Warren Kimmel and Cathy Wilmot in Arts Club’s Mamma Mia. (photo by David Cooper)
Warning: The song titles mentioned in this article have been known to cause stuck-song syndrome for several weeks. Read at your own peril.
So, let’s say it’s Friday night and the lights are low, and you’re looking out for a place to go. Is the music in your head yet?
Even if the simple mention of the name Mamma Mia doesn’t have you drumming up ABBA songs in your head that get stuck there for days at a time, don’t jump to any quick conclusions about whether you’ll enjoy this play. I am not a raving ABBA fan, but highly recommend it – for the singing, the characters and, very last but far from least, the outrageous closing number.
If, for some reason, this were the last review I were able to write, I would put down my pen feeling complete, having seen Warren Kimmel prance around stage in a hot pink jump suit singing ABBA. Does this man’s talent know no bounds?
It’s also worthy to see, at least once, the show that has had such lasting power and whose celluloid “offspring” has broken records.
The title of the 1999 musical was taken from the group’s 1975 hit. In London’s West End, it became the eighth-longest running show in history, as well as the ninth-longest-running show in Broadway history, closing in 2015 after 14 years.
In 2008, Mamma Mia became the highest-grossing film to ever be released in the United Kingdom, beating Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
But, if you’re not one of the huge Mamma Mia fans out there, you may not know the story.
We open on a Greek island, where Sophie and friends are planning for her wedding. Sophie reveals that, upon reading her mother’s journals, she may know the identity of her father, whom her mother left before Sophie was born. Sophie has narrowed the list to three potentials and, without telling her mother, invites them to the wedding.
When the possible dads show up, mom is more than a little surprised and curious that they all ended up coincidentally on her island at the same time, but even they don’t know at first the real reason they were summoned.
Dad potential Bill Austin (Warren Kimmel) is the early favourite, but the question of who the real father is stays up in the air – and please, no bribes this time. I’m not telling.
This is really the feel-good play of the summer. The singing is fabulous and many of the dance numbers (including seven guys doing a can-can wearing diving flippers) are highly entertaining.
If you’re a fan of Absolutely Fabulous, you’ll recognize a lot of Joanna Lumley’s character Patsy in Mamma Mia’s Tanya. One half-expects her to pull out a cigarette and bottle of booze and start tripping around the stage.
Even a mild ABBA fan will enjoy the music and the way the lyrics are woven into the story. Since the words of many of ABBA’s songs talk about relationships and life, they lend themselves well to being adapted into dialogue and plot.
I am left with two complaints, however. The first is the exaggerated movements and over-acting that permeate the first quarter of the production. It seems to be a fault of many musicals, as though every sentence that isn’t sung needs grand arm gestures or running around the stage for no reason. Once that dies down, however, you are free to sit back, tap your toes and enjoy the fun.
The second has to do with a dream sequence that completely lacks any esthetic cohesion. A chorus in full-body leotards, leaves on their heads and arms, left me with more questions than answers about what was going on.
But this is where the story ends, this is goodbye. I know some JI readers might think Mamma Mia is just going to be a silly romp. However, if you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down, if you change your mind, be the first in line … oops, there I go again.
Mamma Mia is at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until Aug. 12. For tickets and information, visit artsclub.com.
Baila Lazarus is a Vancouver-based writer and principal media strategist at bailalazarus.com.