REVIEW: MAMMA MIA! Yes, You’ll Be Broken Hearted

MAMMA MIA! (L to R) Jalynn Steele (Tanya), Carly Sakolove (Rosie), and Christine Sherrill (Donna Sheridan)Photo by Joan Marcus

(L to R) Jalynn Steele (Tanya), Carly Sakolove (Rosie), and Christine Sherrill (Donna Sheridan)
Photo by Joan Marcus

Don’t go wasting your emotions on MAMMA MIA!  I wasn’t planning to make any ABBA puns in this review, but a lot of things didn’t seem to go as planned this evening, so here we are.  Marking the 25th anniversary of its debut on Broadway, the grande dame of jukebox musicals should have been a slam dunk.  MAMMA MIA! doesn’t demand a lot from its performers; none of the vocals are particularly challenging and the dialogue is forgettable, but no one cares because the onslaught of Swedish precision-crafted hits usually sweeps you away to musical bliss.  Instead, tonight’s show felt amateurish and wildly uneven, like the director was calling in on a shaky Zoom connection from the Peloponnese.

Right from the start, it was hard to ignore the cheap-looking, wobbly set construction and the jiggling moon projector that the lighting crew forgot to mount on a stabilizer.  Meanwhile, as the overture swelled and Alisa Melendez as Sophie launched into the show’s first solo, it started to feel as though this might be the sound mixer’s first day on the job.  The levels for the band constantly overpowered the performers on-stage.  With what felt like they had the treble sliders pushed all the way up, half the songs took on a grating quality that varied from mildly annoying to downright painful.  As if that wasn’t enough, the pickups on several of the actors’ mics were cranked up so high, every time they touched a prop felt like a slap to the head.  And then there was the reverb during Dancing Queen, ruining what should have been one of the pinnacles of the first act.

This isn’t to say it was all tech problems ruining the night.  The performer playing Donna seemed like she was having a rough go of it, herself.  Either her mic kept dropping out or she was struggling through multiple songs–perhaps a little of both, from the look of it.  Anyone can have a bad night, but these are pop songs, not arias from Phantom of the Opera; they should not be challenging for any but the most inexperienced singers.  The rest of the cast’s performances were a bit over-excited, delivering every line by shouting, although Carly Sakolove and Jalynn Steele were hilarious as Donna’s friends, Rosie and Tanya.

This is usually the part where I would list show dates (at the Orpheum in Minneapolis now through February 11) and how to score rush tickets for a discount, but it would feel wrong to do so after the preceding 400 words.  Instead, if you’re an ABBA diehard, I will point out that the motion picture version of MAMMA MIA! from 2008 is currently streaming on Netflix.  Even if you watch it with commercials, it would be a better overall experience.