While the production of the jukebox musical Mamma Mia!, currently playing as part of year’s Theatre Under the Stars summer season, is fun and has some real standouts in its cast, under Shel Piercy’s direction some scenes get chaotic and the story arc is sometimes lost.
On opening night the production was rained out, with a sea of audience members dressed in ponchos, which they generously handed out upon arrival. Despite the gloomy weather, the cast of Mamma Mia still managed to keep the night positive and truly upbeat as they transported us into the Greek sunshine.
Mamma Mia! uses the songs of the Swedish musical group ABBA to tell the story of 20-year old Sophie who is preparing to get married, and dreams of having her father give her away. Not knowing who her real father is though, Sophie decides to snoop into her mother Donna’s past, inviting three possibilities to the Greek Island where the nuptials are taking place. As the trio arrives on the island, chaos ensues as mom reckons with her past and Sophie comes to realize who she is, and what really is important.
Relying heavily on mother and daughter to carry the show, Piercy has found the necessary talent with Keira Jang and Caitrona Murphy.
Jang is effortlessly talented, with a strong and beautiful voice. Murphy also has a great voice and leads the audience on an emotional journey with her raw delivery. While Murphy’s emotions feel unwarranted at times, when it rings true the performance draws you in.
Donna’s best friend Rosie, performed by Sheryl Anne Wheaton, is another solid performer, with a comedic ease to her delivery. Her final number “Take a Chance on Me” is hilarious. Other standouts include Matt Ramer and Stefan Winfield as potential fathers Sam and Bill.
Others though struggled on opening night. While his dancing prowess is clear, Joshua Lalisan’s vocal skills as Sophie’s fiancé Sky are noticeably weaker than his leading lady, and leaned a little heavily into overacting on a couple of occasions. As Sophie’s best friend Ali, Nao Shishikura also overacts her way through some scenes.
Set designer Francesca Alertazzi has created a beautiful Greek Taverna onstage. Classic and ethereal, as darkness sets the lights on the back wall shine like stars.
The group numbers are both fun and engaging, with Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography filled with exciting moments, all flawlessly performed by the ensemble. In some of the transition scenes and smaller group numbers though, the stage does get cluttered, resulting in a distraction from the main action.
Those moments of chaos though are swept away by beautiful and emotional scenes including the moving “Slipping Through my Fingers”, where we see memories of the young Sophie through her mother’s eyes.
Other fun numbers included “Under Attack”, where Sophie’s nightmares become real, and the iconic “Dancing Queen”.
Mamma Mia! is filled with a few standout voices, enthusiastic dancing and, of course, plenty of ABBA music. And when it isn’t clouded by overacting or a cluttered stage, it is a real treat to watch.
Mamma Mia! with music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and some songs by Stig Anderson. Book by Catherin Johnson. Directed by Shel Piercy. A Theatre Under the Stars Production. Playing in repertory with Disney’s Newsies on stage at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park (610 Pipeline Rd, Vancouver) until August 17 . Visit tuts.ca for tickets and information.