Mamma Mia!

| April 18, 2017

Mamma Mia!

Westchester Broadway Theatre, Elmsford, NY, March 30, 2017
Photos: John Vecchiolla

(L-R) Jennifer Swiderski (as Rosie), Michelle Dawson (as Donna), Elise Kinnon (as Tanya)

Mamma Mia!—which is playing at the Westchester Broadway [dinner] Theatre through June 25th—is a second-rate musical at best. But the star, Michelle Dawson, is giving a first-rate performance—very well acted, very well sung. Her commitment is so total, and her characterization is so real, she makes the material seem better than it is.  

I’ve long enjoyed her work. Her Broadway credits include Spider-Man, Ragtime, Show Boat, and Cyrano. She understudied the leading role in Mama Mia! on Broadway, and played the role in the national tour; she knows the show and the character well. I’ve enjoyed her in leading roles in assorted other musicals at Westchester Broadway, including Man of La Mancha, Oliver!, and Jekyll and Hyde. And she commands attention here. 

Mariah MacFarlane (as Sophie) with (L-R) Xander Chauncey (as Sam Carmichael), Kilty Reidy (as Harry, Brent Bateman (as Bill)

Newcomer Mariah MacFarlane, playing her daughter, does a very fine job, too. I liked her a lot. These two key roles are covered well, and the scenes between mother and daughter ring true. There are some other amiable, agreeable performances in the production.  

But Mama Mia! has never been a great musical. Writer Catherine Johnson built a show around pre-existing songs of ABBA (by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus); sometimes the songs serve the story well, sometimes the songs get in the way of the story, slowing it down or grinding it awkwardly to a halt. There is an interesting basic story about a girl trying to find out who her father is, but the story gets buried at times by claptrap.  
If you love the songs of ABBA, you might not really mind that this musical proceeds fitfully; you might simply get a kick out of hearing one fondly remembered song after another. Mamma Mia! certainly appealed to many people during its long run  on Broadway, and it will surely appeal to many people here. This is the 200th production at Westchester Broadway, and  producers Bill Stutler and Bob Funking know their audience.
But if you’re looking for a well-crafted musical, in which songs and dances help advance an interesting story, look elsewhere.  I  saw Mamma Mia! a couple of times on Broadway—mostly to  cheer on friends in the cast—but it never did much for me as a musical. I found it annoying the way the musical numbers sometimes retarded the action, making it difficult to stay caught up in the story. 
The Broadway production, I might note, had a highly polished, highly professional sheen to it that is missing here. And that  professionalism helped. The direction and choreography here, by Mark Martino, are a cut below the usual Westchester Broadway standards. The production feels uneven. There is one very good dancer in the ensemble—Connor Wince—and it was wonderful seeing him give it his all, and execute every move crisply with flair. His presence helped. But the dance routines were, for the most, disappointing—kitschy and derivative.

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Category: Musical Theatre Reviews, New York (State), New York (State) Musical Theatre Reviews, Off-Broadway Reviews, Regional

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