The Women. (Theater Review: Vamp, Bitch, Camp, Kitsch)

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The Women * Written by Clare Boothe Luce * Directed by Scott Elliott * Starring Kristen Johnston, Rue McClanahan, Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Tilly, and Jennifer Coolidge * American Airlines Theatre, New York City (through December 30)

Going over the fall schedule, my editor and I agreed that Advocate readers would want to know about the New York premiere of the London hit musical Mamma Mia!--featuring the songs of ABBA--and the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of Clare Boothe Luce's The Women. Neither of these shows has any gay content to speak of. (The Women has a director, Scott Elliott, and costume designer, Isaac Mizrahi, who are gay, but that's true of half the shows on Broadway anytime.) So how did we know these shows would be hot gay tickets?

The occasion raises anew the fascinating and not entirely comfortable question, Is there such a thing as gay taste? Susan Sontag wrote her most famous essay, "Notes on Camp," in 1964, but has nothing changed since then? Let's look at the two shows in question.

Mamma Mia! is an old-fashioned book musical written by Catherine Johnson and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, loosely based on the 1968 movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. Proudly independent Donna Sheridan (Louise Pitre), once a semihippie rock singer, has raised her daughter, Sophie (Tina Maddigan), alone. Now Sophie's getting married, and in an attempt to meet her real father she's invited three of her mother's former boyfriends to the wedding on a Greek island. Among the foreseeable scenes of drama, comedy, and pathos, Johnson has found room for 22 ABBA songs, much the same way that recent musicals Crazy for You and My One and Only created new uses for old Gershwin tunes.

Although the lyrics are uniformly insipid and fit the story about as well as those from any 1930s Rodgers and Hart musical (which is just barely), for those of us who grew up with ABBA, there's something thrilling about hearing "SOS" and "Take a Chance on Me" blasting from a Broadway stage. Some of Anthony Van Laast's choreography is pretty campy, and one of the would-be dads turns out to be gay, but mostly this is a big, schlocky, fun-for-the-whole-family Broadway musical. …