Also see Tracy's review of Noel and Gertie
As the song goes, “Mamma mia, here I go again. My my, how can I resist you?” It seems that Washington audiences can’t resist flocking to the touring production of the Broadway hit, Mamma Mia!. Currently running at National Theatre, the international sensation is making a return visit to the DC area.
With a pop score comprised of Abba songs and a paper thin plotline, it would seem that Mamma Mia! would be bubblegum for the theatergoer's soul. However, there are times when a good piece of Bazooka can go a long way.
This tour is much improved from last year’s production. The key difference is the cast - the show itself has not changed. Donna, a single mother living on a Greek island, is preparing for the upcoming nuptials of her daughter, Sophie. Sophie, having never known her paternity, invites three possible fathers to her wedding. Now all she has to do is figure out which one is Daddy.
As Donna, Jeanine Morick is the centerpiece of the show. She demands attention and gets it. She portrays Donna as warm but strong and shows off a killer singing voice. As her daughter Sophie, Chilina Kennedy is quite engaging. Vocally, she doesn’t match Morick. However, she exhibits immense personality and extremely strong acting and dance skills.
Donna’s pals Rosie and Tanya provide some of the most entertaining moments in the show. Rosalyn Rahn Kerins plays Rosie as independent but fun, and Cynthia Sophiea displays a delicious wit and is the epitome of the gay divorcée.
The three potential fathers are played very well by Gary P. Lynch (Sam Carmichael), Craig Bennett (Bill Austin) and Michael DeVries (Harry Bright). Both Lynch and Bennett portrayed the same roles when Mamma Mia! last played DC. This time around, Lynch’s Sam is a bit stiffer but Bennett’s Bill is consistent with his prior appearance and he gives a knockout performance.
Director Phyllida Lloyd has shaped the piece into one big ball of energy. As a whole, the musical moves well and the vivacious feel of the show seeps across the footlights and into the audience despite Catherine Johnson’s rather predictable book. The score by Abba’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus should be familiar to anyone who listened to popular radio during the '70s and early '80s. It includes some enjoyable tunes such as “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper” and the title song.
The production design by Mark Thompson along with Howard Harrison’s lighting design adds to the vibrancy of the show. The picture is completed by Anthony Van Laast’s colorful costume designs.
The best thing about Mamma Mia! is it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. It is what it is – a light-hearted musical that has mass appeal. It is big, bright and commercial and it doesn’t apologize for it. There is nothing wrong with that as long as the show is done well. Fortunately, the folks at Mamma Mia! got it right. Mamma Mia! runs at National Theatre through January 18th.
The National Theatre
Cast List (in order of appearance)
Sophie Sheridan: Chilina Kennedy