Mamma Mia! is an unlikely cultural phenomenon, to say the least. The preposterous, Greece-set story follows a young bride who seeks the identity of her father from three potential candidates — all set to (relatively cheesy) ’70s-’80s Europop tunes. (Original EW review) Mamma Mia! helped juice the jukebox musical genre when it opened on Broadway on Oct. 19, 2001. (It had debuted in London’s West End the year before.) In the past nine years, the show has grossed more than $2 billion in the U.S., been seen by more than 42 million people worldwide, and spawned a blockbuster 2008 movie starring Meryl Streep.
So how’s the original show holding up today? It’s still a veritable party, mostly because ABBA’s tunes are as light and tasty as cotton candy. Honestly, who can resist such melt-in-your-mouth sweetness? Maybe it’s all the synth music or the fact that no song drags on too long, but the tunes are beguiling and just downright fun — everything from big hits like ”Dancing Queen” and ”Lay All Your Love on Me” to less familiar toe-tappers such as ”Our Last Summer” and ”Voulez-Vous.” The show ticks along like nothing else on Broadway.
But make no mistake, the production could use a little freshening up. Simply updating the color palette of the cast’s wardrobe would go far to help move Mamma Mia! into current times. The cast, too, seems to have fallen off a bit. Beth Leavel was dazzling in her Tony-winning role in The Drowsy Chaperone, but she doesn’t fit the titular role of the bride-to-be’s mother, Donna, because her voice skews more toward traditional Broadway than the pop stylings of ABBA. The men, too, seem wildly miscast — John Dossett, who plays Donna’s eventual paramour Sam Carmichael, seems too old for the role and struggles through his singing duties. The current players seem tired and defeated when they should be buoyant and youthful.
Mamma Mia! can still be a blast — or maybe just a welcome blast from the past. If you don’t get up and dance a little during the encore numbers — when the six principals reappear after the curtain call in ABBA-inspired disco wear and sing ”Dancing Queen,” etc., all over again — you should have your companion check your pulse. B-
(Tickets: telecharge.com or 800.432.7250)