Mamma Mia! Celebrates Tenth Year on Broadway
By Michael Gioia
Mamma Mia!, here we go again—for the 4,159th time! As the curtain rose at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre Oct. 18, the hit musical marked its tenth year on Broadway, complete with guest appearances from the creatives as well as cast members from the original 2001 Broadway company. Playbill.com was there.
Cats, the second-longest running musical in Broadway history, took up residence at the Winter Garden Theatre for almost 18 years. Following its close in September 2000, the Winter Garden made way for what has become another musical theatre staple: the Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus jukebox hit, Mamma Mia! In Broadway fashion, the musical celebrated its tenth anniversary with an outdoor encore performance, a fireworks finale and a proclamation from the office of New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, hailing Oct. 18 "Mamma Mia! Day."
"Only in New York can a show written by a British playwright with an Italian title, set in Greece, with a soundtrack by a Swedish pop group be this successful," Bloomberg joked to a packed house at the Winter Garden prior to the 7 PM curtain.
As the crowd roared with applause, Bloomberg was joined on stage by the show's global producer Judy Craymer, who was presented with a proclamation from the city of New York. When the applause from the audience, comprising Mamma Mia! creatives, stage vets and anticipating fans, eventually lessened, the mayor continued.
"Whereas, creator and global producer Judy Craymer played a starring role in developing this play into an international stage and singing sensation, tonight’s event gives us a great opportunity to recognize her ambitions along with those of the Mamma Mia! cast and crew, and I don’t think that I’m alone in looking forward to at least ten more years of performances," said Bloomberg. "And, therefore, I, Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of the city of New York, in recognition of this important event, hereby declare Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 in the city of New York as Mamma Mia! Day."
The occasion was marked with not only a glitz and glam performance and after party, but a blue Playbill and a special shout-out from the Empire State Building, proving "The Winner Takes It All." "The whole day was sort of over-the-top fabulous. We started in the morning by getting into costume and going to the Empire State Building to flip the switch and light the lights blue and white for Mamma Mia!, and pink for breast cancer research," the show’s leading lady, Lisa Brescia, told Playbill.com following the performance that benefited the Breast Cancer Research Association.
At the Tuesday evening performance, Brescia and the cast welcomed back original Mamma Mia! cast members Louise Pitre, who created the role of Donna Sheridan; Tina Maddigan, who played daughter Sophie Sheridan; and Joe Machota, who starred opposite Maddigan in the role of Sky; as well as "Mamma Mia!" movie star Christine Baranski.
"The second act, I couldn’t stop crying. I was sitting next to Tina Maddigan… We kept hugging each other," Pitre told Playbill.com at the after party at Bar Americain. "I don’t know why, it’s hard to say. You’ve got to sit in the house at some point and watch it, and I’ve never done that. I did it tonight and I thought, ‘You know what, it’s fun!’—in the large, huge, right sense of the word fun—but it’s also really quite human and real. It’s more grounded than I thought and than I remembered. It made me happy. It made me understand why people love this show."
Though Pitre could not believe that the show was in its tenth year of performances, Machota knew someday he would be celebrating the occasion. "Watching that response Oct. 5 when the show [began previews], and when the audience responded… it was always the same, always. That joy was never gone," he said. "It is structured so beautifully that it builds so well. Slowly, you’re lifting, so by the end you are on your feet, singing along, hands in the air. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I went on the ride."
Following the show's final bow, Dancing Queen divas Brescia, Jennifer Perry (as Rose) and Judy McLane (as Tanya), along with the rest of the Mamma Mia! gang, took to the outdoor stage set in front of the theatre for an encore finale, a mini rock concert in the streets of Times Square.
Broadway, between 50th and 51st streets, had shut down at 10 PM to make room for an additional audience that would take up the entirety of the block. When the cast exited the theatre and hit the streets, a mega-mix of "Mamma Mia!," "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo" continued outside, accompanied by a laser show and fireworks extravaganza.
"I’m still reeling from that finale that we did outside the theatre," said Perry as she settled in at the after party. "Everybody in the world knows ABBA music… and every single person who comes to this show knows these songs by heart. They’re from all over the world."
Cast members spoke of audiences from Brazil, Japan and China, all attending to catch the show for a first, second or even third time. "[Mamma Mia! is] something that we can do to try and let everybody forget their troubles for a little bit," said John Hemphill, who stars as Sam Carmichael. "And, it really does that. That’s why people come back for it. That’s why people enjoy it for the first time. That’s why families bring their children because they had such a good time, and now they can share it. As the show goes longer and longer, that’s going to happen more and more, and I love that. It’s a pleasure."
"It was high stakes in a way," said Jordan Dean, the show's Sky, regarding hitting the landmark anniversary. "It’s been around for ten years, and so, you want to do it justice. It was palpable, the energy in the theatre. It is amazing for a show that has been around for ten years to feel that, and you feel like the show will keep running beyond this because people connect to the show."
Brescia added, "We felt as if we were plugged into an electrical socket, just trying to breathe and tell this story. We had to fight how excited we were." Brescia's excitement doubled as she realized that she will also be hitting a special Mamma Mia! milestone. The star will celebrate her one-year anniversary with the musical Oct. 22, four days following the Oct. 18 birthday.
Both Brescia and co-star Hemphill said that the tenth anniversary was "electric." As for the show itself, original cast member Machota said that Mamma Mia! has stayed true to director Phyllida Lloyd's original vision. "It looks brand new," he said. "It doesn’t feel like it’s been there for ten years."
Hemphill concluded, "It means so much to the cast, crew and creatives to still be rocking ABBA ten years later."
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