Having listened to the CD before seeing the film, I can't tell how well the numbers actually work in context or how strongly they'll differ in conception from the Broadway musical. I can say that there has been some slight rejiggering of the songs' order from screen to stage, a handful of deletions (nope, you won't be hearing "Knowing Me, Knowing You"), and most notably, the addition of ABBA's 1981 ballad "When All Is Said and Done" as a sort of 11-o-clock duet for Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan (who bears a slightly less-than-pleasant aural resemblance to Bob Dylan) as former lovers Donna and Sam.
For the most part, anyway, you can't be 100 percent sure who's singing what, since ABBA co-founders Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have produced, mixed, and mastered the CD in a way that makes the songs sound as much like the originals as possible. As a result, these tunes become the kind of singalong, dancealong hits that made the songs rocket to the top of the charts in the first place. (However, you will need to provide your own hair brush or blow dryer!)
Those listeners/viewers who are surprised by Streep's casting in the title role of Donna, the former rock band singer turned Greek taverna owner, are simply unaware of her history. She handled Brecht in Broadway's Happy End and the Public's Mother Courage, and shone vocally in the film Postcards from the Edge. (And if you ever rent Silkwood, it's her magnificent version of "Amazing Grace" you hear over the end credits.)
Here, Streep's voice is alternately sweet and strong -- especially on the irressistible title track -- and she never seems to be condescending to the material. True, her rendition of the musical's big ballad "The Winner Takes It All" pales slightly against Broadway powerhouses Louise Pitre (who originated the role of Donna here) and Carolee Carmello (the current portrayer); but it's still pretty effective, thanks both to an impressive belt and Streep's peerless acting chops. As her best friends -- and former "Dynamos" -- Julie Walters and Christine Baranski mostly provide necessary harmonies, although Baranski's trademark growl enlivens "Does Your Mother Know."
The show's other three male stars, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, and former History Boys hunk Dominic Cooper, don't get much to do vocally, but no one embarrasses himself. Indeed, the soundtrack's shining star ends up being Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, Donna's soon-to-be-married daughter. She duets beautifully with Streep on "Slipping Through My Fingers"; manages to wring genuine emotion out of "I Have a Dream"; and brings real feeling to "The Name of the Game" (which has been smartly reconceived as a solo). Her excellent version of "Thank You for the Music" (also performed as a solo) is a bonus track, so don't turn off the disc too quickly.
Obviously, if you're not a fan of ABBA, there's no need to add this CD to your collection. But if you are, go spend your money, money, money on Mamma Mia! and you won't be sorry, sorry, sorry.
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