Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Change of Pace: Mamma Mia!

It's the 10th anniversary of the North American premiere of Mamma Mia!  which occurred in Toronto, and the North American touring company is making a return visit.  Having missed the show the first time, I wasn't going to miss it again and unbeknownst to me ended up going on Opening Night.

I didn't really know what to expect given that my recent theatre/performance experience has been with the rather stoic TSO audiences, but Mamma Mia! indeed.  It's was a totally fun, electrifying show that spilled into the lobby (a group of teenagers belting out "Dancing Queen" at 11pm is an experience) and onto the street.  The audience seemed fairly young, although there were a few grandmother-ish types in the row ahead of us who mentioned they'd seen it last time it was in town.

I was unprepared for the applause that greeted the opening chords of the overture!  Throughout various numbers people started clapping along.  It was nice that people around us didn't join in the singing until the uproaring encores (although I can see how one can get that desire) but at that point I was right there joining in with the dancing (subtly), clapping and singing along.

The set was very simple yet very effective.  By flipping two curved walls they were able to create the interior and exterior of multiple areas of the taverna.  The lighting worked very well too, with spotlights highlighting the character performing a soliloquy type song while the ones being sung about were in shadow.  Plus the strobe lights in some of the dance numbers made things look appropriately hectic.  Very creatively done.  The post intermission "nightmare", complete with fog rolling into the orchestra pit, black lights, and dancing in flippers was pretty impressive too.  I wondered how "Under Attack" fit into the plot.

My main critique of the performance was the sound mixing.  At times the band overpowered the vocalists, Donna especially during the quieter moments of her solos.  Also, I expect the background vocals were not all live.  Sam who seems to have the most solo numbers I would not pick as having the best voice.  Harry was lovely to listen to and the "Our Last Summer" duet with Donna was well done.

Start of side note regarding theatre in general.
I'm not really opposed to change, but I remember when inside a theatre was a no eating/drinking zone, and I preferred it this way.  Save the candy for a movie, and the guys walking the aisles selling ice cream for baseball games.  What bothered me most though was having to smell the rum in the drink of the guy beside me through the first half and his beer through the second.  Then at the end of the show, the theatre gets left in a mess!  Is the mark-up on the food that high that it counters the extra cleaning costs?  I suppose the lack of these issues is still an advantage of the Symphony...and may it stay that way.
End side note.

The entertainment value of the performance though never lacked through all the organized chaos.  The ripped gentlemen (Sky and Harry in particular) provided plenty of eye candy and it's introduced a whole new generation to Abba's music and hopefully musical theatre overall.

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