In case you don’t follow the obnoxious, self-promoting tweets and Facebook posts I make regarding my moonlighting as a BroadwayWorld.com reviewer, it is, in fact, one of the many grown-up endeavors I have taken on (ahem…and also, a way to see great theater free of charge). My reviews can be found at BroadwayWorld.com, but I will also start posting them here!
Below is a review of Broadway Across Austin’s production of Mamma Mia! at Bass Concert Hall (January 21, 2015). Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com.
“Mamma Mia- here I go again” weren’t just familiar song lyrics I was thinking of when I walked into Bass Concert Hall Tuesday night. No, it was also literal thinking going through my head. Why? The opening night of Broadway in Austin’s Mamma Mia! was my fifth time seeing the production. From seeing the first national tour back in 2002, to the dragging my dad to the production in Las Vegas, to seeing it twice more through Broadway Across America Houston before sitting in the audience at Bass, here I go again may have been the understatement of the evening.
A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, Mamma Mia! tells the story of Donna Sheridan- a single, perhaps overworked mother living on an island in Greece with her soon-to-be-married 20 year old daughter, Sophie. Desperate to find out which one of three possible dads is her own, Sophie invites all three to her wedding (unbeknownst to her mother). What follow are 2 and a half hour of what can only be described as a party. Known and loved chart toppers, impressive and comical choreography, and endearing characters are the reason the musical, after literally dozens of international engagement, an impressive 15-year Broadway run, and a Hollywood motion picture, keeps drawing audience members (myself included) back.
While the more snobbish Broadway crowd may slam the musical for its lighthearted, admittedly obtuse storyline and its somewhat underdeveloped characters (Jersey Boys it is not, think Rock of Ages), I (an avid Broadway fan myself), can’t name one time out of my five that I haven’t laughed, sang along, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Understudy Rebecca Mason-Wygal successfully pulled off the stubborn, headstrong Donna Sheridan. While her notable vocals took a bit of the evening to fully make themselves memorable (numbers like Money Money Moneyand Super Trouper paled in comparison to her impressive rendition of the second act’s The Winner Takes it All), her relatable approach to the comical, yet often stand-offish character complimented the absolute joy that was Chelsea Williams’ Sophie. Williams easily made the audience fall in love with her (not that Thank You for the Music and Under Attack hurt her case), with my only major critique being her comedic timing. Mason-Wygal and Williams gave a lovable performance as the mother-daughter pair.
The dynamic between the three fathers, Mark Harmon (Harry Bright), Michael Colavolpe (Bill Austin), and Jeff Drushal (Sam Carmichael) was a thrill to watch onstage. Their effortless chemistry made for gratifying scenes (both dramatic and emotional) and even more delightful musical numbers, both between the three of them and with other members of the cast. Sarah Smith’s Rosie and Bailey Purvis’ Tanya, however, deserve their own standing ovation (which they did in fact receive). Both women’s impeccable comedic timing and fleshed out characters made them the hit of the evening. While I worried at first that Purvis may be a bit young to play the older, more matured Tanya (her credits include Elle in Legally Blonde and Skylar in Bring it On), she nailed it. As cliché as it may sound, Purvis and Smith made the audience have fun because they were having fun.
In one word, Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is fun. From hopping scuba divers, to retro 70s Dancing Queendisco, it doesn’t take itself too serious, but requires a lot of energy. The energy in Donna and the Dynamo’s Dancing Queen, however, an arguably pivotal number, unfortunately slacked. Whether it be energy or technique, the number didn’t exactly wow the way I’m used to- though the audience ate it up. In terms of Lay All Your Love on Me, Does Your Mother Know, and Voulez-Vous– the cast rocked it, and the party continued.
The bottom line? Mamma Mia! was and still is one of Broadway’s biggest parties (I may be stealing from Rock of Ages’ marketing team on that one, but it’s nonetheless true). Of course I’m going over it with a fine tooth comb; I’m a Broadway fanatic who has seen the show a total of 5 times now, I’m allowing myself to be a little picky. However, did I leave just as excited and satisfied as I have in the past? Absolutely. If you have the time, whether you’re seeing it for the first time now or are a tired fan, get to Bass Concert Hall this week and treat yourself (and if you’ve only seen the movie, please run to Bass and rectify that for the better).
Mamma Mia! plays Bass Concert Hall as part of Cadillac’s Broadway in Austin Series January 20-25. For tickets and information, visit http://www.texasperformingarts.org.