In my opinion, there are three substantial “musts” for any good show- strong tech, strong energy, and a strong leading role. Unfortunately, Mama Mia lacked all three. From the moment Sophie Sheridan, played by Lizzie Markson, entered the stage and began to sing, I was immediately disappointed by the casting choice. I give Markson credit for maintaining Sophie’s youthful spunk and naiveness, her over-acting made Sophie unlikeable from the start. Mama Mia is a cheesy, over-the-top musical, I understand that, but there is a fine line between over-the-top and obnoxious, that Markson got dangerously close to crossing.
There were good aspects to some of the tech elements, however the lighting seemed to largely consist of a single spotlight, as if they ran out of time to finish tech. This was distracting at times because it took me out of the moment and out of the setting, but I got used to it after a while.
The cast had energy, but overall it was lacking the general spunk that the show radiates. Growing up listening to ABBA, I was expecting the up-beat, “get up and dance along” type of energy that I always feel listening to the music, but it didn’t always get there. That’s not to say it was never there, however. In several songs, Anthony Van Laast’s dazzling choreography made it hard not to enjoy yourself, and it was clear that the actors felt the same way. One clear standout was Lay All Your Love on Me when all the male cast member entered the stage singing and dancing in full scuba gear. It was clear they were enjoying themselves and their energy was infectious, it just did not last the entire show and left the show repetitive and almost boring.
Mentioning the areas of excellence is just as important as mentioning the failures, however, and there were several. While I didn’t necessarily agree with every character choice, I did admire how each actor brought their character to life and differentiated themselves from each other, keeping it interesting. This was done particularly well by each trio, and by this I mean the three ‘dads’ and the three sisters. Each ‘father’ character is essentially the same in structure; a single, goofy but loveable man, who made a mistake and may have a daughter who he will grow to love. Their similarities have the potential to make each character blend together, but Shai Yammanee (Sam Carmichael), Marc Cornes (Bill Austin), and Andrew Tebo (Harry Bright) each created beautifully different and dynamic characters that were easy to fall in love with. The same goes for the three sisters Donna, Tanya, and Rosie, played by Betsy Padamonsky, Cashelle Butler, and Sarah Smith. The two trios provided comic relief as well as touching moments that made it easy for the audience to connect with them.
All in all, Mama Mia was a fun night with great music and excellent dancing, however, if you are looking for the best singers or actors out there, this would not be the show to attend. It was a very enjoyable show altogether, however, the harsh and nasal singing done by Markson combined with the overall over-the-top acting made it frequently difficult to enjoy. Mama Mia will be at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through February 12th, so get your tickets fast for a fun night, but don’t expect Broadway quality.