Theatre Mirror Reviews-"Mama Mia!"

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note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth

"Mama Mia!"

A Review By Sheila Barth

It doesn’t matter how many times you see ABBA’s (Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’) long-running, global smash hit musical, “Mamma Mia”. Helmed by its veteran director, Phyllida Lloyd, the show’s infectious, nostalgic music and upbeat energy make it a treat, all over again. Last week’s, six-day Work Light Productions’ touring production at the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre is no exception.

The cast is terrific, and works solidly together, looking like they’re having a blast together on stage, then emanating that fun and camaraderie all the way to the second balcony, where some theatergoers had a tough time restraining themselves from hooting, hollering, singing, dancing, and loving every minute. Music Director Kevin Casey on keyboard and his five musicians produce big sounds, especially in the booming overture, entre-acte, and rollicking, pull-out-all-the-stops finale.  

Several songs incorporate hidden ensemble’s voices as background singers, and full-scale numbers such as theme song, “Mamma Mia!,” the dream sequence and pre-wedding parties allow this appealing, youthful cast to shine.

Yes, you’ve probably seen the same scaled-down set, many of the same costumes, and the same brilliant-hued, light-splashed scenes before, (this time with Howard Harrison). You’ve probably marveled at Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken’s great sound design, too, but this cast makes everything seem new and exciting all over again.

In fact, this production of Catherine Johnson’s story is spicier, racier, more risque, with Anthony Van Laast’s even sexier choreography, more salty lines and gestures. But let’s face it - the play is about a woman named Donna Sheridan, who had three lovers during the days of free love and flower power, got pregnant, and doesn’t know who’s the father of her 20-year-old about-to-be-betrothed daughter, Sophie (sweet-faced native Mainer Chelsea Williams).  Sophie found and read her mother’s July-August 1979 diary notes, revealing Donna’s wild past, then secretly wrote to her mom’s three former lovers, inviting them to her wedding. She’s hoping her “real” father will walk her down the aisle and give her away. 

Sophie is unaware that Donna was raised in a strict, Catholic family. Donna later reveals when she became pregnant, she couldn’t return home, so she made a life for herself and Sophie on the small Greek island. Within 24 hours, Mamma Mia! All hell breaks loose. Donna (fabulously portrayed by Georgia Kate Haege) confronts her three lovers, most specifically Sam Carmichael, (Jeff Drushal), the architect of her dreams whom she pined for the past 21 years; British banker Harry “Headbanger” Bright (Mark A. Harmon), and travel writer Bill Austin,who avoids commitment, and whose great-aunt Sophia, left everything to Donna.

While Sophie is psyched to be with her girl buddies again, Donna is even more buoyed by her two longtime friends, thrice-divorced wealthy cougar pal Tanya (Gabrielle Mirabella) and chunky cutie, cookbook author Rosie (Sarah Smith), as they reminisce and regroup as rock singing group, Donna and the Dynamos. The three gal-pals are dynamite together, especially in their white-and-silver and bright phosphorescent, body-hugging costumes, singing “Dancing Queen,” “Chiquitita,” and in their finale reprise, with their male counterparts, and ensemble.

Generally, Rosie is more pragmatic, but this time, she’s comically more on the prowl for a guy, namely Bill Austin (Michael Colavolpe). Smith and Colavolpe are hilarious when she invites Bill to “Take a Chance on Me,” and he runs until he’s blissfully (en)snared.

Eric Presnall is also better defined as Sophie’s fiance, Sky. He’s a hunky, blonde, American ex-patriate, who gave up stocks and bonds for leisure island living, but now wants to now see the world - with Sophie. Presnall and Williams’ affectionate love scenes and duets are touching, while Donna and Sam’s are confrontational, yet longing. They’ve carried a torch for each other throughout the years, and can’t let each other go. Their duet, “S.O.S.,”  is moving, and  Haege is phenomenal in her solos, “The Winner Takes it All” and “Slipping Through my Fingers”.

.Amid all the chaos and confusion, honey, honey, the Winner Takes It All. They sing I Do, I Do, IDo,I Do, I Do, all the way to a happy, psychedelic, glitzy rollicking ending.

The glue that holds “Mamma Mia!” together so successfully, though, is ABBA’s music.

When this two-act party ends, everyone’s a dancing queen, swaying, clapping, waving, and singing - all the way out the door.

"Mama Mia!" (till 12 October)
@ Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide