Members of the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mamma Mia! Photo by David Cooper.
Members of the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mamma Mia! Photo by David Cooper.

Few shows are as unrelentingly positive as Mamma Mia!. With a book by Catherine Johnson, and music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Alvaeus, the show dances along to ABBA hits that have the usually politely attentive Vancouver audience hooting from their seats.

But while the music and performances take a deep breath towards blowing the roof off the Stanley, the hesitant direction leaves it firmly attached to the rafters.

Mamma Mia! is the story of a young girl looking for her father. After finding her mother’s diary, Sophie Sheridan (Michelle Bardach) invites all three of her mother’s summer flings, and her potential fathers, to her wedding. Harry Bright (Jay Hindle) is a British accountant and former rocker, Bill Austin (Warren Kimmel) an Australian travel writer, and Sam Carmichael (Michael Torontow) the lovelorn architect. Through chance, subterfuge, and a whole lot of singing, Sophie reconciles with her mother, finds her father, and embraces her future.

The performances are polished and filled with energy.

As Sophie, Bardach is luminous, while Shannon Hanbury and Jennifer Lynch pour energy into every hip-cock and hair flip as her gal pals, Ali and Lisa. Stephanie Roth’s Donna starts small and moves ever upwards to claim the stage and own it by “The Winner Takes It All” in Act two.

Torontow commands the stage as Sam, even when his character’s words fall flat. But it is Cathy Wilmot as Rose who steals the show in a slapstick performance that sang louder than any voice on stage.

Cathy Wilmot, Stephanie Roth and Irene Karas Loeper in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mamma Mia! Photo by David Cooper.
Cathy Wilmot, Stephanie Roth and Irene Karas Loeper in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mamma Mia! Photo by David Cooper.

David Roberts’ set design is a gorgeous Greek taverna that filters and gives foundation to the beautifully jewel-toned lighting design by Robert Sondergaard.

The only hitch in this otherwise knockout show is a lack of direction.

While several numbers, “Lay Your Love on Me”, and “Money, Money, Money” in particular, are an eye-popping display of choreography  and technical mastery, other songs are left with little more than a wander from stage right to left. With the caliber of performers, and the sheer volume of catchy numbers on hand, the Arts Club production of Mamma Mia! feels like it’s missed an opportunity – or three.

Despite some issues in direction, Mamma Mia! remains the perfect summer addiction. Fat-free and sweeter than sugar, take your mom, tease your hair, and holler like its 1975.

Mamma Mia! Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Produced by The Arts Club Theatre. Directed by Valerie Easton. On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St, Vancouver) until August 12, 2018. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.