Mama Mia!, originally written by Catherine Johnson and composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, is a unique musical, to say the very least. Premiered in 1999, the numbers are based on songs of the 1970’s stockholm-based pop band ABBA. The upbeat soundtrack can be accredited for its popularity (certainly not the plot), which has lead to innumerable global tours, an iconic film version, as well as a fourteen year long run on Broadway! This version of the musical at the Orpheum is an entertaining, fun musical, but, in my opinion, not anything brilliant. Especially the acting.
The loveable character Sophie (Lizzie Markson) began the show on opening night rather disappointingly. Her voice felt weak, like a luxury car with unexpectedly low horsepower. It didn’t feel like a powerful or steady start to Mama Mia! Her voice quality improved as the show progressed, perhaps after her voice warmed up a little bit. Unfortunately, sometimes her performance more resembled the behavior of a sixth grade girl rather than a twenty year old. Certainly there’s undeniable immaturity involved in the fundamental character’s actions, but it felt more like overacting than anything in this performance. I have to say, I adored “Donna and the Dominos” (Betsy Padamonsky, Sarah Smith, and Cashelle Butler). The music was by far the best part and kept me from playing the cynic throughout the show. Perhaps due to the summer of seventh grade when this soundtrack was all I listened to, the songs filled me with glee and nostalgia. All I’ll say is Lay All Your Love on Me is a delightful number with quite unique choreography and costumes.
The set was simple and effective. Made up of two walls, they proved to be versatile props that made for smooth, even graceful transitions. I did not see the purpose to one prop, a foliage looking piece that hung suspended from the ceiling of the stage. It did not dramatically shift attention, nor establish the setting for new scene. It felt irrelevant and unnecessary. The ligting, designed by Howard Harrison, remained simple for most the show, projecting different hues of blue on the backdrop to simulate the ocean. Occasionally, they would turn to pink to convey time of day, but also character emotion. While they most were simple, they livened the stage during the pop numbers, creating a disco effect. The costumes made all the difference during this show. Especially from Donna and her two friends, audience members can easily detect the 70’s influence, and, boy, did the groomsmen sure look dapper before the bachelor party.
I felt that the humor in the show was not only crude, but not clever enough to get away with being crude. Tanya “the gold digger” receives a sleazy stamp from the beginning. I guess a promiscuous character can be archetypal, but they portrayed her as a stupid slut and paired her with graphic oral sex imagery. I’m no puritan and such humor can be funny, but this joke was sophomoric and only there to try too hard. Humor was better received through the choreography, created by Anthony Van Laast, through the big gestures and animated movements.
In conclusion and, in my humble opinion, the show had weak links, particularly the acting. Luckily, the music redeems the show, as well as the choreography. It was worth the money several years ago to watch it, and it’s worth the money still today.