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Review: Mamma Mia! (Broadway)

If I were composing a New York City Bucket List, a list of must-do things to do on a trip to Manhattan, seeing a Broadway musical (or a few) would be at the top. There's something magical about stepping through an unassuming door in the heart of N.Y.C. and finding oneself inside a historic theater. And then the music starts, the curtain disappears, and exceptionally talented singer/actor/dancers take the stage.

On a holiday trip to New York, I took my mom to see Mamma Mia! at the Broadhurst Theatre. We had seen the movie version of Mamma Mia! and enjoyed the story and the catchy ABBA songs, and so we looked forward to seeing  Mamma Mia! live on Broadway.

We found the Broadhurst Theatre sandwiched between the Majestic Theatre, home to Phantom of the Opera, and the Shubert Theatre, housing Matilda the Musical. Half an hour before showtime, as the theater opened, we joined the ticket holders' queue that snaked almost to the doors of the Shubert Theatre. Moments later, a group of four young women approached us. "What is this line for?" one of the women asked me. "Mamma Mia!" I replied. The woman turned to her friends and announced, "And that's what we're going to see tonight!" As the other women cheered, the first woman told her friends that she'd purchased tickets to the show for the four of them as a surprise. She had seen the show many times and couldn't wait to see it again. "Mamma Mia! is one of my favorite shows. You're going to love it!" she gushed.

The queue moved quickly toward the theater. Soon, we stepped through a door and found ourselves inside the auditorium. I took a quick look around the intimate theater. The orchestra level, where we were seated, offered a bar and gift stand. The level below had a coat room, water fountain, restrooms, and a second bar and gift stand. I took a peek at the mezzanine level which offered a nice view of the numerous chandeliers on the ceiling. Instead of a traditional curtain, wave-like animation on a screen in front of us helped set the mood even before the orchestra began the overture.

Mamma Mia!
tells the story of a young woman, Sophie Sheridan, who is about to get married on a Greek Island where she lives with her mother, Donna. Donna is a single mother who single-handedly runs a hotel. Donna doesn't want or need a man in her life. But maybe she does.

Sophie yearns to have her father walk her down the aisle and give her away at her wedding. But there is one very big problem: she doesn't know who her father is. In Donna's old diary, Sophie finds the names of three men whom she has never met, any of whom might be her father. She invites all three men to her wedding, certain that she will be able to determine which man is her father once she meets him.

Sophie is played adorably by Laurie Veldheer. She bounces and dances about the stage with the boundless energy of a young woman in love. Her sweet voice is enchanting.

Judy McLane is well-cast as Donna. According to the Playbill, Judy has spent the past seven years playing the supporting role of Donna's friend, Tanya, but I can't imagine Judy in any role other than Donna. Judy seems born for the part and hits every emotional note as if it is her own. Her powerful singing voice is perfect for her strong character.

Sophie's potential fathers are delightful, each in their own way. Graham Rowat, as Harry Bright, is both funny and charming. His duet with Donna, "Our Last Summer," provides a fun glimpse of what both were like when they were young and in love. Daniel Cooney, as Bill Austin, adds some laughs, and his paternal bond with Sophie is truly heart-warming. Aaron Lazar's performance as Sam Carmichael is exceptionally engaging and wonderfully real. Although he doesn't look quite old enough to be twenty-year-old Sophie's father, I could feel the heartbreak of his pain-filled distant past.

Donna's girlfriends, and former bandmates, Tanya (Felicia Finley) and Rosie (Lauren Cohn), who arrive to help out with the wedding, inject additional fun, especially Lauren, who temporarily steals the show in her playfully-staged number with Bill, "Take a Chance on Me."

Also playing a starring role in Mamma Mia! are the songs, with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. For me, the show first came alive with "Money, Money, Money." As the show continued, there were more I'm-dancing-in-my-seat numbers, including "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia," and the aforementioned, "Take a Chance on Me." There were also touching ballads, like "Thank You For The Music," "S.O.S.," "Slipping Through My Fingers," "The Winner Takes It All," and "I Have a Dream."

But the show isn't merely a collection of strung-together song and dance numbers; it's a show about love: romantic love, young and old; loving friendships; and parental love. Seeing the show with my mom, I found myself especially appreciating the bond between Sophie and her mother. I could see myself enjoying the show equally, but differently, if I'd seen it with a date, or a best girlfriend, or my dad. Ultimately, the show has heart, and when it comes to musical theater, great songs and heart are what draw me back to the theater again and again.

I did this in December 2013 in New York City,
New York, USA.

 Mom and me during intermission

Jen (California, USA)*
* As a member of the press, Jen received two complimentary tickets to Mamma Mia!

See Jen's musical theater bucket list here.