Smash Hit “Mamma Mia!” Swings By San Diego

“Mamma Mia!” at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. Photo credit to Broadway Tour.

“Mamma Mia!” the beloved jukebox musical, stopped by San Diego’s Civic Theatre from Nov. 7 to 12 as part of its 25th anniversary tour. The popular franchise, which includes two films, continues to appeal to new audiences with this run of the musical starring San Diego native Alisa Mendelez in the cherished role of Sophie.

Everyone knows the basic plot of Mamma Mia: A twenty-year-old on the verge of getting married is determined to find which of the three lovers from her mother’s past is her father. The story takes the audience through a humorous and at times tumultuous journey, ultimately displaying the bond between a mother and daughter that not even marriage can come between. 

Mendelez did not let down the role of the dazzling fiance, despite remarks made in the audience about Mendelez not being blonde. Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie in the original “Mamma Mia!” film, and some fans have held onto the idea that a Broadway casting should be reflective of the film it is based on. I found Mendelez’s performance to be captivating and her beautiful vocals were a highlight of this show. She wonderfully portrayed a lovestruck twenty-year-old, desperate to find out who her father is before time runs out (and honestly I could care less if she is blonde or not). 

Compared to other Broadway shows, the stage and props for “Mamma Mia!” were fairly simple.  For example, an LED screen helped signal the passing of time from sunrise to sunset. What made this show stand out were the iconic trios of characters from Donna and the Dynamos to the three potential dads played by Victor Wallace as Sam, Jim Newman as Bill and Rob Marnell as Harry. The father figures were charismatic and hilarious. 

At times, the dialogue and humor between Donna Sheridan, Sophie’s mother, and her lifelong best friends was clearly meant to appeal to an older, millennial audience. But who doesn’t love a slow-burn romance trope? Rosie’s happily-ever-after ending with one of the potential fathers, Bill Austin, was a sweet love story baked into the classic plot. 

From “Lay All Your Love On Me” to “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” there was certainly not a shortage of ABBA performances with playful choreography (it is a jukebox musical, after all). One of the musical’s strongest points was a performance of “Dancing Queen” as part of the final bows, in which Donna and the Dynamos came out donned in full rockstar costumes with sparkles and fringe. It’s safe to say I was a little ABBA’d out by the end of the two-and-a-half-hour performance, but for die-hard fans of the iconic pop group, I can only imagine the excitement and pure joy during the final dance party of “Dancing Queen” with audience participation encouraged. 

“Mamma Mia!” is a fun, bright production for all ages as it explores the nuances of friendships, mother-daughter relationships, and love in a lighthearted way. The vibrant costumes, romantic Greek setting and clever storyline provided the perfect amount of escapism for a Saturday afternoon.