MAMMA MIA! music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson

Dates and Venue May 10–August 12, 2018, Tue–Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm; matinees on Wed at 1:30pm, and Sat & Sun at 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director & Choreographer Valerie Easton Musical Director Ken Cormier Associate Musical Director Sasha Niechoda Set Designer David Roberts Costume Designer Alison Green Lighting Designer Robert Sondergaard Sound Designer Bradley Danyluk Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs

Reviewers John Jane and Ed Farolan

It is difficult to comprehend that four decades have passed us by since Anni-Frid, Benny, Bjorn and Agnetha last recorded together as ABBA. And yet, judging from the audience’s enthusiastic response to last night’s opening performance of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mamma Mia!, the symmetrical Swedish group’s popularity does not appear to have diminished.

One can’t really refute the show’s success, and let’s face it, Mamma Mia! has been a hit in just about every city it has played, starting with the Prince Edward Theatre, London in 1999. As ‘jukebox musicals’ go, Mamma Mia! is a winner.

From the opening strains of the now familiar medley overture, you could sense the excitement in the theatre, and right from the first number “I Have a Dream” sung by Sophie (Michelle Bardach), until the ludicrous encore that involves the entire cast, the show does not disappoint.

The potential triumph of any production of Mamma Mia! relies heavily on the performance of the lead role of Donna Sheridan and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent on the detail of the choreography. In terms of the former, Woodstock Ontario native Stephanie Roth isn’t just up to the task, she is a tour de force. With the latter, director/choreographer Valerie Easton is one of the best around. While she brings a necessary light touch to the show’s pacing, her dance syntax has her distinctive brand all over it. Easton’s artistry is particularly evident in the ensemble dance sequence in the nightmare scene that opened the second act with the tune “Under Attack.”

Certainly, the story is paper thin and the manner in which Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson perfect pop songs are introduced into the narrative is, in some instances, sketchy. But this can be considered as part of the fun when the audience chuckles collectively when an easily recognized song is shoehorned into an implausible scene.

Michelle Bardach, whose character is at the centre of the premise, turns in a wholesome performance as Sophie Sheridan. Irene Karas Loeper and Cathy Wilmot as Donna’s capricious gal-pals Tanya and Rosie deserve special kudos for their over-the-top physical comedy and stealing nearly every scene they are in.

While the show relies on strong female roles, male cast members should not be overlooked. Michael Torontow certainly deserves credit for taking on the only really serious role of Sam Carmichael. Mamma Mia! works best when it doesn’t take itself seriously; Jay Hindle as Harry Bright and Warren Kimmel as Bill Austin provide wonderful comedic support. Kimmel’s routine with Cathy Wilmot performing “Take a Chance on me” is hilarious.

David Roberts’ bright Mediterranean style set of Donna’s holiday villa with its versatile double-sided ‘walls’ seamlessly rotate to represent inside and outside scenes. Ken Cormier does an admirable job of leading his band of talented musicians through the show’s score. However, the sound design was at times intrusive - back-up vocals could be heard from voices whose owners weren’t even on the stage.

If you have already seen previous mountings of Mamma Mia! you may find that this is better than the others – if you’ve never seen it before – it’s time that you did.

© 2018 John Jane


This is what is referred to as a "feel good" musical because as Director-Choreographer Valerie Easton mentions in her programme notes, "The music is irresistible. It takes you back to the carefree days of youth, lifts the spirit, and has you humming along."

And not only did the audience on opening night "hum along", they sang and danced as they stood in ovation during curtain call, as the actors were singing a reprise of "Mamma Mia" and the audience was clapping and singing along.

All the actors were full of enthusiasm, and we could tell they were having a good time, playing their parts with zest and energy. Kudos to all the actors, but one in particular stood out: Cathy Wilmot. I´ve seen her in a lot of Fighting Chance productions, and she is indeed a talented singer and comedienne. One would say she´s a "natural".

This is Arts Club´s last production of the season, and it surely is going out with a bang.

© 2018 Ed Farolan