Two shows couldn’t be more different — or more Vegas

‘Mamma Mia,’ ‘Toxic Audio’ share only fast pace, upbeat mood

Wed, Feb 20, 2008 (2 a.m.)

The two shows are only a little more than a mile apart on the Strip but light years from each other in concept, execution and appeal.

One’s new, the other old — at least by local standards. “Toxic Audio” debuted Jan. 26 at Planet Hollywood, and “Mamma Mia!” celebrated its fifth anniversary at Mandalay Bay last week.

Both represent the type of show that has the highest survival rate in Las Vegas — upbeat, fast-paced, entertaining without being too thought-provoking.

A feel-good musical or revue is worth its weight in poker chips.

‘Mamma Mia!’

“Mamma Mia!” is for those who love the simple, catchy songs of ABBA. Even if you aren’t wild about the music, it has a heartwarming story line and is full of laughs.

The musical is such a natural fit for Las Vegas one has to wonder why MGM Mirage wants to end its run. The production was scheduled to close in August but was given a reprieve until Jan. 4. There had been talk that a new Cirque du Soleil production would replace the show, but a Cirque spokesman says it was just in the discussion stage, nothing definite. As good as most of the Cirque productions are, there is room for other shows in the MGM family — although it seems as if the company is determined to have a Cirque at each of its properties.

The latest cast of “Mamma Mia!” is the best — a well-balanced, well-oiled machine that knows when the laughs are going to come and with cast members who don’t step on each other’s lines.

Vicki Van Tassel and Robin Baxter, who portray the best friends of lead character Donna Sheridan, probably should be arrested for stealing the show. They overplay their roles perfectly, to the delight of the audience.

Carol Linnea Johnson plays the role of Donna so naturally you’d think she’d been doing it her whole life — and it may seem that way to some. She was Donna on Broadway for a year before coming to Las Vegas and has held the spot for the past two years here.

Victor Wallace is the best Sam Carmichael yet, which isn’t too surprising. For the first two years of the show Wallace was Sky, the man who runs away with Sophie, Donna’s daughter. He watched several male leads play the role before he left the show in 2005. When he rejoined the cast a few weeks ago he did so as Sam, playing him a little looser, a lot more at ease with the part.


‘Toxic Audio’

“Toxic” is geared to a younger, hipper crowd, but can be enjoyed by anyone who likes a quirky, offbeat show in the vein of “Stomp Out Loud,” “Blue Man Group” or Carrot Top.

It’s a hypershow that is even faster paced than “Mamma Mia!” — so fast, in fact, that I hope it doesn’t burn itself out racing around in overdrive. It hits the ground running and rarely slows down, although it hits a couple of dips in the road along the way with routines that don’t work as well as they might.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it had a limited run at the Luxor in late 2005. The cast isn’t entirely the same, but some of the bits in the show are. Why mess with success? The group was created in Florida in 1998 before moving to the off-Broadway John Houseman Theater, where it won the 2004 Drama Desk Award for outstanding unique theatrical experience.

The show features five a cappella vocalists — Tim Jones, Rene Ruiz, Paul Sperrazza, Christine Vienna and Meg Waski — who do strange things with their voices in addition to singing songs as diverse as Harry Nilsson’s “(Put the Lime in the) Coconut,” Michael Jackson’s “Killer,” Mama Cass’ “Dream a Little Dream” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.”

While some sing, others use their voices to create the sounds of musical instruments.

There’s a lot of energy in the show and the audience responds enthusiastically, awed by what can be done with the voice — coughing, wheezing, sneezing somehow becomes a kind of weird symphony. The melodious sound of a name such as Pat Boone becomes a musical interlude.

“Mamma Mia!” and “Toxic Audio” take entirely different approaches to the lighter side of entertainment, but both accomplish their purpose — a fun night out.