Review: Mamma Mia! (Mirvish)

Photo of the cast of Mama MiaTake a chance on the ‘ABBA-solutely’ fabulous musical on stage in Toronto for a limited time.

On stage at the Ed Mirvish Theatre for a limited engagement, produced by Mirvish, Mamma Mia! finds refuge in audacity – literally. Directly from the UK and performing in Toronto as part of an international tour, everyone involved makes the most of the time they’re given with us.

Raised by her single mother on an idyllic Greek village, bride-to-be Sophie dreams of having her father give her away. Not knowing who he is, however, she deduces that his identity could be one of three former paramours of her mother, Donna. The plot twists, turns, and dances disco there on in – but you probably already know that.

The show feels like what happens when one mashes together dolls and invents a narrative, but since this is a comedy, that can be forgiven. It’s a fast-paced, highly witty production, more so than the schmaltz of its music gives it credit for. But some scenes felt rushed, and it seemed like some important character moments happened abruptly or whizzed past us.

The cast was well-balanced and looked to be having a blast start to finish. Some were stronger dancers than others – the company members pulled off some truly stunning performances – and some were more confident actors or more impressive singers. The direction of this show didn’t rely on triple threats, but it made the characters feel more realistic and relatable.

Of the cast, Matthew Rutherford as Bill is a runaway star, throwing the full force of his charisma and good humour into his scenes. It would be an understatement to say he stole the show. He broke into the show’s house, abducted it, and drove it full-speed to Tijuana. Even better is his generosity as a performer – rather than keeping the spotlight to himself, his energy resonates throughout the cast.

The main lovebirds, Sophie and her fiance Sky, are played by the likeable Lucy May Barker and Phillip Ryan. Though not complex characters when compared to their elders, the two share genuine chemistry. Barker’s focus is impressive, especially considering she keeps a straight face and earnest nature while pure zaniness unfolds around her. I’m not sure most twenty-somethings nowadays would see themselves in an ingenue who grew up on a remote fantasy island with little-to-no financial hardships, but it’s not the show’s fault it was created before the 2008 recession.

Meanwhile, Ryan is a natural fit for his “Mr. Right” role, although he hit a few sour notes when singing with his lady love. On the bright side, this scene has a perfectly-timed chorus line of half-naked men doing the can-can in flippers.

Popular music is deceptively simple to perform, and here it was done admirably, but I noticed a few rough edges. This may be because of where my seats were, but during some numbers it sounded like the orchestra was overpowering the performers, making some songs feel “shouty”. It works for big numbers that emulate the feel of a party or pop concert, but from a theatrical aspect, it became a pet peeve.

That said, this show is all about positives. It celebrates female friendships, unconventional families, empowering women of all ages, men embracing emotions and openly treating each other with respect and affection, self-love, and forgiveness.Though this show comes in one big, loud, glitzy package, director Phyllida Lloyd puts a heartfelt experience at the core.

At the top of the show, I had my doubts that a colourful and whimsical tailspin like Mamma Mia! would land with audiences now. But a packed house and diverse crowd cheering proved me wrong.

Details:

  • Mammia Mia! plays at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) from August 9 – 19, 2018
  • Performances run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, plus 2pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday and 1:30 matinees on Wednesdays
  • Tickets range from $59 – $175 and can be purchased online, by calling 416-872-1212 or in-person at the box office. Purchasing in advance is strongly recommended, as tickets are selling fast.
  • Run Time: 2 hours 35 minutes including intermission
  • Audience Advisory: Use of strobe and haze. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Image of cast provided by the company

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