Mamma Mia! at the Orpheum Theatre

Mamma Mia! North American Tour 2010. Pictured: Kaye Tuckerman. Photo: Joan Marcus 2010

The pitch for the Broadway touring production of Mamma Mia! is “You already know you’re gonna love it!” Judging by the opening night audience, at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, I’d say that’s fairly accurate. A good portion of the audience was laughing before the gag and applauding an entrance before it happened. This show is on its way to achieving a fan base reserved for productions that seem to live on almost indefinitely. If you have already seen it, I am comfortable assuring you that it will meet or exceed your expectations. If you haven’t (I hadn’t) let me tell you what your in for.

Great Abba songs. It was odd for me to hear them telling a different story than the one that played in my head when I heard the originals, but it was gratifying to know that these songs really do hold up.

A wacky premise and contrived plot. For musical theater (updated a bit), it’s a perfect fit. Sure, we can see the ending coming, but it’s so satisfying that there’s nothing left but to sit back and be entertained, and isn’t that the point?

A curtain call that loads on the frosting. Just when you think it’s peaked out on costume changes and high-energy production numbers, it tops itself. Again. If you can’t take it, stick with plain yoghurt.

Charming, likeable characters. Well, of course. Who would go see a musical without them? Chloe Tucker as Sophie is fresh and sweet; her beau Sky (Happy Mahaney) is immature and irresistible; Kaye Tuckerman as Donna, Sophie’s tough, independent mom, shone in her private moments, delivering a powerhouse performance in “The Winner Takes It All,” in particular.

Donna’s former boyfriends (one of whom is Sophie’s dad) nicely set up the dilemma and provided ample excuses for physical schtick. Harry (Paul Deboy) and Bill (John-Michael Zuerlein) had instant appeal; Christian Whelan as Sam just didn’t seem like a fit for me: wrong voice for pop music and not much for sparks with Donna.

But Alison Ewing as Tanya and Mary Callanan as Rosie, Donna’s friends who show up for Sophie and Sky’s wedding, had a special chemistry going. Both powerhouse singers—together or apart—they lit up the stage.

You should also know that you will be hit over the head with the jokes. Repeatedly and emphatically. Every possible opportunity for broad (and low) humor was utilized, particularly if it could be highly choreographed. There is little rest from this until the play’s more serious moments, but apart from a lovely and brief show opener, that’s in Act II. If you laugh at this stuff, you already know you’re gonna love it.

Mamma Mia runs through April 29th. Recommended for hardcore Broadway musical buffs.


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