Review: Crowd-pleaser ‘Mamma Mia!’ bids Montreal farewell at Place des Arts

The mamma of jukebox musicals is back in town for a final encore

Left to Right: Cashelle Butler, Betsy Padamonsky, and Sarah Smith as the Dynamos in MAMMA MIA! the Musical (Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)

The wildly popular Broadway musical Mamma Mia!, which ended its 14-year New York run in September of 2015, is the latest national tour to make a pit stop in Montreal. Presented by Broadway Across Canada and evenko, the visiting production returns to Place des Arts’ grand Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for 5 performances, ending its limited engagement run on Sunday, February 19th, 2017. Read our full review below.

Featuring music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the splashy and sprightly Mamma Mia! is intricately built along the chart-topping songs of Swedish pop group ABBA – a string of twenty-two of them, to be exact – interwoven with a book by Catherine Johnson under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd.

The story is simple: Donna (Betsy Padamonsky) is an independent, free-spirited single mother running a hotel on a small, idyllic Greek island who suddenly finds herself being revisited by her past. Her soon-to-be-married daughter Sophie (Lizzie Markson) dreams of a perfect wedding – one which includes her father walking her down the aisle and giving her away to her fiancé, Sky (Dustin Harris Smith).

The problem? Sophie doesn’t actually know who her father is. With her tight-lipped mother’s adamant refusal to speak about her relationship affairs, the headstrong Sophie takes the matter into her own hands, sneaking a peek into Donna’s old diaries and discovering three possible dads: Harry (Andrew Tebo), Bill (Marc Cornes), and Sam (Shai Yammanee). She secretly invites them all to the nuptials, thinking she’ll recognize him when she sees him, but as they all show up and become convinced of their fatherhood, hilarity ensues. As long lost loves and friends reunite, outbursts of song and dance punctuate the narrative.

The company of MAMMA MIA! (Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)

Lizzie Markson as Sophie is endearing, bringing a cheeky joviality to the role of bride-to-be Sophie. Betsy Padamonsky as Donna is no less delightful, but some of her larger lines and significant moments are lost in a lack of energy and intent. The vocals among the two female leads are strong, but more serviceable than spine-shivering, perhaps. Marc Cornes, Shai Yammanee and Andrew Tebo as the suspected American, Aussie and British fathers, respectively, are equally charming and Chloe Kounadis and Niki Badua as Sophie’s galpals Ali and Lisa kickstart the show on solid footing.

The standout performances, however, are revealed in the form of supporting players Cashelle Butler and Sarah Smith, who deliver some much-needed punch and pizazz as Donna’s Dynamos Tanya and Rosie. Their adult comedic bits don’t come off as gratuitous and the harmonic girl group numbers (notably “Dancing Queen” and “Chiquitita”) are amongst the showstoppers. Our – and the audience’s unanimous – pick of the night? Smith’s and Cornes’ riotous “Take a Chance on Me.” We craved for more of them but unfortunately, all-around, Mamma Mia! isn’t a particularly exceptional showcase for one’s singing, dancing, or acting chops.

The male ensemble of MAMMA MIA! (Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)

The production, it should be herein noted, is non-equity – its reduced budget most readily noticeable by way of a cast of relatively inexperienced performers, heavily synthesized music played by a small six-piece band, and downsized staging in comparison to previous union tours. Even with the production value dialled down just a notch, however, it doesn’t detract from its enjoyment and entertainment. The sets and costumes (designed by Mark Thompson) as well as the lighting (by Howard Harrison) are bursting in vivid, playful colour and the music – the most significant element – is no less recognizable with the vibrant new arrangement by Martin Koch.

(There was, however, on opening night a technical glitch which delayed the start of the second act by 15 minutes – our suspicions were of complications with the projections. Also, we were unusually distracted by the occasional late, shaky, and unbalanced followspot all throughout the performance. “Super Trouper lights aren’t gonna find me” in this case.)

The company of MAMMA MIA! (Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia)

We “thank you,” Mamma Mia!, “for the music” – indisputably the main draw of the spectacle. The thread-thin plot is driven by and clearly designed around ABBA’s catchy ’70s disco tunes, making it more akin to a spirited tribute concert than a dramatic piece of scripted theatre (as, alas, seems to be the standard with most jukebox musicals). The acting is disappointingly broad, the choreography is fun but run of the mill, but at this point, frankly, the show is critic-proof… and we’re happy to pardon it for its misgivings and shortcomings in witnessing the delight of dancing theatregoers old and young at the curtain call. The high points of Mamma Mia! may just in fact be its lively ouverture, its jolting (literally) entr’acte, and its encore of sing-a-long group numbers.

With Montreal’s opening night standing ovation in mind, we wonder how final the “Farewell Tour” really is. In any case, if you’re worried the opportunity to see it might irrevocably slip out from your fingers, this might just be the time to grab tight a ticket. For ABBA fans, it’s assuredly a night of nostalgia-inducing melodies, and for non-fans, it’s still a worthwhile, heart-warming outing in escape of the frigid outdoors.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon

The North American touring production of Mamma Mia!, presented by evenko and Broadway Across Canada, plays at Place des Arts’ grand Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175 Rue St-Catherine Ouest, Montreal, H2X 3X5) until Sunday, February 19th, 2017.

Tickets are $38 to $88 and can be purchased online at
or by calling the Box Office at (514) 842-2112 | 1 (866) 842-2112

Running time: approximately two and half hours with one intermission

Performances are presented in English (no sub/surtitles)

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