Saturday, August 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia!, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield, produced by Broadway at the Academy/Kimmel Center.

Review: Mamma Mia!


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

If we're judging strictly by box office numbers, Mamma Mia! marks a watershed for women in theater. Produced, written, and directed by women, since its 1999 London premiere the show has been everywhere, done everything, and raked in billions of dollars to the tunes of an Abba soundtrack. This still-surprisingly feminist plot set on a romantic Greek isle is the Aphrodite of all jukebox musicals: a work so pleasing to the eye and ear that none can resist its charms.

Except we're not judging by numbers, we're judging this particular tour (the show's third U.S. tour, and seventh pass through Philadelphia). By that standard, this production feels very much like a copy of a copy, each successive production shedding more of that beloved harmonic shimmer. This isn't a Swedish pop rom-com with enough wattage to light up the midnight sun; it's Stockholm syndrome.

The trouble isn't just that the band often plays far louder than the actors can sing. It's that the cast has trouble hitting their notes anyway. Single mom Donna (Georgia Kate Haege), her pals Tanya (Gabrielle Mirabella) and Rosie (Carly Sakolove), and daughter Sophie (Chelsea Williams) need to carry most of these tunes.

Haege fares best in the back-to-back numbers "Slipping Through My Fingers" and "Our Last Summer," solos that make up the emotional core of Mamma Mia! The former is a mother's ode to feelings about her daughter's coming marriage, the latter a woman's recollection of decades-old romance with one of that daughter's three potential fathers. However, they all struggle with the lower registers, and though miked, can't manage to make some lines audible.

What success this production sees is largely thanks to Haege, a spunky presence with blond Raggedy Ann curls and a gymnastic spring in her step. Mirabella, Sakolove, and Williams gamely fill all two dimensions of their roles, and the three dads march competently (at best) and cartoonishly (at worst) through their paces. But even the show's famous curtain-call dance party doesn't have the same ebullience this time around. There's no confetti or calls for the crowd to get up and dance, though of course they do; at this point, even the customers perform their roles by rote. The winner takes it all, all right. It's just a shame that winner isn't the audience.

Through Sunday at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets. Tickets: $20-$105.50. 215-731-3333 or


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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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