Mamma Mia!, the jukebox musical that started it all, has come back to Costa Mesa in its Final Farewell Tour, its return to the Segerstrom Center For The Arts offering the Broadway mega-smash’s mega-multitude of fans not only two dozen of ABBA’s Greatest Hits but one of Thanksgiving week’s Greatest Reasons to give thanks.
Mamma Mia! may have ended its Broadway run last year after a mind-boggling 5,773 performances, but it remains now and forever the world’s most popular “juke box musical,” that is to say one which takes a bunch of hit tunes and finds ways to string them together as if they had been written for the musical and not the other way around.
Using the 1968 Gina Lollobrigida comedy Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell as inspiration, book writer Catherine Johnson adroitly squeezes ABBA hit after hit into the tale of a young woman who invites a trio of strangers to her upcoming wedding in hopes of finding out which of her mother’s long-ago loves planted the seed which grew into twenty-year-old Sophie Sheridan.
Needless to say, Sam, Bill, and Harry’s arrival at the Greek taverna run by Mamma Donna causes a commotion, not just in the village, but in the innkeeper’s heart as well.
Elon University grad Lizzie Markson makes her national tour debut as Sophie, who informs her two best friends (Niki Badua and Chloe Kounadis as Lisa and Ali) that according to her mother’s twenty-one-year-old diary entries, three different men made her Mamma swoon one hot summer to the words and music of “Honey, Honey.”
Even bigger news is that all three—Aussie Sam (Shai Yammanee), Brit Harry (Andrew Tebo), and American Bill (Marc Cornes)—are about to arrive at the tavern for Sophie’s wedding to Sky (Dustin Harris Smith).
Meanwhile, 40ish Donna (Betsy Padamonsky) has her own invitees arriving—plus-sized Rosie (Sarah Smith) and nipped-and-tucked Tanya (Cashelle Butler), her longtime best friends and former Donna And The Dynamos groupmates.
When Donna comes face to face with the three men who might have fathered Sophie, memories come rushing back to the strains of the title tune.
ABBA males Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’s melodies are as catchy as ever and their lyrics as slightly stilted as they were back in the ‘70s. (It’s hard to imagine Sondheim, Hammerstein, or Porter coming up with turns of phrases as awkward as “Got a feeling, you give me no choice, but it means a lot to me. So I wanna know what’s the name of the game?”)
Still, this is minor kvetching compared to those infectious ABBA hooks and the memories they bring back of whatever age you were when you first discovered the Scandinavian Super Troupers.
Mamma Mia!’s Farewell Tour cast couldn’t be more ABBAtastic. Padamonsky’s Donna combines instant likability and terrific vocals backed up by Butler’s martini-dry glamazon of a Tanya and Smith’s bubbly, brassy delight of a Rosie.
Leading-man handsome and charming, Smith is everything you want a Sky to be opposite Markson’s perky and ever so winning Sophie.
Cornes’s robust, charming Bill, Tebo’s suave, sophisticated Harry, and Yammanee’s sexy, dynamic Sam are winners as well, the latter showing off pipes that made me think “Bocelli!”
Michael’s spicy Pepper not only heats up Tanya but defies gravity to audience cheers, Ehrlich couldn’t make for a more appealing Eddie, and Badua and Kounadis are effervescent delights as Sophie’s best gal pals.
Completing the all-around fabulous cast are Joshua Taylor Hamilton (Father Alexandros), Matthew Janisse, Marcus John, Cori Cable Kidder, Gabriella Marchion, Luke Monday, Catherine Nickerson, Alicia Osborn, Carlina Parker, Yael Reich, Alex Sheets, Julia Cassandra Smith, Ian Taylor, and Brian Whitehill—all of whom execute Anthony Van Laast’s energetic, athletic choreography with high energy and flair in addition to pcroviding considerable vocal backup both onstage and off. (One of Mamma Mia!’s cleverer conceits is having its ensemble serve as a veritable Greek chorus, popping up again and again in unexpected places.)
Swings Kylie Brunngraber, Juan Guillen, Stephanie Inglese, and dance captain Danny Lopez are poised to step in at any performance as needed.
Though original Mamma Mia! director Phillida Lloyd continues to receive directorial credit for Mamma Mia!’s Farewell Tour, it’s resident director Martha Banta who’s been whipping touring companies in shape for years now.
Music director Kevin Casey conducts and plays keyboard in the tour’s sensational six-piece band.
Production designer Mark Thompson’s modular sets may be simple, but they evoke the white-on-blue-sky/sea image we have of the Greek isles, and his Techni-colorful costumes range from ‘70s ABBA-style nostalgia to ‘90s Greek Isle-wear. Sound designers Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken do a first-rate job of mixing synthesizers and voices. Martin Koch is musical supervisor as well as providing additional material and arrangements.
William Ferry is company manager and Jon Satrom is assistant company manager. Geneva Mattoon is production stage manager and Alexander Pierce is assistant stage manager.
It’s been nearly three decades since Mamma Mia! has its West End World Premiere, and as this 2016 Final Farewell Tour makes abundantly clear, the ABBA Musical hasn’t lost an iota of its crowd-pleasing heart and pizzazz in the years since its debut. You’ve got just one week to catch it at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts. If you’re any kind of ABBA fan, you’ll be giving thanks if you do.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
November 22, 2016
Photos: Kevin Thomas Garcia