Theatre 121 has launched their inaugural season with the globally popular musical “Mamma Mia!” and this one is a solid, adoring audience pleaser.
Billed as “the show that turned musical theater on its ear,” “Mamma Mia!” is typically labeled a “jukebox musical.” Written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, it is, as everyone knows too well, based on a collection of ABBA songs. It also holds the record of being the ninth-longest-running Broadway show of all time (2001-20015) and has been seen by more than 60 million people worldwide.
The plot is pretty simple. On the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, engaged 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is Sophie doesn’t know exactly who that is. However, as luck would have it, she discovers her free-spirited mother Donna’s 1979 diary that lists three intimates.
Sophie is convinced one of these three is her dad and invites them all to her wedding. Donna is unsuspecting, preparing for the wedding guests at her financially strapped taverna and reuniting with gal pals Tanya and Rosie (formally the disco girl group “Donna and the Dynamos”). Naturally, everything does work out for the very best at the end.
Director Barry Norton has cast well, and the character development, pacing and high energy is evident. Norton also designed and painted the revolving set, a visually attractive Greek-style taverna. Trudie Dreyer and Holly Adkins’ costumes coupled with Debra Holmen’s lighting add a few more splashes of color to Norton’s sun-washed vision of love, friendship, family, lost dreams and last chances.
And while the story may be frothy and weak, the music is wonderful. The live nine-piece orchestra skillfully is conducted by Dave Childress, beginning with a montage of favorite ABBA hits and ending with a no-holds-barred mega-medley in the finale. Thanks to vocal director Susan Falbo, the talented ensemble voices are alive, vibrant and contagious; and choreographer Chesney Murphy’s gleeful dances are just plain fun.
As directed by Norton, the “opposing” trios are delightful. Donna, led by the vivacious and skilled actress Amber Dow, has an effervescent chemistry with gal pals Tanya and Rosie. Three-timed divorced Tanya is portrayed by a deliciously naughty Kate Curtain and cookbook author Rosie is played comedically and logically by Lisa Czarny-Hyrkas.
Dow has a particularly touching and genuine tie with daughter Sophie, portrayed by Aly Blakewell. Blakewell has the lion’s share of the songs and has a sweet, pure and beautiful voice; she is an endearingly believable match for Rob Falbo, who plays her fiancé, Sky; Falbo is a rock star young Hugh Jackman lookalike.
The three candidates for Sophie’s paternity are memorably portrayed by Opera House favorites Jeff Cook , Chris Griffin and John Barnett. Cook is the British banker, Harry the Headbanger, whose onstage comedic presence is once again flawless. Griffin is Bill, the intrepid happy wanderer, and plays him with perfect openness and sincerity; Barnett is the handsome willful architect Sam. Thankfully, all three get their moment in the Greek sun.
Of course, there are several irresistible song moments: “Lay All Your Love on Me” (what one can do with flippers!); “SOS,” (a gripping, raw song well-acted by Dow and Barnett); “Take a Chance on Me” (scene-stealing Czarny-Hyrkas and Griffin); and “Money, Money, Money” (Dow and Ensemble).
And a lot of quips, innuendos and sight gags keep the musical flowing entertainingly from start to finish.
Definitely “Take a Chance” on this catchy production; you’ll dance out with a big grin on your face and a question of where you put that disco gear. So congratulations to the new kid on the block, Theatre 121, and welcome to the Woodstock Opera House stage.
• After 35 years in education and theater, Regina Belt-Daniels continues to do what she loves best: teach, direct, travel and write theater reviews.