Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Using the hit songs of '70s Swedish pop band ABBA, Mamma Mia! has a fairly simple, but fun, plot. Set in Greece, 20-year-old Sophie is about to be married, but she has no idea who her father is as her mother Donna has never told her. When Sophie finds her mother's diary it makes it seem like there are three men who could be her dad. So Sophie decides to invite all three to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mother, with the goal to not only find out who her father is but hopefully have him rekindle his feelings for Donna. And all of that happens in the first few minutes of the show. With over 20 ABBA songs, a few of which are uncomfortably shoehorned into the musical, this is an upbeat show filled with romance, comedy, and the beating thump of many familiar hit ABBA tunes. It also has an ending that isn't exactly predictable.
The cast for this farewell tour is quite good, though Betsy Padamonsky's Donna is a little too shrill in the first act before blossoming into a much warmer portrayal in act two. As Sophie, Lizzie Markson is the best I've seen in this role, with an appropriate sense of urgency in her desire to find out who her father is but also with shades of fear and confusion that what she will discover won't live up to her dreams. Padamonsky and Markson have good singing voices and form a close, realistic relationship.
The same can be said about Cashelle Butler and Sarah Smith who play Donna's good friends and former singing partners. With Padamonsky, they form a trio that makes it seem like they've been best friends for years, and they harmonize beautifully together. Their vocal work on "Super Trouper" is stunning. Butler and Smith also provide plenty of comic relief which they deliver with expert timing.
As the three potential fathers, Marc Cornes, Andrew Tebo, and Shai Yammanee present clear portrayals of these three very different men. They all do well in demonstrating their confusion at first as to why they were invited to the wedding, but that eventually blossoms into joy as the idea of being Sophie's possible father comes to fruition.
The direction, choreography, and creative elements are all based on the original London and New York productions. While Mark Thompson's scenic elements are considerably downsized from what you would have seen on Broadway or London's West End, and much smaller than other tours that play Gammage, his costumes are on par with his original designs which are fun, colorful and character specific. Phyllida Lloyd's direction and Catherine Johnson's book make this more than just a bunch of characters singing familiar songs, or a campy karaoke jukebox musical, with developed characters who don't just sing the familiar lyrics. Johnson's script also finds both fun and realistic ways to get into the songs with dialogue that flows naturally and is character specific. Lloyd's direction also ensures that the characters are sincere and truthful. Howard Harrison's beautiful lighting design evokes the various times of day on this Greek island with the use of varying shades of corals, blues, tans and pinks that wash the stage in beautiful images. While there aren't a lot of large ensemble dance numbers in the show, Anthony Van Laast's choreography for the "Voulez-Vous" number that ends act one is a knock out, with tight, synchronized movement for the entire company which ends the act on a huge high.
With such familiar tunes as "S.O.S.," "The Name of the Game," "The Winner Takes It All," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Take a Chance on Me" and "Dancing Queen," Mamma Mia! is a fun and infectious musical that fans of ABBA and fans of romance will enjoy. Is it a great musical? No. But with a talented cast who deliver characters you care about and the non-stop ABBa songs, it sure amounts to a thoroughly enjoyable night out.
Mamma Mia! runs through December 11th, 2016, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.mammamiaontour.com.
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Donna Sheridan: Betsy Padamonsky