By Ryan Kerr
Mirvish has brought Mamma Mia! the musical back to eager Toronto theatre audiences
You’ve seen the movie. You’ve heard the music. Mamma Mia! has been a sensation since it opened in London’s West-End. But Toronto’s relationship to this blockbuster musical has always been, well, personal.
The first North American city to mount this ABBA-inspired spectacle, Toronto was the incubator for the original Broadway production and at least one touring cast, hosting the successful phenomenon for just over 5 years.
I saw the current limited engagement touring version at the Princess of Wales Theatre – and I’m proud to admit, it was my fifth time. So for a more balanced perspective, I brought along a “virgin Mamma”.
Even before the curtain lifted, the audience cheered. Twice. For those of us in the audience who had been part of the launch of one of the highest grossing musical sensations of all time, it was like a giddy reunion with a longtime crush. I’m sure it was also an exhilarating welcome for the cast.
That said, any reunion five years later carries with it a few surprises. Despite having a whole new cast in a different and larger venue, what struck me was how much of the show seemed stuck in an edge of the 90s Time Warp. Mamma Mia!’s storyline waffled between well-defined 1970’s ABBA heydays and some other time – not quite the 70’s but definitely not now.
This was evident twice: when Sophie’s date of birth – 1979 – was mentioned in relationship to her preparing for a wedding at age twenty, and when the Grecian choristers (who were absolutely fabulous, by the way) appeared on stage in beaded denim flares or shimmery skirts which were reminiscent of many painful style choices which were too recently popularized to be considered “fun”.
My companion, who has never seen a version of the staged musical, pointed out that the audience should be afforded enough credit to complete simple math equations, and know the difference between “hot” and “not”. Alas, it’s not about the costumes alone.
In this production, both Donna and Sophie seemed upstaged by their ensemble counterparts. The three male suitors who vie for “Sophie’s Choice” *groan* were fantastic and handsome! Donna’s two besties, Tanya and Lisa, glowed with authentic camaraderie, perfect comedic timing and a heavenly vocal blend. Even though Donna’s performance improved considerably during the second act, so did the rest of the ensemble cast.
Like mother like daughter – both title ladies seemed tugged forward by the orchestra with every word, and Sophie’s symbolic finale note to “I Have a Dream” was flat. It distracted from what I remembered to be the most touching moment in the show – Donna helping Sophie get dressed on her wedding day while singing “Slipping Through my Fingers”.
While I was analyzing every detail in the show, my date showed me the sea of glowing faces all around us. The excitement in the audience – maintained right through to the concert-style finale – made for (another) thoroughly entertaining evening in ABBA’s loving arms. I’m not surprised Mirvish decided to extend the run until June 27th. We didn’t learn anything about ourselves, answer any of life’s big questions, nor have much fodder for intellectual discussion following the show, but enjoying our daiquiris was that much sweeter with those ABBA songs dancing in our heads.
-Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8 pm, with additional matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm (see website for additional shows).
-Ticket prices range from $26 – $120.
-Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-872-1212