Mamma Mia! ~ 2019

Written on April 27th, 2019

Thank You for the Music, For Giving It to Me   

Mamma Mia! is the hit show that makes everyone feel good, with all the warmth of sunshine on a Greek island.  Now on stage at the Grand Theatre in London, Mamma Mia! is the quintessential jukebox musical, featuring ABBA’s hits, spanning the years from 1974 to 1982, and woven around a contrived plot.  Somehow, it fits together surprisingly well and offers theatre-goers delightful escapism.  This production is fast paced, covering all the ABBA hits without leaving the audience feeling the songs were crammed in.

Mamma Mia! tells the story of Donna, an independent, single mother raising her daughter in 1999 while operating a struggling resort on an idyllic Greek island.  Sophie is the opposite of her mother:  she wants to marry her boyfriend Sky before they head off on adventures, and so the wedding is planned.  Donna has invited her two best girlfriends.  The trio had been Donna and the Dynamos, a popular girl group of the seventies, complete with glitter, spandex bell-bottoms, and feather boas.

Sophie is eager to know who her father is:  she reads her mother’s diary and finds out she has three possible fathers.  Assuming she’ll intuitively know which man is her father, she invites all three to her wedding.  But with the wedding the next day, Sophie ends up with all three men wanting to take her down the aisle.  Eventually she realizes that the wedding was just an excuse to find her father, and decides she and her boyfriend can wait for marriage.  Donna, on the other hand, finds her long-lost love.

This is a slightly naughty version of Mamma Mia!  Director Adam Brazier has had fun emphasizing suggestive innuendo and adding sexy gestures to the delight of the audience.  It’s the fourth production of Mamma Mia! I’ve seen, and the first time I’d caution against bringing children.

Rebecca Poff as Donna has great chemistry with Katie Kerr who plays her daughter Sophie.  Poff’s beautiful, rich voice shines as she sings ABBA’s haunting ballad “Slipping Through My Fingers” while she helps Sophie fix her hair and put on her wedding dress.  It’s a scene guaranteed to bring tears to any mother’s eyes.  Poff follows that touching number with a heartfelt “The Winner Takes it All”.

Kerr gives us a feisty Sophie, and belts the ABBA tunes with abandon.  Aaron Hastelow is a sweet and insightful Sky.  He is convincing when he suggests she only wants the big wedding as an excuse to find out who her father is, but at the same time he shows his understanding.

Jan Alexander Smith has quickly become a favourite at the Grand, appearing this season as the troubled mother in The Wars, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a defiant Johanna Donnelly in Vigilante, and now as Donna’s friend Tanya.  Smith continues to show the breadth of her skills, this time playing a funny and sassy character.  It is refreshing to see her complete dismissal of Pepper as he attempts to flirt with her, singing “Does Your Mother Know”.

Nicola Dawn Brook is great fun as Rosie, especially when she is trying to attract Bill, played endearingly by Stephen Guy-McGrath. They leave the audience smiling with their rendition of “Take a Chance on Me” where Bill is finally won over.

Michael Torontow is perfect as Sam, another of the possible three dads.   Even though sparks fly between Sam and Donna, Torontow and Poff have perfect harmony as they sing “S.O.S.”.  The third potential dad, Harry, is played by Cameron MacDuffee.  He is charming, singing the heartwarming “Our Last Summer”.

Lisa Stevens’ choreography is designed for maximum funThe audience favourite is the flipper number where the male ensemble dances in their snorkelling gear doing fancy footwork with giant web-footed fins.  Anthony MacPherson as Pepper has an outstanding dance solo when he’s trying to impress the older and jaded Tanya.

My only concern is with the sound.  The cast, when off stage, sings backup for the soloists, but at times the sound is not properly balanced and the unseen background singers drown out the soloist at centre stage.  Similarly, loud music sometimes makes it difficult to hear the lyrics of the songs.  I trust this was an opening night problem, and will be corrected as the show progresses.

The final scene leaves the audience charmed, as a tiny motor boat heads out across the water under the full moon with Sophie and Sky off on their adventures.  But of course, that’s not all – the sparkling spandex returns, as the entire cast sings an energetic encore of ABBA hits, and everyone leaves the theatre bouncing and singing.  We would like to return ABBA’s sentiment right back to them – “Thank you for the music, For giving it to me.”  Mamma Mia! is a sweet gift.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Grand Theatre, London until May 18.  Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.

Photos: Right: Gray Monczka and Jan Alexandra Smith with Anthony MacPherson in front.  Left:  Rebecca Poff as Donna.  Photos by Dahlia Katz.

Mamma Mia!
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, some songs with Stig Anderson
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Adam Brazier
Choreographed by Lisa Stevens
Musical Direction by Craig Fair
Performed by Rebecca Poff, Katie Kerr, Nicola Dawn Brook, Jan Alexandra Smith, Aaron Hastelow, Stephen Guy-McGrath, Cameron MacDuffee, Michael Torontow, Hailey Lewis, Connor Lucas, Anthony MacPherson, Kimberly-Ann Truong, Melissa Kramer, Brittany Banks, Even Benyacar, Gray Monczka, Teddy Moyniham, Jamie Murray, Nicole Norsworthy, Emma Rudy.
Grand Theatre, London (Co-production with the Charlottetown Festival)
April 23 to May 18, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Leave a Reply