Friday, July 9, 2010

Theater Review - Mamma Mia

Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Virginia

The thing about Mamma Mia is that even if the show is done badly, as long as some well-played ABBA is going on in the background, the show can’t be all bad. In the case of the national tour of the musical, this was not a concern. Almost all of the performances of the show were top-notch.

Having been a New Yorker for 16 years, I’m embarrassed to say that I never did catch this musical on Broadway. What can I say? Too many musicals, so little time. However, I did catch the movie which gave me a frame of reference to compare to. Everyone told me that I would enjoy the stage show better than the film; and everybody was right.

Michelle Dawson struck all the right chords with me as Donna Sheridan, the pop singer turned reclusive mom living on an island. Having recalled her work from the Broadway version of Cyrano the Musical (Yes, I was probably the only person in New York City who actually loved that show!), her voice is still powerful and flawless. Along the same lines, Liana Hunt (Sophie Sheridan) stood her ground nicely as the daughter on the verge of getting married and trying to find her real father to walk her down the aisle.

Two character actresses who truly owned their roles were Kittra Wynn Coomer (Rosie) and Rachel Tyler (Tanya) , portraying Donna’s friends and former band members (“Donna’s Dynamos”) who come to support her during her daughter’s wedding. During the “Dancing Queen” number, there was no practical allowance with the road tour for the actors to join the audience members and dance along as in the Broadway show, yet the choreography, staging and comic skills of these ladies was so much fun that I didn’t even notice until much later. Never a dull moment with these two!

Anyone who is truly familiar with Matthew Ashford’s portrayal of Jack Deveraux from Days of Our Lives knows that this actor is a master at charm and comic timing. Again, he does not disappoint as Bill Austin, the adventure-loving commitment-phobe who suspects that he may be Sophie‘s father. The duet to “Take A Chance On Me” between Bill and Rosie was so much fun that I really wish I had a recording of it where I could watch it again. The two of them had a classic romantic chemistry that had the whole audience cheering.

If there was a weak link in this cast, I would have to say it was John Sanders (Sam Carmichael). Since his role doesn’t have the comic pizzazz of the other two “fathers”, he really needs to have charisma to stand out and be Donna’s true love interest. While I can say that his vocal skills are far superior to Pierce Brosnan’s from the movie version, the rest of his performance fell flat for me.

Given that, the choreography, direction and staging were all superb. I was sweating buckets in 100 degree heat and didn’t even mind while the show was going on…so that is testimony to the show’s appeal.

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