Mamma Mia at DPAC: Concert or Musical?

Posted: May 31, 2014 by Melissa Anne Cain in All, Broadway, Show Review, Theatre
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When I go to the theatre for a show I arrive with a set of expectations that comes from decades of Broadway show patronage. I expect to see a show that has an established story; musical arrangements that progress and add to the story are also a must. I also appreciate a well thought out visual experience made by dynamic sets and lighting. The most important aspect of the experience has to be the performers that take the stage. A good cast can bring even a mediocre show up to new levels, most of the time.

My most recent Broadway show experience was with Mamma Mia at DPAC. The show is the product of playwright Catherine Johnson with music composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the 70s and 80s Pop group Abba. The show is comprised of the international chart topping music of the band. Since the show debuted on London’s West End in 1999 it has gone on to be performed around the world to much fanfare and acclaim even receiving 5 Tony nominations in 2002. In 2008 the musical was adapted into a feature length movie starring Amanda Seyfried.

As I waited for the show to start, I found myself “people-watching”. I surveyed the audience as they came in and attempted to figure out just who they were. I saw, numerous young fans that I called Teenie Boppers, a few fans that felt the night was right for full length feather boas, and I was even graced by the presence of a local drag queen. To call the audience an eclectic mix would be an understatement, maybe that should have been a warning to flee.

I admit, I went to DPAC as a Mamma Mia virgin, I had never seen the stage version or even the movie. I knew the ABBA songs; my mom would sing them while working around the house during my childhood. What I did know, I liked the songs and I loved theatre. There was a great potential for me to have a good night.

As far as the show goes, I had a hard time with it. As I have felt with other shows like this, American Idiot comes to mind; it felt much more like a rock concert than a Broadway show. The story seemed like it was a bit underdeveloped with some details overlooked. The lack of emphasis on actual story led to some awkward moments. She mails letters to her dads to invite them to her wedding the day before the wedding? Wait Huh?

Much like you would expect at a live rock concert, the volume of the music was set at a level that was bordering on “too damn loud”. It was a reprieve for the show that the audience knew all the words to the songs and sang along, because hearing the singing voices of the actors onstage was not possible. At the start of Act II the music hits so fast and so loud. It is unpleasantly alarmed you and pins you in your seat as you try to figure out if someone messed up or if that was supposed to happen.

In contrast to my auditory experience, the visuals were quite nice. The lighting design was simple yet effective. A very simple Greek style beach inn is the only set piece used. The revolving set pieces help travel between interior scenes, courtyard scenes, and straight to the front door of Donna’s Inn. Well-choreographed set changes utilized the ensemble to help the transition from scene to scene. Simple white stucco walls, small rust stains from metal meeting sea breezes, and a beautiful teal backdrop completed the set. A huge moon was projected to appear and fade giving us the appropriate time changes.

The cast had its highs and lows as well. Chelsea Williams carried the role of Sophie well. Her performance of “I Have a Dream” was impressive. Donna, played by Georgia Kate Haege had a decent singing/acting moment halfway through act II. Her performance of “Slipping Through my Fingers” in Act II had me thinking I was actually in a Broadway show, if only for that moment. The roles of the male characters would have to be the lows. Michael Colavolpe, who played Bill Anderson, had this creepy quality to him that really just made him hard to enjoy.

I know I’m not alone in this opinion, but I believe that the reason this show does well in so many different locations is merely because the audience is coming to an ABBA rock concert. There is a very shaky plot that attempts to weave the songs together, but it was clearly evident that this was just for show. It is impossible to have the words of the songs match 100% to the plot that we are provided. To me, that detail just kills the idea that this show is a true Broadway show. I can hear the audience at the water cooler at work saying, “I went to this ABBA concert” and a Broadway play tried to break out.” DPAC was able to bring a concert to North Carolina that many seemed to enjoy, but is it a true Broadway musical just because there are lines that attempt to connect the songs together? I don’t believe so.

 

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