Mamma Mia! is one of those musicals that tends to divide serious theatre people from those who, you know... want to be entertained.
First debuting on the London stage in 1999, the show proved to be a formidable entertainment machine, engineered like an expensive German engine to produce maximum escapist torque.
Set on a sunny Greek island, it’s basically a domestic comedy about an impending marriage.
Twenty-year-old Sophie (Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane) is getting hitched. Raised without a father by ferociously independent mother Donna (Ma-Anne Dionisio), Sophie decides to use the wedding as a means of discovering the truth of her paternity. Stealing her mom’s diary, she determines there are three possible dad candidates and she mails wedding invitations to each of them: London architect Sam (Kevin McIntyre), reformed headbanger Harry (Clint Butler) and Aussie journalist Bill (Arne MacPherson).
Also joining the wedding fray are the members of Donna’s erstwhile girl group Donna and the Dynamos: much-married sophisticate Tanya (Jennifer Lyon) and resolutely unmarried writer Rosie (Denise Oucharek).
The romantic complications could power a farce festival. Sealing the deal, it’s all set to the greatest hits of Swedish supergroup ABBA. So instead of leaving the theatre humming maybe one or two showstoppers, audiences came away with a whole greatest-hits playlist ear-worming through their skulls.
The "jukebox musical" designation shouldn’t detract from the fiendish ingenuity shown by playwright Catherine Johnson, who somehow wrote the book abiding by the general rule that a song in a musical should advance the plot, even if those songs were never written with theatric-intent.
Hence, we learn that Donna is in desperate financial straits via the song Money, Money, Money. Upon seeing Sam, Donna expresses her romantic regret with a rendition of the title song. Rosie and Tanya try to comfort the troubled Donna with a sympathetic crooning of Chiquitita. Johnson even retools a romantic break-up song — The Name of the Game — to dramatize a reckoning between Sophie and her maybe-dad Sam.
This production is Rainbow Stage’s first crack at Mamma Mia! and the Kildonan Park venue does it up nicely. Stylistically, director Ann Hodges appropriately goes broad and flashy for a musical largely centred on flashy broads.
It falls on the actors to provide traces of nuance. Of these, Ma-Anne Dionisio, an accomplished musical theatre veteran (Miss Saigon, Les Miserables) proves worthy of the "dynamo" designation. She may be physically petite, but her voice is big and rich and full of passion. Much of the show’s melodramatic heavy lifting falls on the Donna character, and Dionisio shoulders it like the pro she is.
In the more comedic supporting roles, Jennifer Lyon proves again she’s a gifted comedian with a joyfully unfiltered approach to the role’s bawdier requirements. (Oucharek is no slouch in this latter department, either.) Of the trio of men, McIntyre’s singing ability is sufficient to make you forget Pierce Brosnan’s jarring interpretation in the movie version. But it’s Clint Butler’s Harry who proves the best match for Dionisio vocally, with their lovely performance of Our Last Summer.
With his set design, Brian Perchaluk manages to find an esthetic through-line that encompasses classic Greek architecture and ’70s disco, enhanced by the lighting design by Scott Henderson that, likewise, manages to simultaneously evoke summer sun and glitter-ball flash.