ABBA’s music, an overwhelmed 20 year old about to marry, three possible dads, and a determined mom, Mamma Mia, is playing at the Orpheum February 7-12 as part of its farewell tour. Since its world premiere in 1999, Mamma Mia has become a cultural phenomenon. The music, a glimpse into the past, tells the timeless story of Donna, a single mom living on a Greek Island trying to make a life for daughter, Sophie, and her. Include a soon approaching wedding and a long lasting secret and you have the fixings for a fast paced, highly energized show. However, Tuesday February 7th, opening night, didn’t quite hit its mark.
The energy of the show seemed a bit slow for the boldness of the show. Some actors just felt dull and disconnected like they forgot to plug their mind and heart into their character. I got the sense of the show being on autopilot, like the freshness of the lines was gone and I was listening to a recording. I found this to be most evident in line delivery. Also, often I felt as though I was watching caricatures, the characters were so blown out of proportion. The energy the show lacked was refocused into bouncy gestures and vocal rollercoasters. Donna, played by Betsy Padamonsky, embodied her role through every element she could possibly utilize. Padamonsky captured Donna’s losing her grasp on everything she’d built for herself. Everytime she sang she had the audience at her fingertips, even with the occasional mic troubles. Her commitment to telling Donna’s story made for one of the realest connections to be made on stage.
The technical elements captivated and redeemed the production. Every inch of the performance burst with color, a portal into the community of this Greek Island. Part of the transformation was the costume design, showcasing vibrant color schemes and adding an additional texture to take in. Every costume looked stunning, fitting their unique body types in their own way. For example, in “Super Trouper” Donna and her two friends wore sparkling white jump suits with 1970’s-style flared arms and legs, each outfit slightly different giving each actor their own individual sense. A time I found the color scheme specifically important was during Sophie’s wedding. She’s in a flowing white gown while those attending the wedding are in shades of pink and orange. This simple choice in conformity settled the audience and gave the wedding a sense of togetherness.
The cast’s chemistry helped to tell the story, it felt as though you were walking through these challenges right there with close friends. As an audience member, being witness to the beauty of young love, but the severity of rushing it; learning to forgive, grow and decide, and leave. These messages could have, at any point, taken a plunge for the deep end, but the show never dipped into a heavy state. Part of this light feel was due to the amount of laughter in the show. Every now and there would be a humorous line, but most of the laughter came from actor’s educated decisions, which helped the show to stay realistic.
Mamma Mia showcased a handful of talent, but I am ultimately disappointed with the performance. The absence of energy caused it to drag. I enjoyed the costume design, but would have liked to see less cheesy characters living within them. If not for anything else, this show is worth seeing because it keeps the audience smiling and tells the timeless story of becoming your own person.