BEVERLY — There is no denying the appeal of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical stuffed with the hits of Swedish pop group ABBA. Theater and movie audiences have had the time of their lives revisiting these catchy songs that dominated the charts in the ’70s. A sequel film, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” with its all-star cast, has been a summer box office smash.
Fans can’t get enough of “Mamma Mia!” Critics, however, have been less than kind, slamming everything from its simplistic plot to its romantic but un-women’s-lib-friendly ending.
Critics should get a life and behave more like “normal” people. It’s easy to over-analyze this show, but it’s futile to resist its charms. Everyone should just sit back, relax and enjoy this romantic comedy and cathartically sing out the songs of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, like the near-capacity audience did Wednesday night at North Shore Music Theatre.
This is one of the most fun, enjoyable productions I’ve seen at NSMT. You’ll smile and sing till your mouth is sore.
For those unfamiliar with the plot: Sophie Sheridan (Malia Monk) is about to be married to Sky (Nick Walker Jones). The 20-year-old was raised by her single mom, Donna (Erica Mansfield), who runs a taverna on a Greek island, and Sophie yearns for her dad to walk her down the aisle. But, after sneaking a peek at her mom’s diary, she learns her father could be any one of three men. So, she mails wedding invitations to all three, expecting she’ll be able to deduce which is her dad when they show up. (Nowadays, she’d simply pilfer an abandoned champagne glass from each and mail it to one of those DNA kit services, but these were the days of disco and bedazzled outfits and that option wasn’t available.)
Tears, laughter, nightmares, misunderstandings ensue, all punctuated by a buoyant ABBA song.
The cast is generally strong. Mansfield is engaging and does most of the heavy lifting here. Her singing is fine and expressive, and her acting is sure and steady, whether she’s dealing with feelings on stage by herself, with her two BFFs or her trio of former suitors.
The three “dads” all display different personalities and are terrific. Bill, played by Al Bundonis, is a travel writer who would rather spend time with nature than humans; Harry, hilariously and empathetically played by Christopher Carl, is a London banker whose current life bears little resemblance to the hard-rocking, headbanging music lover who had a fling with Donna all those years ago; and David Elder’s Sam is the more serious role, but Elder has the best voice in the cast and connects in his scenes with Mansfield.
Tiffani Barbour (Rosie) and Tari Kelly (Tanya) shine as Donna’s longtime friends. Barbour is priceless, as Rosie tries to seduce Bill while raunchily singing “Take a Chance With Me.” Kelly, who stood out as Dorothy Brock in last season’s “42nd St.,” is riotous as her thrice-married character flirts with one of Sky’s randy young friends.
Monk is hesitant in early scenes, but finds her footing midway through the first act. Sadly, she and Walker Jones create few sparks; you never feel they are in love.
Kevin Hill, the Music Theatre’s producing artistic director, directs and choreographs “Mamma Mia” with a deft, imaginative touch. Restaging this for the theater-in-the-round must have been an ordeal, but some scenes are brilliantly executed, especially when the moving circular floor transports Donna around the stage and a side-splitting scene where the groom’s friends dance while wearing scuba gear.
This “Mamma Mia!” is a blast. Just don’t philosophize about “What constitutes a family?” Don’t tut-tut Donna’s decision at the musical’s conclusion. The name of this game is to have fun, people. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! “Mamma Mia.”