Paul W. Thompson
Playing Wednesday through September 28, 2008 at the landmarked, architecturally and culturally significant Auditorium Theatre, the bus and truck tour of the smash hit musical “Mamma Mia!” (based on the songs of ABBA by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) is pretty much the same production that is playing in 11 different spots around the world, save a set piece or two. And Chicago theater’s latest gift to the world, the saucy and engaging Susie McMonagle (nine Jeff nominations to her credit) plays Donna with all the star power wielded by Meryl Streep in the recent film version and with much more vocal charisma.
This is a pretty tight tour as tours go, all in all. Phyllida Lloyd’s direction of the exposition-heavy book by Catherine Johnson keeps everything moving as much as possible in the sometimes disorienting first act. But just prior to the intermission, the stakes go up and the characters become suddenly real, and the show continues levitating in a straight trajectory until that curtain call/megamix moment. The sets and costumes (“production design”) by Mark Thompson evoke the Mediterranean, albeit a slightly fairy tale one, with an assist from Howard Harrison’s bright lighting. There is very loud sound design by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken, and music director Susan Draus leads the orchestra, joyfully bringing to life ABBA songs like “Chiquitita,” “Money, Money, Money,” “The Name Of the Game” and of course the title song.
The young singing and dancing chorus emits much appeal and energy, though to be fair it is sometimes unclear exactly who they are and why they are there. The opening night audience certainly had a fine time with “Mamma Mia!,” and the show may actually play better than it did before, now that this summer’s hit film version of the show has been seen by so many people. (Worries about the connection between vintage Swedish pop songs and Greek islands seem to have faded since the show’s 1999 London debut.)
For all ABBA fans, for women of all ages, for those looking for a little eye and ear candy, and for those looking for a painless way to spend a few hours with some old and new friends, this “Mamma Mia!” will do the trick. This month Chicago is seeing the most Broadway and Broadway-bound productions that we have simultaneously hosted in who knows how long, and this one is once again a welcome visitor. It means us no harm, and it pleases us if we let it. Savor it, Chicago. It’s “Mamma Mia!” It may be our “Waterloo,” but we should all say, “Thank You For the Music.”
Michael J. Roberts
Break out your best polyester, Mamma Mia! returns to Chicago and it is better than ever. After almost a decade since its West End premier, the ABBA based musical has been seen by over 32 million people worldwide and an average of 17,000 attend show every single night. With the film version also becoming one of the summers box office blockbusters (to this reviewer’s dismay) Mamma Mia! is an infectious and delightful show that will reign as one of the best musicals of the last twenty years and shows no sign of slowing down.
There has been some retooling for this tour. The set and the ensemble are scaled down from prior incarnations though this is hardly noticeable but for the huge expanse of the Auditorium Theatre. Scaling down aside, this is one of the funniest and tightest casts to ever perform the show. As Donna’s best friends, Kittra Wynn Coomer (Rosie) and Michelle Elizabeth Dawson (Tanya) have perfect comic delivery and incredible on stage chemistry. ‘Chiquitita’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ have never been danced or sung better and the friendship between the three ladies has never been more believable.