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Comic roles rule in touring ‘Mamma Mia!’

Some things are best served on the stage, and “Mamma Mia!” is one of them.

Some things are best served on the stage, and “Mamma Mia!” is one of them. You can feel free to disagree with me because I only managed to endure about 15 excruciating minutes of the movie — on DVD — before I gave up on it.

The show that twists an utterly forgettable plot around a bunch of ABBA hits is at the Orpheum Theatre this week, and it’s an entertaining engine of a show — proving that 40 million people have gotten their money’s worth during the past decade.

In a way, “Mamma Mia!” is a throwback to the old-fashioned American stage musical. It’s a sewn-together patchwork of swell numbers and show-stoppers, along with good comedy bits and tolerable straight parts that are used to string things along but never really capture our sympathy.

Put this stuff into a movie and here’s what you get: A disco version of “Fantasy Island.”

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I have to say there were a lot of things that bothered me about the touring show now at the Orpheum. Heavy amplification is now standard for big-venue musicals, but it’s still disconcerting to have to search the stage for moving mouths to match with the sounds coming out of loudspeakers. That’s assuming mouths are really moving; backup voices accompany every soloist and who knows if they’re real-time or recorded.

The female lead in Tuesday’s opening performance was played by understudy Jane Cooke as Donna (that’s the Meryl Streep part in the movie, for those of you who endured it). Cooke was solid in the acting and choreographic departments — this is a show that cracks with precision — but she was less convincing as a vocalist and was seriously underpowered in what is supposed to be her big show-stopper, “The Winner Takes It All.”

As might be expected, the comic roles ruled. Kittra Wynn Coomer and Rachel Tyler played Donna’s two randy cougar girlfriends and they are superb, the kind of physically comic mavens who would have been stars of vaudeville. Liana Hunt was sweet and girly as the bride looking for a father to give her away, and her intended groom, played by hunky David Raimo, got a squeal from teens in the audience when he took off his shirt.

Yeah, it’s that kind of show.

The three suspected fathers included John Sanders in the thankless role as the serious guy who really loves Donna; Matthew Ashford as the novelist who is so shallowly drawn that he almost disappears until an hilarious seduction number near the end of the show; and Vincent Corazza (a fabulous ballad singer) as the rocker who grew up to become a banker.

Nobody will ever be able to call “Mama Mia!” high art. But it’s a mild and fun evening. Just make sure nobody near you thinks it’s time for karaoke. Believe me, it can happen.

“Mamma Mia!” runs through Sunday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, including nightly performances and matinees on Saturday and Sunday. For information and tickets, go here.