Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Directed by Shel Piercy. A Theatre Under the Stars production. At Malkin Bowl on Tuesday, July 9. Continues until August 16
Theatre Under the Stars’ production of Mamma Mia! is a surprise and delight at almost every turn. I genuinely did not know Mamma Mia! could be this good, and it’s all thanks to director Shel Piercy’s deft, clever touches and a charming cast that elevates the source material with energy, enthusiasm, and heart.
This international blockbuster musical is now 20 years old, and as is the case with most jukebox-style musicals, its plot is so thin it can hardly bear the weight of all of ABBA’s chart-topping songs. In a story set on a little island in Greece, 20-year-old Sophie (Keira Jang) is about to get married even though her mother, Donna (Caitriona Murphy), is not thrilled. Donna has raised Sophie as a single mother, but Sophie wants her father to walk her down the aisle. She discovers Donna’s old diary and learns that her father could be one of three men, so, pretending to be Donna, she invites all of them to her wedding. Shenanigans, of course, ensue.
Piercy and choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt do a marvellous job of keeping the sprawling cast in almost constant movement, and there are some hilarious and fun dance scenes that will live on in my memory for a long time. One standout involves a variety of blow-up beach balls and flotation devices, and the other is a darkly disturbing and hilarious nightmare sequence wherein Sophie, who has gone her whole life without a dad, now finds herself surrounded by three.
Under Piercy’s direction, Mamma Mia! is a joyful celebration of women, so it’s no surprise that the four female leads shine most brightly. Jang is wonderful as Sophie, a character who can, in less capable hands, be kind of annoying and vacuous. Her voice is clear and warm, and she’s a compelling presence on-stage. Murphy masterfully hits her stride with Donna in Act 2, delivering powerhouse performances of “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All”. The most memorable moments belong to Donna and her two best friends, Tanya (Lori Zondag) and Rosie (Sheryl Anne Wheaton). The three actors have a palpable and believable BFF chemistry, and Zondag and Wheaton have a vivacity and zest that makes all of their numbers showstoppers.
I left the theatre wet and cold, but with a ridiculous smile on my face and a head full of songs. I was a little shocked at my own feelings, because I was already thinking about seeing it again. “Mamma mia, here I go again/My my, how can I resist you?” the song asks, and it turns out I can’t. This production is magic.