Ranking No. 10 among the longest-running shows on Broadway, “Mamma Mia!” is fourth among those still onstage — coming in only behind “Phantom of the Opera,” “Chicago” and “The Lion King.” The production has been celebrating throughout NYC for 10 weeks, with live events ranging from parties and benefits to a sing-along screening of 2008’s movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep. It’s all been leading up to this week’s big anniversary of opening night on Oct. 18, 2001.
This jukebox musical sets the standard, placing ’70s ABBA hits (“Dancing Queen,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Take A Chance On Me”) against a millennial fairy tale that incorporates the songs into its narrative. On the eve of her wedding, a young woman invites her three potential fathers to the small Greek island where she and her mother reside and run a tavern. Bride-to-be Sophie (Liana Hunt) ultimately hopes her dad will walk her down the aisle. Shenanigans ensue as the men discover why they’ve been invited back to the tiny isle after 20 years and reacquaint with their mutual ex.
The story is heartfelt, buoyed by frequent song-and-dance interludes. It’s peppered with cheeky, yet underdeveloped, supporting characters and a charismatic chorus that spends far too much time offstage. One downside is that the music often overpowers the singers, who own ABBA’s ballads but disappear in the power pieces where you most want them to excel. That is, except for the encore — you’ll want to stay after the bows for this dynamo finale.
Lisa Brescia as mother Donna leads the pack with presence and talent. Hunt’s singing can be clear and lovely or reedy and breathless — a wavering performance pattern reflected by cast members throughout. In this female empowerment play, men largely take a backseat; however, potential patriarch John Hemphill stands out from the crowd as an impressive soloist. Even the groom (Jordan Dean) seems like an afterthought — at least until he takes off his shirt, to audible audience delight.
“Mamma Mia!” is a high-spirited musical romance that trusts in your willingness to love it. And audiences continue to prove they do, filling the house for 10 years — and onward.
Five fast facts
“Mamma Mia!” has played more than 4,000 times in the U.S.
The North American tour has hit more than 135 cities.
London has featured more than 5,000 performances.
The film adaptation is the highest-grossing movie musical of all time.
It has earned more than $2 billion in revenue worldwide.