Closing nights on Broadway are often a mix of the best of times and the worst of times — celebrating all that has led to the final night while realizing that the journey, in this case a 14-year one, and the job are coming to an end.
Perhaps because of its lengthy run and the joy that it continuously spread, the atmosphere at the September 12, 2015, final performance of Mamma Mia! seemed 100 percent celebratory. One can't imagine a more enthusiastic audience than the sold-out crowd at the Broadhurst Theatre; in fact, at times the evening felt more like a rock concert than a Broadway musical.
Most of the attendees seemed to have some connection with the production, either those who had worked onstage or behind the scenes, which created an atmosphere of a large family reunion, everyone greeting each other with numerous kisses, big hugs and even larger smiles. Among those spotted in the crowd were original cast members Judy Kaye and Karen Mason as well as those who joined the company throughout its record-breaking run, including Carolee Carmello, Alan Campbell, Dee Hoty, Olga Merediz and dozens and dozens of former chorus members. To the left of this writer was an assistant to producer Judy Craymer, while on my right was Bryan Scott Johnson, who spent 10 years in the Broadway company, playing the priest and understudying two of the possible dads. Johnson departed the cast in April, just a few days before the closing notice was posted (he'll next be seen in The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey's production of The Diary of Anne Frank).
As soon as the lights dimmed, the cheering crowd rose to its feet until the curtain was raised and Sophie (Elena Ricardo) stepped onto the stage to send off letters to Harry Bright, Bill Austin and Sam Carmichael. There was lengthy applause when Sophie named each of her possible fathers; in fact, upon entrance, most every actor received a generous ovation, and the musical's leading lady — Judy McLane, the final actress to play Donna Sheridan — was greeted with a standing one. There was much screaming, clapping and cheering throughout the entire two acts; some of the most impassioned applause followed the appearance of the singing heads in "Mamma Mia!" and the cast, decked out in life vests, at the beginning of the second act. Because the audience featured so many former cast members, there was also the occasional sing-along. The "audience chorus" was especially vocal during "Dancing Queen" and "Knowing Me, Knowing You."
It was a uniformly strong cast, with especially notable performances by Ricardo, as the young woman searching for her father, and McLane as the mother learning to let go. McLane, who spent seven years in the role of Tanya, was a nearly perfect vocal fit as Donna. Her singing embodies everything that was exciting about 70’s pop; in fact, she has the smoothness of Karen Carpenter but with a bigger Broadway sound. And, her powerhouse rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.
There were also a few ad-libs during the evening – one that drew the most laughter was Paul De Boy (as Harry Bright), who said to Donna, "There are all kinds of families – you and Sophie – and me and Fernando." And, when Sam Carmichael (played by Victor Wallace) finally asked Donna for her hand in marriage, the audience couldn't resist yelling out, "Do it, do it!" until Donna accepted the proposal.
When the curtain finally came down, the crowd was again on its feet, exuberantly applauding the entire cast. Many of the cast members were visibly moved, and the megamix of Abba tunes that followed kept the audience cheering, swaying and singing along.
Producer Craymer, who came onstage to a huge ovation and yells of "Judy! Judy! Judy!," had the final words of the evening. In a nearly 10-minute speech, the producer thanked all who were involved with the production during its nearly decade-and-a-half Broadway run, explaining, "The reason for this tonight is to celebrate the friendships that Mamma Mia! has created. Mamma Mia! is about hopes and dreams and friendships and family. And, honestly, every single one of you are family and have supported us in some way — even if you haven't been in the cast."
Craymer said she was especially proud of the fact that, throughout the years, the Broadway companies of the musical had raised $2.5 million for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and $1 million for breast cancer research. She concluded her speech saying, "The Mamma Mia! company has had 38 babies over the last 14 years, so our family keeps growing and continuing… Thank you Broadway for loving Mamma Mia!"