I have to admit upfront that I am not a fan of the musical Mamma Mia, in general, nor of the music of the group Abba. So it is such a tribute to this theater company, 3D Theatricals, that I put my dislikes aside and went to see their version of the show, which I did because it’s their last presentation at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center before moving to Cerritos permanently. And I have been an admirer of their other offerings since I discovered them three years ago.
That being said, even they could not change my opinion of this internationally-acclaimed musical. I know that I’m in the minority on that, but you know that I always call ’em as I see ’em, so here we are.
I do have a few small issues with this particular production, as well, but most of my dislikes of Mamma Mia have to do with the script, which, of course, is not the fault of any company who is mounting it. The storyline is absolutely inane to begin with. I have no idea how this musical became so universally popular.
But, despite what I think of it, Mamma Mia is an absolute phenomenon! It’s been produced all over the world, and is a hit every place. I have since researched it, and am shocked by the magnitude of the love for this show! I just don’t get it at all. Mr. X and I saw it elsewhere for the first time a few years ago, and discovered that we’re definitely not fans. When I was invited to this current rendition, I figured that if any theatre company could change our opinion of it, it was 3D Theatricals. But, sadly for us, even they could not.
Most of the blame is not on them, though. The story is ridiculous, even for 1999, when it was first produced. For me, Mamma Mia is the most soulless musical of all time. It’s downright pedestrian, and is the least clever show in history. But the masses love it, so go figure.
In case you’re one of the few doesn’t know anything about it, it’s a jukebox musical with all the songs by the ’70s group Abba. But unlike Jersey Boys or On Your Feet, which incorporate the famous tunes into the tale of the rise to stardom of the actual artists, (in those cases, the Four Seasons and Gloria Estefan, respectively,) with Mamma Mia, someone wrote an absurd story about an American woman in Greece not knowing who her baby daddy is. So, because of her promiscuous behavior, she lets her daughter grow-up without a father. And that scenario is played for laughs! Real fodder for a supposedly light-hearted musical, eh? And the end is truly unbelievable, on every level. There’s really no one to root for in this one.
In addition to the beyond stupid story, I am sooo not a fan of Abba’s music, except for the song Dancing Queen, and that one only because it reminds me of my cherished pals in Aspen, whom I love so much that I even used to deign to go to ’70s night at one of our clubs with them. But if you’re into their songs, I’m sure you’ll enjoy hearing exclusively them all night.
The best part of this show is the curtain call, and I’m not even being cheeky by insinuating that’s because it’s finally over. I really mean it–after the bows, the company does a three-song mini-concert, which leaves the audience on their feet, and euphoric. And that’s the feeling everyone remembers, so I do love that part because I’m a big believer in the old adage, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” And the Redondo Beach opening night crowd was very appreciative, as I’m sure just about everyone who sees this show is.
There are a few positives of this particular production of Mamma Mia, chief among them being the gorgeous almost-naked body of Clayton Jones, who plays the daughter’s fiancé. (But even that brilliant bit of casting could not save this one for me. And that’s saying something!!!)
Another piece of good news for potential 3D Theatricals audiences is that the timing of them producing the show now could not be better—the Mamma Mia movie sequel has just been released, so lots of people will be happy to view the original tale right before they see the new film.
Also, as usual with 3D, the set, by Stephen Gifford, is excellent. Mr. X especially appreciated the beautiful blue background, which he pointed-out shimmers on occasion. When they show just that sky backdrop with a simple structure indicating a pier in front of it, the image is breathtaking. My bae also said that the semblance of architecture combined with the flowers and perfect color palette really give us the sense of a Greek island. Those images make the viewers happy right off the bat.
All that positivity aside, I have to be honest and tell you that I was left scratching my head over much of the casting. 3D Theatricals usually employs several of their actors over and over, and they’re all extremely talented, (i.e. Julia Aks, Dino Nicandros, and Rufus Bonds, Jr.,) as I’ve documented over the years. But this appears to be a whole different group. Most of the younger members of the ensemble seem like they came straight from a high school theatre department. And just about everyone totally overdoes the frequent schmaltz that’s built into the script.
The lone standout is Candi Milo, who plays one of the mother’s two gal pals. She’s wonderful! And very funny; there’s a spark to the show every time she speaks. She’s the best singer on stage, as well. (I found-out later that she’s the voice of Dexter on Dexter’s Laboratory, a cartoon show that I’ve loved forever, so now I admire her even more!)
While we’re on the subject of singing, I hate saying this, but I must be truthful, as always, because this really bothered me: The weirdest casting is Martin Kildare as the mother’s main old love interest. He appears to be a good enough actor, but singing is clearly not his forte. I just don’t understand the choosing of a non-singer for a musical role. (Unless he’s Rex Harrison, of course.)
Even with my not enjoying the story or music or performances, I’m still glad that I spent the time on this show because I really do love this company. And, as I stated at the start of this review, Mamma Mia is 3D Theatricals’ last production at this venue because they’re moving full-time to the Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts, a move I’m wishing them total success with. (One note, though, about this fabulous theatre that they’re leaving, the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. I sat in their back section for the second half of this show, which I had never done before, and the sightlines are great! I think it’s the best back-of-the-house of any theatre I’ve been in!)
Now, even with my few issues of this staging from this company, I look really forward to their next season. What a line-up they have!!! I can’t wait to see their second production, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Now that’s a great show, and I’m confidant that its excellence will shine through in the hands of 3D Theatricals!
Mamma Mia running through August 12, 2018
Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., Redondo Beach 714-589-2770
Then continues through August 26, 2018
Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts
12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos 562-916-8500