Mamma Mia

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater

Mamma Mia has been entertaining audiences since its premiere in London's West End in 1999. With a book by Catherine Johnson, it featured ABBA's music, principally written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, who were actually involved in the theatrical production. Weaving ABBA's principal hits seamlessly into the storyline, the production tells the story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Flynn Hayward), who is preparing to marry her boyfriend, Sky (Clayton Jones). She lives on a Greek island with her mother, who owns a taverna. She would like her father to give her away, but the catch is that she doesn't know who he is. Her mother, Donna (Sophina Brown), has never shared that information. Finding a diary of her mother's, she sees the names of three men on dates that might coincide with her conception. She sends them an invitation to the wedding in Donna's name, and then the complications begin.

First to arrive for the wedding are Donna's two friends, Tanya (Janna Cardia) and  Rosie (Candi Milo), who formed a trio called Donna and the Dynamos in their earlier days. Tanya is wealthy, married and divorced multiple times, flirtatious, and, in this production, delivers some kitschy glam. Rosie is kooky and independent, a polar opposite of Tanya, in baggy, ill-fitting clothing and a pair of black spectacles.

Next arrive the men: Sam (Martin Kildare), an architect; Harry (Corky Loupe), a banker; and Bill (Michael Cavinder), an Australian adventurer. They are eager to be there, thinking that the invitation came from Donna and not Sophie. Furthermore, they aren't aware of the motivation for their inclusion. When Donna finds out that they have arrived, "Mamma Mia, here we go again."

The play is corny, cobbled together with songs, and a sit com in action. It has the feel of the old Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon movies, and, in most circumstances, it shouldn't work in this much savvier time period, but it continues to pack in audiences who rise at the end of the show to dance along with the cast. Whether it is the nostalgia for ABBA's music or the ingenious way they carry the narrative is anybody's guess.

3-D Theatricals always has high production values, and  costumes by Alexandra Johnson, lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier, sound by Julie Ferrin, and set design by Stephen Gifford meet expectations. The look is bright, brassy, and the large stage allows for the cast's many production numbers.

Having said that, the cast seemed under-prepared for the opening night, with some awkward choreography (Dana Solimando) and musical numbers that could have used smoother direction by David F. M. Vaughn and more precise vocalizations. Allen Everman's musical direction and conducting give the show a Broadway feel.

Brown delivers the songs with gusto, but they seem to be directed to the audience and not her fellow cast members. Kildare is fine as the requisite handsome lead, but there is little chemistry between the two former lovers. Supporting players Loupe and Cavinder deliver yeoman work, but Milo and Candia are caricatured to a lesser effect.

Jones is appealing as the young bridegroom, and his fellow islanders (Ernie Figueroa, Noah Rivera) are enthusiastic as they perform some high spirited acrobatics. Sophie's friends (Tatiana Monique Alvaraz, Renna Nightingale) also provide the requisite youth and romance to counter the oldsters' reminiscences.

A new movie in theatres--Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again--proves there is still life in this longtime hit. Whether that will translate into a future theatrical venture or not, it is certain that Mamma Mia will continue to keep ABBA alive for future audiences.