You will be dancing in the aisles during this fun and flirty production.
As far as jukebox musicals go, Mamma Mia! is one of them that gets it right. The music of ABBA is timeless. The story, written by Catherine Johnson with help from ABBA members Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus, is just as memorable. Take these two elements, throw in that Muny magic and you will be dancing in the aisles during this fun and flirty production.
The story is simple enough: Set on the gorgeous Greek island of Kalokairi, Sophie and Sky are set to be wed. Sophie learns that one of three men could possibly be her father, so she invites each of them to her wedding much to the chagrin of her independent mother, Donna. As Sam, Harry, and Bill make their way to the island, so do Sophie and Tanya, Donna’s best friends. As the group gets bigger, storylines weave and collide making Sophie’s quest to find her real father both comical and intriguing.
The other star of the show is the amazing music of ABBA. Narrative in nature, ABBA’s songs are the highlight of the production—as they should be. Not only do they help bring the story to life, they transport me back to my youth when I heard their music for the first time. Songs like, “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes It All,” and “Waterloo” are magical creations that make you smile and warm your heart.
This production of Mamma Mia! is a tale of two acts. The first act had a few gaffes both technically and vocally, but this is easy to chalk up to a short staging time. Young Frankenstein just ended on Tuesday, so they only had one and a half days to get this show on the stage. Both the actors’ microphone levels and the orchestra levels need to be seamless, but there were a few times one was way too soft and the other way too loud. Julia Murney, as Donna, seemed to be off just a half-beat from the orchestra during all her vocals in the first half. Throw in a couple feedback loops and that was all that was wrong with the first act. All of these things are easily fixable, and I expect after another performance or two they will quickly be spot-on. The second act seemed to get into the groove as the band and cast appeared to gel during the big numbers. Technically, the second act appeared to move swifter and was more polished as well.
Brittany Zeinstra, who played Sophie, gave an effervescent and even-keeled performance. Her vocals were delightful to hear, and she held her own during the impressive group choreography. While Murney may have struggled in the first act, she completely owned the stage in the second act with her mesmerizing performance of “The Winner Takes It All.” She stood her ground center stage and belted out the ballad with an overabundance of passion and talent. This performance alone was the highlight of the night.
Ben Nordstrom in the role of Harry Bright was charming with Bright’s British accent. Nordstrom always delivers the goods, and I was thrilled to see him playing his role with such cheeky humor. As Sam Carmichael, Mike McGowan sizzled on the stage with his Australian accent. His impressive stature matched his remarkable vocal talent. My favorite of the three dads was Justin Guarini—yes THAT Justin Guarini—as Sam Carmichael. While Guarini may not have snatched the crown during the first season of American Idol, his vocal talent and dashing good looks were put to good use in making his performance stand out.
The rest of the ensemble cast, including Jenny Powers as Tanya and Ann Harada as Rosie, was outstanding. Choreographer Jessica Hartman had her hands full with a cast of over 40 to move around the stage. Hartman is a creative force to be reckoned with as she created some very special moments onstage. The choreography during the big numbers was both inspiring and a joy to watch.
Here’s a note from me as a theatre-goer: Please stay until after the curtain call. This show, in particular, has a mini-show with gorgeous costumes and wonderful choreography that the people who wanted to “beat the traffic” missed. When people leave early, it is a distraction. Do the right thing and stay until the end.
The Muny’s Mamma Mia! is a wonderful show full of legendary music and some very impressive performances. Take a trip down memory lane and dance your ass off to some legendary disco classics. While the show does have a few “blue” moments, take the kids and allow the next generation to be inspired by ABBA just like I was back in the ‘70s; it is your disco duty! | Jim Ryan
Mamma Mia! runs through July 28. For ticket information, visit http://www.muny.org/, and be sure to grab tickets to the next show, Fiddler on the Roof while you’re there! Fiddler runs July 30 through August 5.