Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mamma Mia! Theatre Review

"The Plot Thickens..."

There are two schools of thought when evaluating the latest incarnation of Mamma Mia! (playing now through Sunday, March 9th at the wonderful National Theatre.) The 10th longest running show in Broadway history opened a limited DC engagement last night, amidst the pomp & circumstance you'd expect from a musical that's raked in $2 billion worldwide in only a decade and a half. It has a built-in "I love it!" factor: Most people in the audience (myself included) have seen it several times before. Odds are, you're gonna love it again... regardless of who's in it.

Then there's the ABBA fan... the one who comes for the music. That's me. I can stand all the campiness and tomfoolery; so long as the songs sound close to how I remember. This production skews towards the former, leaving stars Chelsea Williams (Sophie) and Georgia Kate Haege (Donna) to carry the heavy load of singing all by themselves. That's not to say there's not a lot of singing: There is (lots and lots.) Unfortunately, most of it borders on a karaoke style (in tune with the rest of the show) that left an ABBA-ophile like me wanting.

Luckily, Williams & Haege prove up to the task of carrying Mamma Mia! for most of the show. Williams is cute as a button, as Sophie, the bride-to-be with boundless energy and a riddle to solve. Her voice is strong enough, and sweet enough to keep your toes tapping throughout. Ditto for Haege, who handles a cordless drill and microphone with equal aplomb. Both mom & daughter provide a healthy dose of charisma... almost enough to overlook the rest of the cast.

Antoinette Comer, Chelsea Williams & Emily Price (r)

Much as I hate to admit it, I found Sophie's friends (Antoinette Comer as Lisa, Emily Price as Ali) to be more annoying than I recall in past productions. I wrote the word "squeaky" down twice... a little too over-the-top for my liking. Donna's pals (Gabrielle Mirabella as Tanya, Carly Sakolove as Rosie) don't fare much better, struggling to compete as Dynamos to her Donna. The humor is there (plenty of it) but in regards to outright talent, not so much.

Then there's the gents... Sophie's fiancĂ© Sky (Chris Stevens) seems better paired with his buddies (P. Tucker Worley makes a most irritating Pepper) or perhaps even Donna, than the comely Sophie. He plays to the crowd too much, as if auditioning for another part. Who knows, perhaps I'm jealous that he gets to whisk Sophie back & forth across the stage. Meanwhile Sophie's "dads" wander about, filling their parts with listless energy that screams, "Get me a Red Bull!"

Chris Stevens & Chelsea Williams (r)

I know what you're thinking: He didn't like it. Wrong! I actually enjoyed it quite a bit... Enough to overlook the lesser parts. The jokes and familiar lines, "Buildings are like babies. You always know your own," are all there, and delivered nicely. Songs like Chiquitita and Dancing Queen fall flat (almost on purpose) but chorus numbers like Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and Voulez-Vous hit the perfect note, allowing the younger members of the cast (especially the ladies) to cut loose and inject much needed energy into the building.

Williams & Haege are quite likable and downright terrific on stage. The final act builds to a climax with more intensity than the first, allowing its audience to leave happy and singing. When it comes down to it, only the soulless hiss at ABBA! Heaven forbid, I become one of them.

Mamma Mia! runs 2½ hours with a 15-minute intermission; and plays through Sunday, March 9th at the National Theatre (two shows on Saturday & Sunday.) To purchase tickets online, click here; or call (800) 514-3849.

Grade: B-