Citadel Theatre, Maclab Stage
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
February 17 to March 18, 2018
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, hicksbiz.com
Mamma Mia, the biggest “jukebox musical” of them all, made its West End debut in 1999.
Nineteen years later, the show built around the legendary pop songs of ABBA is still so popular that the Citadel Theatre’s excellent production of the same is pretty well guaranteed to sell most of the seats available for its four-week run, February 17 to March 18, 2018.
The show is 19 years old!
Jukebox musical is a term for a musical stage production built around the songs of a singer or a band. Musicals have been constructed around the music of Queen, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, more recently Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys) and Carole King.
But Mamma Mia continues to tower over all the other jukebox musicals ever created.
Because there’s as much art, to paraphrase the late, great Edmonton Sun entertainment writer Dave Billington, in the crooning of a country music star as there is in a performance by the London Philharmonic.
There’s as much art in the happy and gloriously silly Mamma Mia as there is in more overtly “aesthetic” Citadel shows of this season like Hadestown or Ubuntu. Hats off to artistic director Daryl Cloran for recognizing, like Billington, that art comes in every conceivable box and circumstance.
Mamma Mia represents a pinnacle of popular art.
To start with, ABBA songwriters/band members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus are up there with Paul McCartney and John Lennon as giants of pop music composition. Twenty-six songs are performed over the show’s two-hour run. You will recognize them all, and know the words to many.
The music is the most beautiful fluff ever created, and damn, in this relentlessly grim politically-correct world in which we now live, we need the respite of beautiful fluff!
Mamma Mia does the impossible. It openly intertwines all kinds of straight demographic/marketing/ commercial points into a show … that is mercifully free of commercial manipulation!
There’s nostalgia for Baby Boomers – recalling the free love of their youth in the '60s and '70s, of the fun they had so many years ago.
There’s the universal idyllic pull of the Greek islands in which Mamma Mia is set.
There’s the mother-daughter relationship that all mothers and daughters can relate to.
There’s the regrets of late-middle age – the things that could have been – and the sweet romantic possibility of true love cascadingback into lives grown cynical by the lack thereof.
Above all, the Citadel’s production of Mamma Mia is pure, crystalline fun.
The songs, the plot, the marvellous choreography, the cheerfulness, the sun-drenched thrust-stage of the Maclab Theatre and how it is used – it’s all just stupendous, beautifully crafted fun.
Probing into the Citadel’s production, it is incredible how much underlying dramatic skill and professionalism is called upon to create what superficially looks like simple fun and a touch of mayhem on stage.
The set itself is masterful – set designer Cory Sincennes and lighting director Kimberly Purtell have captured the essence of a sun-drenched Mediterranean island, so rich and warm in shades of blue, never-ending sunlight glinting off ancient stone …
The casting is superb – every actor in a main role has nailed this one.
Edmonton-based Patricia Zentilli is a huge surprise in the co-lead role of Donna, the free-spirited mother who has never told daughter Sophie who her dad is … because Donna herself doesn’t know. (That on the eve of her own marriage Sophie (ably played by actor Tess Benger) wants to know who dad is, so he can walk her down the aisle, is the nut of the Mamma Mia story.)
For whatever reasons, Zentilli’s never had such a juicy triple-threat role like this on an Edmonton stage, and she makes the most of it – especially handling the demands of the ABBA songs on the female voice.
It’s a joy to watch the two main threads of this show unfold: The mostly comedic dynamic between the three potential dads (actors John Ullyatt, Ashley Wright and Leon Willey) as they slowly figure out why they have been invited to Donna’s daughter Sophie’s ocean-side wedding, and the interplay between Donna and her two best friends from their halcyon days as the Donna and The Dynamos band, played by the sultry Christy Adamson and the boisterous, often scene-stealing Jenni Burke.
The ensemble is beautifully used. The exact opposite of your usual tragic Greek chorus, this gang do everything possible to keep the mood light and fun. The gymnastics, the dancing, the slapstick and the occasional cameo are breath-takingly fun.
Kudos to director Ashlie Corcoran and choreographer Laura Krewski for keeping this whole show sorted out, able to carom along, happily teetering on the edge, but never going off the rails.
If you need respite from the politically-correct laugh-less world we have created in this day and age, if you need to glory in the sentiment of Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen and Waterloo, if you need belly laughs and shameless romanticism, if you want to admire popular art at its beaming, happy best … don’t miss this show!!!