Photo by Joan Marcus
I woke up with “Money, Money, Money” from ABBA stuck in my head. That can only mean one thing, and no, it’s not that I became a huge ABBA fan overnight– I got to see Mamma Mia! The Musical on Tuesday night. I’ll be honest: I’ve never willingly put an ABBA record on, but I have, on multiple occasions, willingly watched the Mamma Mia! movie, and it’s definitely one of my favorites. I know that saying that will probably get my “hardcore” card revoked, but I don’t care. Mamma Mia! is one of those feel-good movies, and I was super excited to see it translated into a Broadway musical.
For those of you who have been resistant to Mamma Mia! and have no clue what this story is about, let me give you a little backstory. Mamma Mia! is a musical written by Catherine Johnson and based on songs recorded by ABBA. It started on Broadway back in 1999 and has now been adapted into a film starring everyone from Meryl Streep to Pierce Brosnan (seriously, check out the movie if you haven’t). The story is about a young lady who finds her mother’s diary and is determined to figure out who her father is by inviting the three men mentioned in the diary around the time her mom got pregnant. The mother is a strong, independent woman who did such a great job raising Sophie (the daughter) on her own. The mother (Donna) becomes stressed and hurt when she realizes that her daughter went behind her back and invited these men to her wedding. Long story short, the men show up unbeknownst to Donna, and as Sophie tries to figure out which one is her dad, hijinks ensue. I know there’s a lot more to the story but you’re not here to read a dissertation on Mamma Mia!, you’re here to read about the performance I witnessed on Tuesday night so let’s jump into that.
First off is the set. The set for this musical was simple, with just two building structures that were turned and twisted to portray different settings. Beyond that, there wasn’t much, but I kind of loved that. The constant shifting of these structures, along with the addition and subtractions of tables and chairs, somehow set the stage perfectly when mixed with the colorful background portraying the beautiful skies of Greece (where this all takes place). After seeing Aladdin just a couple of months ago, I think I was expecting something a bit more elaborate because, well, that set was insane at times. Still, the simplicity of the set behind Mamma Mia! really let the performers shine, as there was nothing to distract you from their talent.
On the talent- it was on point on Tuesday night. Do you ever just watch a musical and wonder what came first, the love for this particular play or just the love for theatre? I only ask that because everyone down to all of the supporting roles in this twenty-eight-person cast seemed to truly care for their character. Whether they were just there to join in on an infectious group song or were one of the leading characters that drove the story ahead, everyone that graced the stage did it with such a sense of heart and soul that it was, at times, hard to realize that you were just watching a performance, not a good friend getting married while going through the trials and tribulations any twenty-year-old would.
The vocal performances are in line with everything that I just laid out as far as the performances went. Every song was sung with either a sense of strength or a sense of heart (or both), depending on the scene. From triumphant numbers that had me wanting to jump out of my seat and sing along to the softer moments, like when Donna is helping Sophie get ready for the wedding and starts singing “Slipping Through My Fingers”, the music and vocal performances had me feeling a little bit of everything throughout the musical. I laughed, I smiled, I subtly boogied in my seat, and, yes, I cried, but each of those moments was followed by a sheer appreciation for the fact that I was feeling all of these things from my seat rows away from the real action. There’s something to be said about that.
I hate to say anything bad when I had such a stellar night at the theatre, but at the end of the day, I’m a reviewer, and I need to make sure you get the whole story. there was one thing that really irked me throughout the performance. Christine Sherrill (who played Donna Sheridan– the mom) seemed to constantly be ever so slightly behind the beat when singing her solo songs. I get that she was trying to take some liberties with the music and maybe add some flare, but for a musical with such iconic songs that started off as just that, songs, I felt like it was a bit too much. Do not get me wrong- Christine’s voice was absolutely stunning and came with the power and heart that I mentioned earlier I just wish she wouldn’t have tried to add such a personal twist on some of the songs (if that’s what she was trying to do).
I know the musical came first, but I’m a big fan of the movie (if you couldn’t tell). Out of everything that I witnessed throughout the musical, the thing that struck me the hardest was the way this production was able to condense larger-than-life moments from the movie and make them into a simple but bombastic scene on the stage. A perfect example of this is when “the boys” come to grab the future husband for his final “night of freedom.” In the movie, you see boys creeping out of the ocean and grabbing Sky (the soon-to-be husband) while doing this elaborate dance, complete with flippers and face masks. In the movie, this is done on a long dock that extends into the water with people dancing and singing “Lay All Your Love On Me” in unison. Again, a larger-than-life moment in the movie (and one of my favorites) that I never thought would be able to translate into a musical performance. Man, was I wrong. The moment “the boys” started coming out on the stage, complete with flippers and face masks, my heart melted. Although constrained to just a small stage and with very little as far as stage props and backgrounds go, the cast did a brilliant job of making you feel that same bombastic feeling you get when watching the scene in the movie.
Whether you love or hate ABBA – whether you love or hate the Mamma Mia! movie- whether you love or hate the theatre in general– Mamma Mia! the Broadway Musical is a must-see performance that will leave you with your heart feeling full and an infectious ABBA song stuck in your head.