Pictured: U.S. 2016 National Tour of MAMMA MIA! Photo courtesy of Starlight Theatre.
By Marissa Carter
The MAMMA MIA! FAREWELL TOUR is making a stop in Kansas City this weekend for a very short engagement. This energetic musical, based on the songs of ABBA, retires after the final performances in July and for a show based entirely around a collection of popular songs, MAMMA MIA! has had a remarkable run. Since the 1999 London opening, MAMMA MIA! has been performed in sixteen languages all around the word, and become the eighth-longest-running show in Broadway history.
Perhaps the main reason it has been so well received is that the story is as catchy as the music that is woven through it. Sophie Sheridan (Lizzie Markson) has spent her childhood on a remote Greek island, at a hotel run by her single mother, Donna (Betsy Padamonsky). As she is busily preparing for her wedding, Sophie’s big dream is to finally meet her father and ask him to walk her down the aisle. The problem, however, is that no one is sure who Sophie’s father is.
After finding her mother’s diary, Sophie learns that there are three possibilities – so she invites all three men to her wedding on the island in hopes that she will know the right one when she meets him.
When the wedding guests all come to the island, Donna is forced to face all three men from her past, including the one who broke her heart. Luckily, she has her two best girlfriends, and former backup singers, there to help her out.
MAMMA MIA! is an exciting show that stays lighthearted in spite of its emotional storyline. The songs that inspired the story are a great fit to the overall composition of the show, and lend a tongue in cheek, devil may care attitude to the plot.
This production is brilliant from a technical standpoint. The set is simple, consisting of two large, white, rotating buildings that form the different rooms, patios, and street scenes. The blue and white backdrop accentuates the set and creates a seascape impression that makes it easy to envision the small island as the paradise it is supposed to be.
Through the first few scenes, most of the characters are dressed in varying shades of blue and white, which, with the coloring of the stage, creates a very monochromatic, yet comfortable feeling. As the plot unfolds and the action rises, more and more color is introduced into the costumes until at the end the entire stage is a riot of bright hues. This progression serves the plot well and helps to develop the story.
The cast does a great job with the music and delivers the comedic scenes brilliantly. The songs “Dancing Queen,” “Lay All Your Love On Me,” and “Take a Chance On Me” are pure fun and absolutely deserving of the huge audience reaction they receive.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the dramatic scenes. The passion, nostalgia, and heartbreak described in the script and lyrics are curiously absent on stage, and most of the characters display an equal level of hopeful, optimistic innocence instead of the varying traits they are described as having. As a result, the characters come across as shallow, which leaves us with a show that is visually pleasing and enjoyable, but completely lacking in emotional depth.
Though many productions would be destroyed by such a shallow character arc, MAMMA MIA! powers through just fine because, as a whole, the purpose of the show is accomplished – it’s fun. Audience members can expect to laugh out loud and fight not to sing along, but should absolutely NOT leave early because the finale is worth waiting in traffic for.
MAMMA MIA! FAREWELL TOUR is playing through June 25th. For more information, visit www.kcstarlight.com.