Review: "Mamma Mia" - International Tour(Toronto)

Helen Anker as Tanya and ensemble from MAMMA MIA .jpg

Joe Szekeres

  • Chief Toronto Theatre Critic

I must have been one of the rare and few individuals who did not see the original Toronto production of Mamma Mia when it played the first time in 2000 with Canadian chanteuse, Louise Pitre. Yes, I did listen to Abba’s music during my undergraduate years from the early 1980s, but life moves forward and we move away from music that we liked to other genres.

When I heard that a story had been created with Abba’s music that would open in London’s West End in 1999, the concept just did not appeal to me whatsoever. From what I recall, international reviews were favourable but I still had no desire to see it. When the original Toronto company premiered with Ms. Pitre, again still no interest.

Last summer, I worked as an usher at a local ‘professional’ theatre where Mamma Mia was staged, I saw the production six times. Mind you, I was unable to watch a complete run-through as my first responsibility was to the patrons. That production had its moments, but still I wasn’t enamoured with the story line.

Well, the international tour opened last night at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre.  Give it the old ‘college’ try (Boy, that sure dates me) and go see it again, and off I went.  And ya know what?

I had a hell of a good time, and so did other audience members around me.

The Ed Mirvish Theatre was full to the brim on this warm summer opening night. As I looked around at the other patrons, many with smiles on their faces and some keeping time and tapping along with the music, this is the reason why I believe the production has endured and lasted.  Mamma Mia was making people happy for approximately two and a half hours. Yes, it’s important to see classic works of theatrical plays that will always challenge and make us appreciate and ensure our humanity is never destroyed.

But it’s ok to have fun at the theatre too and thank you to director Phyllida Lloyd for allowing me.

On a Greek island, young Sophie Sheridan (Lucy May Barker) has read her mother’s diary and discovered there are three men who could possibly be her father. There is Harry Bright (Daniel Crowder), Bill Austin (Matthew Rutherford) and Sam Carmichael (Tamlyn Henderson). Sophie has secretly invited these three men to her wedding to Sky (Ms. Barker’s real-life fiancé, Phillip Ryan) and to find out who is her father.  When the men arrive and meet again years later Sophie’s mother and their old flame, Donna (Shona White), long lost recollected tension and feelings of hope, anger, resentment and remembrance are shared through many of the Abba songs. Will the proverbial and chaotic dust settle with happiness reigning supreme ever after?

Ms. Barker, as Sophie, has a lovely singing voice as she opens the show with the three wedding invitations she places in the mail. Shona White as Sophie’s mother, Donna, is many things. She has had to be feisty and tough as she had to raise her daughter on her own without any support. And Ms. White delivered this in spades clearly when Donna sees her three flames for the first time after so many years. Ms. White also tapped into Donna’s tender and compassionate side even though life has been hard. Her musical numbers ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ were quite poignant.

Helen Anker and Nicky Swift as Donna’s friends Tanya and Rosie (and members of their singing group from many years ago DONNA AND THE DYNAMOS) were brash, bold, and sexy. Ms. Anker wowed me in her sassy ‘Does Your Mother Know’ in her flirtation with hotel boy toy Pepper (Matt Jordan-Pidgeon). For me, Nicky Swift was having a great deal of fun in her provocative flirtation and chair hopping rendition of ‘Take a Chance on Me’ with Matthew Rutherford.

The principal characters are surrounded by a company of youthful, virile and hot performers and dancers who have created memorable and visually stunning moments. ‘Voulez-vous’ and ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ were just two examples.

Final comments: After I had seen a recent production of Wicked here at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, I referred to a comment made by the Wizard of Oz to Elphaba, “You have to give the people what they want.” The Mirvish series is giving its’ patrons what they want. Here in our own cities, province and country we are surrounded by conflict, turmoil and disagreement at this time. Thank you, David Mirvish, for giving us a production which makes us smile even for a little while.

Mamma Mia, the International Tour, runs to August 19 at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street. Visit www.mirvish.com to purchase tickets on line and for more information about the upcoming 2018-2019 productions.

Photo of the International Touring Company by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg.

Running time of two hours and thirty-five minutes with one intermission.