BWW Review: Have the Time of Your Life at Wolf Trap with MAMMA MIA!
Mamma Mia! still has audiences dancing, jiving and having the time of their life.
The smash hit musical based on the songs of ABBA is making a triumphant two-performance stop at Wolf Trap as part of its Farewell Tour and is as fantastic and joyful as ever. The pre-show announcement warns that the musical features spandex and may induce dancing in your seats, which is exactly what happened at Tuesday's euphoric opening. If you are in need of a pick-me-up or a fun night out, pack a picnic and head to Wolf Trap for a trip down the aisle you'll never forget.
On a Greek island a young girl named Sophie (Lizzie Markson) is getting married. She dreams of the perfect wedding, which includes her father giving her away. There's one problem, Sophie doesn't know who her father is. After discovering her mother's diary, Sophie narrows down her choices to three men, Sam (Shai Yammanee), Bill (Marc Corner) and Harry (Andrew Tebo). Believing that the invites are from Donna (Betsy Padamonsky), Sophie's mother, all three former flames return to the island for the first time in 21 years.
Mamma Mia! was not the first jukebox musical, but it was the first to become an international phenomenon. Critics may charge that it does not have the social conscience of South Pacific or the depth of My Fair Lady or Sweeney Todd. However Mamma Mia! doesn't try to be either, the musical just wants to entertain and it succeeds smashingly.
The credit lays first, and most obviously, with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the Bs in ABBA. Their music and lyrics are as catchy as when they first debuted in the seventies and eighties. It is hard to find someone leaving Wolf Trap not humming their favorite song. Second is book writer Catherine Johnson for creating an original story that is playful, and naturally incorporates ABBA's songs making them feel like natural extensions of the characters and/or scenes. Director Phyllida Lloyd and choreographer Anthony Van Laast give the production a youthful energy that is a great compliment to ABBA's music. Van Laast's athletic and energetic choreography conveys the urgency of finding Sophie's father with the excitement of her wedding.
Markson and Padamonsky lead a top-notch cast that seems to be having as much fun as the audience. As mother and daughter, the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Markson, more than any other Sophie I've seen, and this is my sixth production, is the anchor of this production. She has a terrific sense of timing and youthful optimism that carries Sophie's anthem "I Have A Dream." Together the two form a lovely bond making the audience feel like part of the family.
Padamonsky is quite the revelation in that she really brings her own interpretation to the songs. Considering that she gets to perform two of ABBA's greatest hits, "Dancing Queen" and "The Winner Takes It All", it would easy for her to be doing a karaoke version of each song. Instead, Padamonsky focuses on the lyrics and Donna's motivation with each number showcasing her character's independent streak.
She also is terrific with Sarah Smith and Cashelle Butler, who play Donna's best friends Rosie and Tanya. Together the comedic trio excels at showcasing the bonds of friendship with Act I's "Dancing Queen." Butler and Smith then get their own moments to shine with Act II's playful "Does Your Mother Know" and the romantically charged "Take A Chance on Me." Butler and Corner are hilarious in conveying the animal magnetism between their two characters.
Providing the perfect counterbalance to the ladies is the trio of Yammanee, Cornes and Tebo. Yammanee, who possess an incredible voice, certainly redeems the character's value after Pierce Brosnan's painful portrayal of Sam in the movie version of Mamma Mia! The anguish, longing and love his character has for Donna is powerfully conveyed with Yammanee's performance of ABBA's 1977 hit "Knowing Me, Knowing You."
A great aspect of any jukebox musical is the chance to get reacquainted with the group's lesser known songs. In Mamma Mia's case, that is Act II's nostalgic "Our Last Summer" sung by Tebo's Harry and Padamonsky's Donna. Originally performed as ballad on ABBA's Super Trouper album, it has been astutely re-envisioned as duet for the musical giving insight into Donna and Harry's youthful romance.
Andersson and Ulvaeus are big admirers of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, which makes the musical's highly synthesized sound appropriate. A six person band and Martin Koch's arrangements create the rest of ABBA's pop-techno feel. One item of note is that the program does not list the musical numbers in order of performance, rather they are listed chronologically. This was originally done to prevent the audience from singing along. Still, that didn't stop the audience from humming, dancing and clapping along once the next song became apparent to them.
Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway in October 2001. The musical was one of the first to open after the attacks of 9/11 and its infectious and joyful nature were credited as the perfect tonic to New York in those dark days. Having seen it in December 2001, I can certainly attest to this. And yet, it's a testament to ABBA's music and the work of Mamma Mia's creative team that the show is still drawing crowds and smiles.
Mamma Mia!, how can I resist you?
Runtime is two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission