Monday, March 3, 2014

A Magical "Mamma Mia"

Sometimes, a musical isn't about the music at all. 


There. I said it. 

This might be musical theater heresy, but I had to admit it: sometimes shows that are not vocally strong are just as or more enjoyable than shows featuring players with a bright set of pipes. 

The recent return of Mamma Mia to the Orpheum Theater (and Hennepin Theater Trust's latest Broadway season) is just such a show. I can think of scads of performances I've seen with better vocalists. But were they as much fun as this one? Unlikely. 

For those who don't know, Mamma Mia is the musical designed to stitch a narrative into Abba songs, resulting in a hippy-fied storyline of a fatherless daughter, an independent and lonely mother, three past suitors (and possible fathers), and six best friends of varying character and age converging upon an idyllic Greek island to put on a true white wedding. 

Sophie (the fatherless daughter, played this time by Chelsea Williams) is the definition of a young rebellious persona. Raised by her mother and with no clue to her paternal parentage, Sophie reads her mother's diary and invites every candidate she believes might be her father to attend her wedding, hoping it will result in a sudden epiphany about her life. As you might imagine, shenanigans ensue.

Williams feels a bit old for the role of Sophie, although after she warms up (it takes a little while) she anchors the show vocally. When paired with Chris Stevens (Skye, Sophie's fiance), they present a mildly frat-life couple; odd considering Mamma Mia's flower love mentality, but still appropriately in sync with each other. 

As Donna, Sophie's freewheeling mother, Georgia Haege is a lot of fun. Like much of the cast, her voice seems a bit untraditional for a nationally touring musical; but she still provides musical highlights (such as a gorgeous rendition of "Slipping Through My Fingers") and, more importantly, creates a fairly realistic/believable portrayal of Donna. 

This is important: when so much of musical theater lies in the fantastic and imaginative (and nothing's wrong with that; everyone wants to take a turn down the yellow brick road or see singing teapots at some point), it's pretty rare to find a show (and more importantly a cast) who feel like they're not only having fun, but portraying real, live, people. This Mamma Mia always retains that feel; the audience seems to have stepped straight into a real family, with real heartbreak, and real joy, and it gives this Mamma Mia a well-loved patina that is enjoyable no matter how many times you've seen it. 

Ironcially perhaps, the cast's standouts are in fact Dona's past suitors, as witnessed immediately upon their appearance in "Mamma Mia!". As Donna's long lost love Sam, Don Winsor somehow hits the perfect aesthetic median between Pierce Brosnan and Steve Carell and showcases way better pipes on either side. Donna's other suitors, Harry (Mark Harmon) and Bill (Michael Colavolpe) are equally fun to listen to. 

Donna's best friends Tanya (a magnificently blunt Gabrielle Mirabella) and Rosie (powerhouse Carly
Sakolove) provide fabulously funny segues between scenes. Mirabella's vocals aren't standouts, but she is deliciously raunchy and absolutely hilarious; she had the audience cavorting out of their seats. Sakolove provides the hands-down best female voice of the show, and her terrific rendition of "Take A Chance on Me" is one of Mamma Mia's best. 

Musically, other standouts include "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" (far and away the most Abba-like of the show), "One of Us," and the closing notes of "I Have a Dream."

Set and costume-wise, there's not much to add to what's been said about previous shows; it hasn't changed much. Costumes in particular are still a riot, and first time attendees will love the fab encore ensembles. 

Mamma Mia has always been a heart-warmer, and this rendition is no exception. Check it out and find further information about the Hennepin Theater Trust's wonderful season by clicking on this link.

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