Arts Club Theatre Company, Granville Island Stage, until Aug 12
My Two Cents
By Lillian Jasper
Arts Club has a hit on their hands with an exuberant and unabashedly cheesy production of the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia! The show itself is a worldwide phenomenon - it played on Broadway for 14 years and was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. It’s fun and flashy, but at its core is about a mother-daughter relationship.
The plot is mostly inconsequential: Sophie (Michelle Bardach) lives on a small Greek island with her single mother, Donna (Stephanie Roth) who runs a local taverna. Sophie is getting married and wants her father to be there, but she doesn’t know who he is, so she invites the three potential candidates (played by Jay Hindle, Warren Kimmel and Michael Torontow). Donna’s former lovers show up the day before the wedding, along with an assortment of other guests, and delightful mayhem ensues.
Bardach is a genuine and energetic Sophie. She has that musical-ingenue eye-twinkle down pat, and a great voice to boot. As Donna, Roth has a phenomenal set of pipes, tackling all of ABBA’s hits with a confident effortlessness. Her acting is strongest when she’s singing, most likely due to the fact that the dialogue she has to work with is so banal.
There are many characters - probably more than necessary. So many are introduced quickly and then only show up intermittently throughout the show, singing backup, dancing, and moving sets with fierce enthusiasm. There’s not a weak link in the cast; everyone holds their own. The three men are all strong in their own ways - Kimmel is self-assured and relaxed as Bill, Michael Torontow is vulnerable and sincere as Sam, and Jay Hindle is hilariously energetic as Harry. All three have an excellent handle on the music and distinctly different voices. It’s terrific casting. Cathy Wilmot, a gifted physical comedienne, steals every scene she’s in as Donna’s friend, Rosie. None of the characters are complex, but they are all so charismatic that I did end up caring about them.
The show is beautifully designed. The sets by David Roberts are gorgeous and feel authentically Greek. Paired with Robert Sondergaard’s evocative lighting and pleasing colour palette of Alison’s Green’s costumes, it’s a visual treat. It also sounds amazing. Under Ken Cormier’s direction, the band and ensemble singers commit to the joy and simplicity of ABBA’s music and make it irresistible to sing along. Valerie Easton has done a superb job with the choreography (as well as her directing duties). All the large group numbers are sharply executed by the performers, and the moves are fun, inventive and interesting.
Mamma Mia! is not without its faults, but none of them are in the production values. I do love to see a modern musical that showcases so many strong female performers (particularly mature ones), but there just isn’t much depth to them. But depth isn’t exactly a quality found in ABBA’s music, and we all need an inoffensive, feel-good show every now and then. So, take a group of friends, visit the bar beforehand (if that’s your thing), and just go experience an evening of polished, uncomplicated joy. And whatever you do, stay for the curtain call, it’s absolutely the best part. You’ll be encouraged to get up on their feet and join in to sing along, because isn’t that what you’ve wanted to do the whole time? Also, the jumpsuits alone are worth the price of admission.