Amazingly I had never seen Mamma Mia!, the musical. It enjoyed a 14 year run on Broadway that ended in 2015 and had gone around North America on several tours. Universally I had heard people rave about the show and how much fun they had at it. Maybe I went in with expectations that were too high as I love musical theatre and the music of ABBA, but I thought it was just okay with my favourite part being the three song mini concert the entire cast did at the end.
In Montreal at Place des Arts for just 5 shows, Mamma Mia is a musical built entirely around the music of Swedish group ABBA. Music and lyrics by group members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and book by Catherine Johnson. This go around it is directed by Phyllida Lloyd and arranged by Martin Koch. The 22 songs, many of them chart toppers and still having the ability to fill dance floors, from the ABBA catalogue are the real reason to see Mamma Mia! There is also some great costumes and lighting, but the story itself if rather paper thin.
Donna (Betsy Padamonsky) runs a small hotel and taverna on a Greek island off the mainland. Besides trying to keep her business afloat, it is a rather busy time for the single mother. She and her 20-year-old daughter Sophie (Lizzie Markson) are getting ready for a wedding – Sophie’s! She is marrying Sky (Dustin Harris Smith) and dreams of the perfect wedding. That dream includes being walked down the aisle by her father. The only problem with that last part is that she does not know who her father is.
Taking matters into her own hands, Sophie has looked through her mother’s diary from 1979 and found three men who could be her father. Harry (Andrew Tebo), Bill (Marc Cornes) and Sam (Shai Yammanee) are each sent an invite to the wedding without Donna’s knowledge. Sophie believes that once she lays eyes on the men she will know right off who is her father. Fast forward to mistaken fatherhood and silly moments.
Maybe it is the fact that the production does not provide any showstopping vocals moment like many others. Maybe it was the fact that the band was pretty scaled back. Maybe it was the fact that this was a non-equity production and there were several (shall we call them) “unseasoned” actors to be found within the cast. Maybe a combination of all that. I just never got swept up into the largely upbeat music. There was some energy missing. Some songs even fell flat.
The best parts of the evening were when Donna’s longtime friends, Tanya (Sarah Smith) and Rosie (Cashelle Butler) were onstage. One of the rare times in which I laughed was during the Rosie/Bill number “Take a Chance on Me”. Another highlight was when all the guys were getting ready to head off to the stag party and did a dance number in flippers and diving suits. That kind of fun and frivolity was what I came expecting and it did not happen often enough.
That being said the show was enjoyed by those in attendance. Mamma Mia is pretty much bulletproof. A standing ovation was given at the end and most remained standing and dancing when the cast came back on to perform “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia”. Pop culture does rule!