Mamma Mia! Ending The Grand’s Season in a Raucous, Fun-Filled Way
Great theatre comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s a one-person character study with minimal sets and just the power of an actor’s performance to propel it; other times it’s the gripping interplay of multiple characters, playing off each other and working towards a climax.
And sometimes it’s just two hours of rip-roaring fun, frivolity, and entertainment. Mamma Mia! is definitely the latter and it’s a production that will leave only the most curmudgeonly amongst us without a smile on their faces and a toe untapped.
Mamma Mia! is celebrating its 20th year this season. It has been staged all around the world (I originally saw it back in the early 2000s in Toronto, with former Canadian talk-show host Camilla Scott in the main role). It has also notably been made into a film version, starring Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, and (for better or for worse) Pierce Brosnan. It’s based on the works of the Swedish group ABBA, a polarizing group in and of themselves. Some people love their catchy tunes; others see them as the nadir of the disco era.
But whatever personal musical baggage you bring to the production, leave it at the door. Because in and of itself, Mamma Mia! is a delightfully fun and enjoyable romp. Yes, there’s a thin thread of a story about young Sophie’s desire to learn the identity of her father before her wedding; yes, there’s a couple of attempts at life lessons about what really defines us as a person—but these are mainly MacGuffins just to transition us to the next song and interaction.
There are a few key stars of this show. Rebecca Poff, as Sophie’s single mother Donna, shines. She has raised her daughter, alone, and built an island resort off of Greece to support her. She deftly conveys Donna’s equal measures of toughness and vulnerability, and has a stellar vocal range.
She’s joined by Katie Kerr, who is absolutely delightful as Sophie, Donna’s soon-to-be-wed daughter. Kerr strikes the ideal balance between adorably sweet and slyly sexy – she never goes too far towards saccharine or lascivious.
They are complemented by a very strong supporting cast. Most notably, Nicola-Dawn Brook (Rosie) and Jan Alexandra Smith (Tanya) shine as Donna’s long-standing best friends and former bandmates. And the strength of Mamma Mia! is that everyone gets a chance to steal a moment of the show. From Brook’s wonderfully quirky Rosie transitioning from pining after rugged outdoorsman Bill (Stephen Guy-McGrath) to laying herself on the line in their Take a Chance on Me duet, to Smith’s toying with a love-struck younger suitor (Anthony MacPherson as Pepper) in Does Your Mother Know that You’re Out—the secondary characters all get a chance to shine. Smith, in particular, is a delight as her Tanya is miles away from recent roles in A Christmas Carol, Vigilante, and The Wars.
Joining Guy-McGrath as former objects of Donna’s affection (and potential biological fathers for Sophie) are Cameron MacDuffee, who plays the now straight-laced former headbanger Harry, and Michael Torontow as architect Sam Carmichael, the suitor who shared Donna’s dream. Everyone is given their moment to shine and runs with it.
The ensemble cast is wonderfully effective. From the very first strains of Money, Money, Money they make their presence known, cleverly integrate into the production, and help drive forward the musical numbers. Simple, but effective moments like poking their heads out of windows or secondary on-stage actions embrace the camp of Mamma Mia! without devolving into absurdity.
In some of these secondary roles, we are treated to incredible performances. Hailey Lewis (Ali) and Kimberly-Ann Truong (Lisa) stand out as Sophie’s friends and bridesmaids. But listen to their accompaniment on the aforementioned Does Your Mother Know that You’re Out and you’ll be blown away by their vocal talents. Also MacPherson’s Pepper steals many of the scenes he’s in. The character can very easily descend into “Obnoxious Bro,” but MacPherson is talented enough to straddle the line and keep the audience on his side.
The music is the heart of this production. It is a clever interpretation of ABBA’s music in the form of a dramatic presentation. The lyrics are always appropriate and, at times, poignant. It never feels like the songs are being shoehorned into the production.
And it would be remiss to not mention the impact of Lisa Stevens, the show’s choreographer. Her choreography is clever, inventive, and strikes the challenging balance between ensuring that the attention is focused where it needs to be, but also allowing for elements of complementing visual interest throughout the stage.
Whether you’re a fan of the source material or not, Mamma Mia! is undeniably an enjoyable experience. It’s fun, dynamic, and engaging. And it’ll leave you with a smile on your face. You can do worse than experiencing two-and-half hours of sheer joy. It’s a perfect, uplifting, and wholly entertaining way to end The Grand Theatre’s season.