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Mamma Mia! Is a Fun Night with Neuse Little Theatre at the "The Hut" in Smithfield

On Friday, Sept. 20th, the Neuse Little Theatre opened its 46th Season to a full house for Mamma Mia! Originally produced in London and then running on Broadway from 2001 to 2015, Mamma Mia! was created around the chart-topping hits of the 1970s Swedish pop group ABBA.

The book by Catherine Johnson weaves a whimsical story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Daughter Sophie (Logan Beddingfield) is getting married at a Greek island B&B run by her mom Donna (Marianna Morin) and wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is, Sophie doesn’t know who the dude is.

After finding one of Donna’s old diaries, she narrows it to one of three men: Globetraveling writer Bill (Shaun Braswell), colorful rocker-turned-banker Harry (Gregory Hill), or softspoken architect Sam (Darren Nix). So, Sophie invites all three to the wedding to figure it out.

The first act includes some of the more famous ABBA songs, such as “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper.” And it allows plenty of opportunities to pair the principals with a cornucopia of enjoyable side players.

We meet Donna’s vivacious former band mates Tanya (Mary-Leigh Hamilton) and Rosie (Patsy Castellano), Sophie’s sweet-faced fiancé Sky (Greg Beddingfield) and her two caffeinated BFFs Lisa (Annabeth Clark) and Ali (Rosie Mania). A large energetic ensemble of townspeople and guests seem to arrive out of nowhere for the big numbers “Money Money Money” and “Mamma Mia.” Act One highlights include the beautiful opening song “I Have A Dream,” and some hilarious flipper choreography in “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

Act Two opens with “Under Attack,” incorporating black lights and sheer fabric for an avant-garde staging of Sophie’s nightmare. The number ends with a scream, so we know that Sophie’s worried about the day ahead.

Two especially fun numbers deserve kudos for choreography and staging: “Does Your Mother Know,” featuring Tanya and Pepper (Jack Page), and “Take a Chance on Me,” with Rosie and Bill. The fun tends to flag as the wedding gets closer. Donna’s ballad “Slipping Through My Fingers” creates a very sweet mother-daughter moment, but we’re all waiting for the next splashy pop routine. And no spoilers here for the few who haven’t seen the 1999 West End and 2001 Broadway musical or the 2008 film, but no matter how you’re hoping the who’s-your-daddy question plays out, the climactic wedding delivers a satisfying payoff.

Sophie is played with bright-eyed optimism by Logan Beddingfield — married in real life to her on-stage fiancé. Sophie is the play’s ostensible heroine, but it is the relationship with her mother Donna that drives the story.

Marianna Morin captures the slightly tomboyish spunk that Meryl Streep brought to the 2008 film adaptation. Their friends bring brightness and lightness to their roles, too. On opening night, Shaun Braswell did a great job as Bill — a last-minute substitute for hospitalized actor Rick Herndon. (We wish Herndon a speedy recovery.)

Darren Nix’s Sam has a quiet charm and winning smile that works great when he is reacting to others in a scene, but he struggles when emoting alone in “Knowing Me Knowing You” and “The Winner Takes It All.” Gregory Hill seems to relish every moment as Harry, flinging his body into each interaction with a loose, Bill Nighy-ish flamboyance. And Mary-Leigh Hamilton is perfectly cast as the Glamazonian cougar Tanya, towering over the rest of the company in her stiletto heels.

Director Ruth Mills pulled it all together with clever staging on a pared-down single-unit set, using tables, stools, and an unusually tiny bed. When you don’t have a fancy Broadway set, you use your imagination. Mills did just that, and successfully.

Music director Todd Johnson used a combination of live and recorded tracks, achieving a good mix for the space. Every lyric was clear, both on the ballads and the large group numbers. Johnson’s work with the vocal harmonies in “Chiquitita” and “Super Trouper” was outstanding.

Ruth Mills and assistant director/choreographer Patsy Castellano managed to successfully stage a probably-too-large ensemble by taking some of the actors into the audience. That technique worked especially well for the finale, “Waterloo,” bringing the audience to their feet to sing and dance with the cast.

All in all, it was a fun night at “The Hut” in Smithfield, NC.

The Neuse Little Theatre will stage Mamma Mia!, directed by Ruth Mills and choreographed by Patsy Castellano, on Sept. 20-22 and 27-29 at the “The Hut” in Smithfield

Neuse Little Theatre presents MAMMA MIA! at 3 p.m. Sept. 22, 8 p.m. Sept. 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. Sept. 29 in “The Hut” (the former American Legion Hut), 104 S. Front St., Smithfield, North Carolina 27577, at the corner of Front St. and U.S. 70 Business (Market St.).

TICKETS: $15 in advance and $17 at the door (cash or check only).

BOX OFFICE: 919-934-1873 or neuselittletheatre@gmail.com.

SHOW: http://www.hometownheritage.com/neuselittletheatre/nextshow.html.

2019-20 SEASON: http://www.hometownheritage.com/neuselittletheatre/2019-20brochure.pdf.

PRESENTER: http://www.neuselittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NeuseLittleTheatre, and https://twitter.com/neuselittlethtr.

VENUE/MAP/DIRECTIONS: https://www.mapquest.com/.

OTHER LINKS:

ABBA (Swedish pop group, 1972-82): http://www.abbasite.com/ (official website), https://www.britannica.com/topic/ABBA (Encyclopædia Britannica), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABBA (Wikipedia).

Mamma Mia! (1999 West End and 2001 Broadway musical): http://www.mamma-mia.com/ (official website), https://www.mtishows.com/mamma-mia (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/mamma-mia-10610 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/MammaMiaMusical (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/MammaMiaMusical (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamma_Mia! (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: http://broadwayeducators.com/mamma-mia/ (Broadway Educators.com).

Mamma Mia! (2008 film): http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/mamma-mia-the-movie/ (official website), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/650316/Mamma-Mia-/ (Turner Classic Movies), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0795421/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamma_Mia!_(film) (Wikipedia).

Björn Ulvaeus (music and lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/bjrn-ulvaeus-12514 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0880744/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B6rn_Ulvaeus (Wikipedia).

Benny Andersson (music and lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/benny-andersson-11314 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0027630/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Andersson (Wikipedia).

Stig Anderson (lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/stig-anderson-90544 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0027832/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stig_Anderson (Wikipedia).

Catherine Johnson (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/catherine-johnson-84809 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0424735/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Johnson (Wikipedia).

Ruth Mills (Smithfield, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/ruth.mills.549 (Facebook page).

REVIEWER:

Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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