Mamma Mia!

In the 20 years since its London premiere, Mamma Mia! has been described as everything from “comfort food” to “uplifting”

In the 20 years since its London premiere, Mamma Mia! has been described as everything from “comfort food” to “uplifting”, and even “the most ecstatic musical”.
McMaster Musical Theatre’s production which opened last night to a packed and enthusiastically supportive house is worthy of these descriptors. It features some strong performances and memorable solo singing.
Of all the “jukebox musicals” (and it’s hard to believe this genre has been with us since the ’70s) Mamma Mia! is arguably the best. To my mind, it’s the most toe–tapping, gets–you–out–of– your–seat, feel good, jukebox musical ever. Is the plot paper thin? Of course it is; it exists merely to string together ABBA’s greatest hits. All that clever playwright Catherine Johnson had to do was frame the songs and put them in such an order that the audience’s heartstrings could be pulled in the most efficient manner.

Co–directors Maddie Krusto and Hannah Mowbray have hit the jackpot in their casting of some of the key roles. Similarly, the set, lighting and costumes hit the right notes and the ensemble are game enough to make a feast of the proceedings. The decision to relegate the band to “a room just down the hall” (and using technical wizardry to pipe the music to the theatre) was made in order to give the singers/dancers/actors full run of the stage. It makes sense given the size of the cast and the need for them to have the full scope of the space, particularly for the choreography. However, there were audio issues which may have sprung from this decision. Although the singers were mic’d, there were times when they were hard to hear. Were their microphones not broadcasting fully, or were the band’s speakers set at too high a volume? Nevertheless, their playing was nimble, tight and pleasing.
Happily, there are many moments when everything comes together perfectly. Standouts in the cast include:  Alicia Rosario as Sophie, Dante Pietrangeli as Sam and Anne Claire Baguio as Donna. In fact, these three are the vocal pillars on which the success of this production rests.
From her first entrance as ingenue Sophie, Rosario displays all the qualities necessary to a musical comedy star. Quite simply, she owns the stage, radiates warmth and fully connects with the audience. The fact that she possesses the voice of an angel certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s her warmth and confidence that you feel whenever she’s on stage that makes it impossible not to be captivated by her many talents.
Similarly, Pietrangeli gives so much in his interpretation of Sam, one of the trio of potential Dads. With a beautifully lyrical and agile voice, he makes the most of every song and conveys real emotion with finesse.
As Donna, the devoted mom, Baguio is possessed of fine vocal stylings. Early on, I wondered whether she was having mic issues, but when it was time to belt, it was eminently clear that hers was the powerhouse voice needed to bring down the house. And she did!
Christine Ryner brings comic chops galore to the role of Rosie. Gifted with mad comic timing, she delivers more than her fair share of laughs throughout the production. Her take on “Take a Chance on Me” is one of the highlights of the evening. Saad Saud, cast against heteronormativity as Aunt Tanya does a superb job of creating a new spin on the role, replete with just the right touch of deliciously acid wit and attitude. Honourable mentions must also go to Joseph Ruberto as Bill and Elias Elaneh as Harry, the other two potential Dads.
Danielle Di Giovanni is called upon to deliver massive amounts of choreography. And while there has clearly been a ton of energy expended to create wonderful stage pictures and to perfect the unison of the ensemble in sometimes quite complex and staggered routines, a little more variety in movement style would have been welcome. After a certain point, the “stirring the pot” dance move, shoulder popping and grapevine circles become repetitive. As Act 2 opened, I had high hopes as it was introduced with a dream sequence ballet with slight echoes of Graham and Fosse floor work, and even some percussive “step dancing” and Kathak undertones. But sadly, this was fleeting. This is a mere quibble however, as the ensemble does a stellar job with what they’re given.
All in all, MMT’s Mamma Mia! is well worth the ticket price. The energy and uplift will send you floating out of the auditorium at evening’s end. V

Mamma Mia!
continues to February 29th
Robinson Memorial Theatre,
McMaster University
1280 Main Street W., Hamilton, ON
Chester New Hall, Room 103

But there are a LIMITED NUMBER OF DOOR TICKETS AVAILABLE! Only a few seats remain to the entire run of the show! To save your seat at the door, email with the show you’d like to see and how many tickets.

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