The orchestra blares, the crowed goes wild, and the curtain rises. Even the tech guys at the back of the house cannot resist jamming out to Mamma Mia’s ABBA medley overture. Before seeing Mamma Mia, I had heard nothing but negative comments about the show, coming from people who had seen it on previous tours. Thus I entered the Orpheum Theatre on Tuesday night with very low expectations for what I was about to see. And I was blown away.
Where to even begin? The singing was phenomenal, the dancing was great, the set was simple yet effective, the lighting achieved its goal of aiding the audience, and the costumes were beautiful. Sure, the plot is on the cheesy side and occasionally there is some apparent over-acting, but these just add to the fun, upbeat light-heartedness of the show.
The show, which takes place on a Greek island, follows the story of Sophie Sheridan (Chelsea Williams) who is engaged to be married and her mother, Donna (Georgia Kate Haege). Sophie’s one dream is to have her father walk her down the aisle and, in attempt to make this happen, she invites three possible fathers to the island, in hopes that she will simply know which one is him. Harry Bright (Mark A. Harmon), Bill Austin (Michael Colavolpe), and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Drushal), her three potential fathers, arrive, and chaos ensues. As Sophie tries to identify her real dad and Donna tries to comprehend why these three men from her past have all suddenly showed up at the same time, the wedding seems on the verge of falling apart and the search for truth threatens to tear Sophie away from her mother and her love.
From the slow, sweet songs such as “I Have a Dream,” “Thank You for the Music,” and “Our Last Summer” to the upbeat songs that make you want to get up and dance, such as “Dancing Queen,” “Voulez-Vous,” and “Lay All Your Love on Me,” each number was perfected and engaging. However, one thing that I found to be a bit tacky was the frequency with which there were people singing from off stage. It was obvious, particularly when there was only one character onstage singing, and often distracting. Nevertheless, every one of the actors sang flawlessly, and the music was spectacular.
The dancing was also practically perfect, complete with flips, Russian jumps, and men traipsing around in scuba-gear. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography portrayed the care-free attitude of the islanders and also added intensity, humor, and spunk to the production.
The set, composed of two mobile pieces, is rearranged periodically to represent the taverna, the inside of Sophie’s room, Donna’s room, and other settings. This simple yet elegant design facilitates quick transitions and directs the focus toward the actors, rather than adding distraction. Similarly, the lighting aids the audience’s ability to find a focus and cleverly makes clear when a song is a soliloquy as opposed to a conversation in singing form.
The costumes also added to the delightfulness, with highlights including Donna and the Dynamos’ flashy ABBA-inspired costumes, men dressed in wetsuits, and scenes in which the entire company was dressed in the same color scheme to accent the scene.
Although occasionally there was some over-acting, particularly from Emily Price in the role of Ali, it added to the comedy and light-heartedness of the performance. Overall the show was great fun, songs, dances, set, lighting, and costumes included. If you are looking for a fun, upbeat night at the theater, Mamma Mia is the show for you!