detracts from enjoying it for what it is - a musical.

The choreography is simple but fun and effective and the set design colourful. The voices are good, but not great - one thing perhaps in the cast's favour is that they're most definitely not trying to be Abba. Well they couldn't really.

All in all it remains as karoake-inspired as ever (sorry for fans of either the stage musical or the film) with one major exception of course. It's in French.

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

Unless you've surfed the Net beforehand to take a gander at the lyrics and maybe memorise them, or bought the album, then seeing and hearing such familiar songs without being able to join in, might come as something of a shock.

Now, no matter how much of an Abba fan you might be, and regardless of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson's undoubted talent for writing some pretty good pop tunes for them, along with Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, to belt out, the lyrics were sometimes to out this kindly..."dodgy".

Catchy, the tunes definitely were: well crafted and produced too. But the words?

Well, let's be honest. They weren't and probably were never meant to be (too) deep. After all, we're talking pop here.

Clever, yes. But from the very first time we all heard, "My my at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender, Oh yeah and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way. The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself" it was clear this was light and fluffy at its commercially rhyming best.

Funnily enough though, the real strength of the French version of "Mamma Mia!" probably lies in the lyrics.

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

The dialogue (such as it is - see the French and Saunders film parody clip at the end for perhaps the fairest appraisal) was translated by Stéphane Laporte and the all-important songs - although they also needed the seal of approval from Ulvaeus -  by Nicolas Nebot.

"I sent him (Ulvaeus) my translations and he was especially keen to keep the sonority and the catchiness of the phraseology," Nebot said.

"He didn't want a word-for-word translation."

And Ulvaeus, along with audiences in France, didn't get it either.

Instead Nebot has managed to breathe new life into old favourites and in the process, give an additional pleasure.

Now this will only work if your French is up to it, but look at what happens to the beginning of "The winner takes it all" or "La loi du plus fort".

"I don't wanna talk
About things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

The winner takes it all
The loser's standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny"

"Je n' veux plus parler
De ce vide entre nous
J'ai purgé ma peine
C'est d'l'histoire ancienne
J'ai tentè ma chance
Tu as jouè tes atouts
Sans aucun regret
Les jeux étaient faits

C'est la loi du plus fort
Moi je m'incline encore
Et derrière la victoire
Je lis ton histoire"

All right already, not the stuff of which either great literature or poetry are made but francophone Abba fans (and there surely must be a fair few based on the success of the musical since it opened) will most certainly get a kick hearing an old favourite revisited.

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