A word of warning. This review of Mamma Mia! may be one of the most personal reviews I have ever written.
Several years ago my mom died unexpectedly from a heart attack (ladies, I cannot stress enough the importance of learning the signs as they can manifest themselves differently in women). She had always been the glue that held our family together, and while it has been a few years since her death, memories of her have this strange way of popping up now again in the unlikeliest of places. Last night, at the opening of the touring production of Mamma Mia!, was one of those times.
Billed as the “national farewell tour” of this jukebox musical based around the music of ABBA, Mamma Mia! was first unleashed on the world in 1999, and has gone to play to more than 60 million people worldwide since its debut. The show’s fourteen year Broadway run only just ended late last year, and is now the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history.
This is my third outing with the show, having previously seen it in 2009 and 2011. The themes that came out of my previous reviews, and hold true for this current touring production, remain largely the same. The slight story, held together by some pretty tenuous connections to a collection of ABBA hits, is more akin to an ABBA-lite tribute concert than theatre; think Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid’s songs with a musical theatre vibe. Based on audience reactions though, I readily admit that I (along many other critics) very much remain in the minority.
Like many of these shows that have picked the pockets of a certain demographic over the years, Mamma Mia! continues to attract audiences who enthusiastically embrace it. Never mind its mediocre story, the cookie-cutter staging and, at least in last night’s opening night, a cast that never quite does justice to the biggest reason for going: the instantly recognizable music.
But I digress. I promised you a more personal review.
Back in 2009 I attended the production of Mamma Mia! with my mom. While I griped about the same things that I do now, I have been left with one of my most cherished memories of her. The smile on her face that night has been indelibly etched in my mind as she danced, clapped and sang along at the show’s impossibly long curtain call and encore. I am eternally grateful for that image.
To paraphrase one of ABBA’s own songs: “I say thank you for the memory, for giving it to me.”
Mamma Mia! Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. A Broadway Across Canada presentation of a Work Light Productions production. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (650 Hamilton St, Vancouver) until April 3. Visit https://vancouver.broadway.com for tickets and information.