note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
Two years ago, when the national touring company performed its hit production of “Mamma Mia!,” at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, two members of the ensemble, Whitney Claire Kaufman and Annie Edgerton, replaced Carrie Manolakos and Allison Briner in two starring roles - 20-year-old bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan and her independent, ex-patriate single mom, Donna. The show went on with aplomb, wowing the audience with its large ensemble numbers, spirited by ABBA’s eternally appealing, rollicking music, and Anthony Van Laast’s energetic, athletic, upbeat choreography.
In a sense, history repeated itself last week on opening night (Wednesday, Dec. 16) at the Colonial Theatre, when four understudies replaced cast members in supporting or starring roles: John Michael Zuerlein replaced Michael Aaron Lindner in the key role of Harry “Headbanger” Bright, British banker and Donna’s former lover, who potentially is Sophie’s dad; Kevin Thomas Garcia replaced Michael Roberts McKee as Eddie, one of Donna’s humorous barmen; Carole Denise Jones replaced Ayme Olivo as Sophie’s girlfriend and bridesmaid, Lisa; and Vincent Corazza replaced John Michael Zuerlein as Father Alexandrinos, who late in the show performs the wedding - but not for the young couple.
Regardless, this streamlined production of “Mamma Mia!’” has enduring appeal, wooing younger audiences, along with its already established, huge fan base of former flower power, middle-aged, erstwhile romantics and dancing queens.
Liana Hunt as Sophie is sweet, honest, and her love scenes with handsome, muscular Adam Jacobs as her fiance, Sky, are delightfully romantic. Big spotlight stealers are Rachel Tyler as Tanya, Donna’s thrice-married, wealthy, sexy friend and former member of her singing trio, Donna and the Dynamos, and Rosie, their pragmatic single, robust sidekick and cookbook writer. Adam Michael Kaokept as sexy young barman, Pepper, is a bouncing bundle of sexiness, with his big, wide smile and energetic dancing, as though he has springs on his feet. Also noteworthy is Martin Kildare as Donna’s travel writer, commitment-avoiding lover, Bill Austin, whom Rosie pursues.
This production’s is enjoying a record-breaking engagement nationally, while many other casts are successfully performing “Mamma Mia!” in other countries, and in other languages. It isn’t the story that appeals to audiences, because, basically, it’s an excuse to string some of ABBA’s greatest songs together in a play, written by Catherine Johnson, to showcase music that has enjoyed almost four decades of unprecedented popularity. The plot involves Sophie finding her mom’s diary of July and August 1979, when Donna, a night club singer, slept with three different men - it was the days of free love, remember - within weeks. She became pregnant, moved to a small Greek island, inherited some money, bought a taverna and raised Sophie there. As the story opens, Sophie, who is about to be married, invites the three potential dads to the wedding, so she could get to know her real father and have him walk her down the aisle. Sprinkled between this tale are several rollicking numbers, performed by a terrific ensemble and fantastic orchestra. Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken’s super sound system, Howard Harrison’s psychedelic, swirling lighting design, and the production’s fun costumes add to the glitz.
A rousing finale of “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia!” and more brought the audience to its feet, swaying and clapping.
Perhaps Michelle Dawson as Donna or John Hemphill as her No. 1 former lover, Sam Carmichael aren’t as charismatic together as their co-stars, but they’re fine performers, and “Mamma Mia!” is an international treasure.
BOX INFO: Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’ multi-award-winning international hit musical, based on ABBA’s hit tunes, appearing at the Colonial Theatre through December 27. Book written by Catherine Johnson and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, choreography by Anthony Van Laast, performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m., and at 1 p.m. on Dec. 24; Friday at 8 p.m.; (no performance on Christmas); Saturday, 2, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $42.50-$91. Call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, visit the Colonial Theatre Box Office at 106 Boylston St., Boston, or BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.