“Have the time of your life!” say the posters for North Shore Music Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia!
It seems like a lofty promise, but there are instances where I can imagine that that might be true. Take someone who is marooned on a deserted island with only insects as company, for example. Or someone who, at birth, was sold to a secret medical experiment lab where, day in and day out, they were forced to endure unthinkable horrors. Victims of human trafficking or genocide, perhaps, might also fit the bill.
But even then, this Mamma Mia!, directed and choreographed with regrettable hastiness by Kevin P. Hill, is unlikely to be the high point of anyone’s time on earth.
Since premiering in 1999, it is estimated that Mamma Mia! has been seen by over 60 million people and has grossed over $2 billion worldwide. The 2008 film version has raked in more than $600 million and the sequel, which opened just last month, has already made half that.
It’s a phenomenon that cannot be denied and it’s not hard to see why: ABBA’s music is pure nostalgia for a huge chunk of the world’s ticket-buying population and the women at the core of the story are confident ladies in command of their own sexuality who have gotten by without the help of men. And if any of that fails to draw you in, there’s the tanned, ripped, and half-naked ensemble to make the evening fly by faster than you can say “dot, dot dot.”
Given how this review began, it may come as a surprise to you that I am actually quite fond of Mamma Mia! and that I happily saw the Broadway production a handful of times in its very early days. It wasn’t just that the energy was electric or that the production was tighter than a spandex bodysuit but that it was exactly the breath of fresh air that New York so desperately needed in those first post-9/11 months.
The script hasn’t changed, of course—it’s always been sort of the musical equivalent of a bachelorette party—and it’s still just as cheesy as it ever was. But the show isn’t strong enough to withstand such a leaden production that doesn’t gloss over its shortcomings with enough verve to make us eager to forgive its flaws.
Hill’s production is overchoreographed, and the cast frequently appears to struggle to remain in sync. There is an imprecision—vocally, as well as physically—among the ensemble that gives this Mamma Mia! the lacquer of unprofessionalism that is insurmountable. Even the orchestra is inadequate, not doing full justice to every pulsing nuance (yes, nuance) of ABBA’s music. (A lagging electric guitar is a particular nuisance.)
The performances aren’t any better, save for some nice supporting work from Tari Kelly and Tiffani Barbour, who play Donna’s old pals, Tanya and Rosie. But Erica Mansfield doesn’t dig deep enough as Donna and she has a tendency to oversing (it’s ABBA, not Piaf). As Sophie and Sky, the red-hot lovers about to take the plunge, neither Malia Monk nor Nick Walker Jones sizzle or charm.
But Mamma Mia! won’t be a total loss for everyone: For North Shore Music Theatre, it’s likely a summertime cash cow. And for Aunt Karen, well, give her a few glasses of pinot grigio and she may come pretty close to thinking she’s having the time of her life.
MAMMA MIA! THROUGH 9.2 AT NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATRE, 62 DUNHAM RD., BEVERLY. NSMT.ORG