BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! Has a Grand Farewell at the FOX This Weekend
MAMMA MIA! officially ended it's farewell tour this past weekend, and it was interesting to see the audience reaction to a show I've seen at least six times. But, I'm a critic. The appeal is obvious really, it's a simple story (book by Catherine Johnson) that allows you to enjoy the undeniably catchy Swedish pop of ABBA (music and lyrics of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson). With the length of time that it's been touring, nationally and internationally, there's no doubt that generations will grow up knowing and loving this music, which, at the time, seemed like a passing fad back in the 1970's and 80's, although I'm not ashamed to admit I own their greatest hits vol. 1 and 2, most of which shows up in the score. The touring show that graced the stage of the Fox Theatre this past weekend (July 28-30) put on a splendid production, as engaging and charming as we've come to expect, and brimming with enough good humor to please everyone.
Catherine Johnson's book offers a simple premise as a framework for the popular songs to hang upon. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie Sheridan sends out three invitations to the men her mother, Donna, had flings with (separately) some 21 years ago. Of course, they don't know why they've been invited, and neither does Donna, which leads to a series of amusing situations that climax with a wedding. Only, things don't quite work out as expected, and that's actually a good thing.
Lizzie Markson makes an attractive and plucky Sophie, and her vocals suit the material well. Dustin Harris Smith also does a good job as her likable beau, Sky. Betsey Padamonsky is especially strong and grounded as Donna, and her interactions with Markson have a genuine feel to them. Padamonsky's vocal range is such that she can hit the lower register for "Money, Money, Money", while still letting a number like "Slipping Through My Fingers' soar. The statuesque Cashelle Butler and the hilarious Sarah Smith (Rosie) do marvelous work throughout, with Rosie's passionate "Take a Chance On Me" bringing down the house.
Andrew Tebo, Marc Cornes, and Shai Yammanee play the three prospective fathers Sophie invites to her nuptials. Tebo draws a lot of laughs with his "Harry Headbanger" routine as Harry Bright, while Cornes gamely fills the role of writer/adventurer Bill Austin. Yammanee is a very nice match as Donna's lost love, Sam Carmichael, and shines vocally on "Knowing Me, Knowing You."
Phyllida Lloyd's direction keeps the action moving at fast pace, and for this kind of lightweight, but enjoyable stuff, that's the right approach. Anthony Van Laast contributes the clever and funny choreography, which helps to keep this high energy production moving along with a head of steam. Mark Thompson's simple, changeable set is brilliant, subtly conjuring up the taverna Donna operates from a variety of angles. Howard Harrison's lighting scheme deftly switches gears from dramatic to concert hall without missing a beat. And, on this particular evening, the small band produced a fantastic sound, with guitarists Alex Domschot and Jonathan Hawkins throwing down some wailing licks.
Theatre companies around the country are already presenting strong versions of MAMMA MIA!, in fact, The MUNY put on an excellent version last Summer, and I've heard very good things about Arrow Rock's recent production. So, the show will still be around to enjoy, or endure, depending upon your fondness for ABBA. On this occasion, a strong company at the Fox gave the show a rousing farewell.