Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ The Farewell Tour at the Merriam Theatre

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With shows like Green Day’s American Idiot and Carole King’s Beautiful, musicals based off of pop hits have become more popular in recent years. However, there is one show that is the mother of jukebox musicals: Mamma Mia!. It has the perfect balance of story and showcasing the famous hits of ABBA such as “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” and the show’s namesake. 

Director Phyllida Lloyd has successfully guided the updated 1970s classics of ABBA with flourish. Focusing on the young Sophie seeking out her father walk her down the aisle, she accidentally ends up with three possible fathers. Her mother is then faced with her past ex-boyfriends on the eve of her daughter’s wedding. Throw in some ABBA, and you’ve got a musical!

The arrangements by Martin Koch sound beautiful with the help of conductor Kevin Casey on keyboard and his five-person band (Chris Santillan: Assistant Conductor/keyboard; Alex Domschot and Jonathan Hawkins: guitars; Lloyd Kikoler: bass; Derek Stoltenberg: drums). The amount of rocking synthesizer rivals that of even The Phantom of the Opera. The recognizable and popular music is what makes the show, and it does not disappoint.

While Lizzie Markson (Sophie) seems overly petulant throughout, she opens the show with a bang in “Honey, Honey” and follows through with the rest of the show beautifully sung. Sophie’s relationship with mother Betsy Padamonsky (Donna) is beautifully seen in “Slipping Through My Fingers.” Padamonsky steals the show with “The Winner Takes It All.” Padamonsky’s counterpart Shai Yammanee (Sam Carmichael) is not only charismatic but talented to boot as demonstrated in “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

Andrew Tebo’s Harry is charming and lovely with Padamonsky in “Our Last Summer.”  While Cashielle Butler (Tanya) has incredible vocals throughout, she especially slays with “Does Your Mother Know?”. However, the performances that take the cake are Sarah Smith (Rosie) and Marc Cornes (Bill Hayes) in “Take a Chance on Me.” They lighten the brief levity of the show with physical comedy chops that would rival Lucy and Ricky.

The powerhouse ensemble is filled out by Niki Badua, Kylie Brunngraber, Max Ehrlich, Juan Guillen, Joshua Taylor Hamilton, Staphenie Ingelese, Matthew Janisse, Marcus John, Cori Cable Kidder, Chloe Kounadis, Danny Lopez, Gabriella Marchion, Austin Michael, Luke Monday, Catherine Nickerson, Alicia Osborn, Carlina Parker, Yael Reich, Alex Sheets, Dustin Harris Smith, Julia Cassandra Smith, Ian Taylor, and Brian Whitehill.

Anthony Van Laast pulls the ensemble into this piece with the choreography. From the energetic Act One finale, “Voulez-Vous,” to the powerhouse mega-mix finale. The entire audience leaping to their feet to dance along with the cast was quite a sight to see.

Production design by Mark Thompson is a successful use of space and established location with simple prop and scenic pieces. Lighting design by Howard Harrison supplements the energetic show with bright, popping color and constant spotlights.

If you looked around the audience at this show, you saw patrons ranging anywhere from 16 to 79. Both the cast and the patrons were having a blast. The last 5 minutes felt more like an ABBA concert than the bows of a musical, in the best way. Even if you aren’t a fan of ABBA, you’ll be a fan of Mamma Mia! Make sure to see it before it slips through your fingers in this farewell tour.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Mamma Mia! plays through this Saturday, December 31, 2016, at the Merriam Theatre – 250 South Broad Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 731-3333, or purchase them online.

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