Frothy Fun and B-Side Moments: MAMMA MIA

Tari Kelly (Tanya) with Tiffani Barbour (Rosie) and Erica Mansfield (Donna) in MAMMA MIA! live on stage at North Shore Music Theatre thru September 2. Photo©Paul Lyden

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Directed & Choreographed By: Kevin P. Hill
Music Direction By: Bob Bray
Music And Lyrics By: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus And Some Songs With Stig Anderson
Book By: Catherine Johnson
Originally Conceived By: Judy Cramer

August 2 – September 2, 2018
North Shore Music Theatre
Beverly, MA
NSMT on Facebook

Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly, MA) There is a reason why the musical Mamma Mia has become such a phenomenon – I mean, aside from the fact that a group of Swedes sold their souls to the devil to make the most earworm-y music of the 20th century. The story is one long, sexy summer party that showcases the current or past foibles of our twenties. A young woman secretly invites her three potential fathers to her island wedding without telling her mother about it – it’s as if someone set out to re-envision Midsummer Night’s Dream with platform shoes.

Having only seen the movie version of this jukebox musical before, it didn’t occur to me that it might be difficult to pull off the sparkly winsomeness of the story. After all, the movie featured a well-lit Meryl Streep having a lot of fun before the camera – how much more charisma could one movie need?

North Shore Music Theatre’s production does not always achieve the casual and goofy grace that this script promises, but the moments when it does are pure joy. It seems that the supporting cast felt the most comfortable to play on stage, and they were able the achieve the chemistry needed to throw themselves fully into becoming the living embodiment of Abba songs. Tiffani Barbour (Rosie) and Al Bundonis (Bill Austin), provide me with the best moments of the show when the two self-professed lone wolves realize they have found a match and try to consummate that match in a chapel during a goofy, chair-toppling version of “Take a Chance on Me.” Barbour also shines in small aside moments with a fellow co-conspirator played by Tari Kelly (Tanya), as the two characters point out the absurdity of the action unfolding. Unfortunately, the central leads too often seem burdened with the weight of earnestness and fail to generate the same chemistry needed to generate stage presence between songs.

That being said, like any good party where the jokes sometime fall flat or the dj leaves some dead space, all is forgiven when the right beat drops and everyone comes together as one to shake imaginary tambourines on their asses.

Listen, I hated Abba when I was growing up, as I was force-fed it at an early age on my parents’ preferred easy-listening music station, but you can only resist the infectious beat for so long before you smile and sing along. This show is full of some great danceable moments when everyone is having fun, impropriety is cast off, and the dance floor becomes one glistening moment of summer. And one moment of that is worth a handful of moments of awkwardness.

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