The history of Mamma Mia!, which played five performances at the Durham Performing Arts Center on May 30-June 1, pretty much speaks for itself. The West End musical is the ninth longest-running musical in Broadway history, has Las Vegas and other international productions, as well as tours traveling the globe, and is is an undeniable fan favorite.
Most of that fame relies heavily on the nostalgia of the music. The Swedish pop sensation, ABBA, whose songs swept the world in the 1970s and 1980s, provide the musical backdrop of a fun, albeit flimsy, fantasy, created by Catherine Johnson. ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus — who wrote some of the songs with Stig Anderson — are credited with show’s music and lyrics.
Mamma Mia! tells the story of Sophie Sheridan (Chelsea Williams), a young girl on the eve of her wedding day to Sky (a miscast Chris Stevens). She lives on a Greek island with her mother, Donna (replacement Rebecca Mason-Wygal, giving a strong performance). Sophie has never known who her father is; and, after discovering her mother’s diary and reading all about her mother’s sexual escapades, she invites the three men who are her potential father figures — Bill Austin (Michael Colavolpe), Sam Carmichael (replacement Vince Wingerter), and Harry Bright (Mark A. Harmon) — to her wedding.
The men, who fondly remember their time with Donna, all arrive, adding a fair bit of farce. Donna is joined by her two best friends, Tanya (Gabrielle Mirabella) and Rosie (Carly Sakalove);and this trio gives us a significant portion of the laughs -– including Ms. Sakalove, whose opening lyric to “Take a Chance On Me” was alone enough to send the entire DPAC house into a cheering frenzy. The story is thin, but it’s family-friendly, and it doesn’t require a lot of energy from the audience to follow along. It’s all thanks to the music that it’s as engaging as it is.
The solid ensemble really brings their A-game, adding wonderful life to the infectious music. Seeing audience members dancing in their seats was assurance enough that the songs are integral to the long success of the show. Standout numbers included the titular “Mamma Mia!”; “Knowing Me, Knowing You”; “S.O.S.” “Super Trouper”; “Take a Chance On Me”; “The Winner Takes It All”; and a mash-up of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” and “Voulez-Vous.”
With stimulating lighting design by Howard Harrison, and a finely-tuned band led by Kevin Casey, the current North American tour of Mamma Mia! proved to be wonderful musical escape, one I’m sure will continue to delight and entertain for years to come. If you get the opportunity, you should check it out next time it comes through.
SECOND OPINION: May 31st Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/x1235864829/REVIEW-Join-the-party-with-Mamma-Mia-A-fun-time-at-DPAC and May 22nd preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x1596736055/N-C-grad-in-first-tour-headed-to-Broadway-in-Mamma-Mia ( You must register to read these articles); May 28th Burlington, NC Times-News preview by Rachel Teseneer for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/mamma-mia-heads-to-durham-for-five-shows/; and Oct. 1, 2013 New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Andrew Gans: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/182729-Casting-Announced-for-2013-14-Tour-of-Mamma-Mia. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the May 29th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/05/here-we-go-again-mamma-mia-returns-to-the-bull-city-for-five-shows-on-may-30-june-1-at-dpac/.)
MAMMA MIA! (Durham Performing Arts Center, May 30-June 1):
SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/mamma-mia and https://www.facebook.com/events/444523882282588/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=vb.1417146341836751&type=2.
TOUR: http://www.mammamiaontour.com/mm/ and https://www.facebook.com/mammamiaontour.
TOUR CAST and CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.mammamiaontour.com/mm/mamma-mia-cast-creative.asp.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, and https://twitter.com/DPAC.
ABBA (Swedish pop group, 1972-82): http://www.abbasite.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ABBA (Wikipedia).
Mamma Mia! (1999 West End and 2001 Broadway musical): http://www.mamma-mia.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=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://www.broadwayinchicago.com/pdf/studyguide_mammamia.pdf (Broadway in Chicago).
Mamma Mia! (2008 film): http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/mamma-mia-the-movie/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0795421/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamma_Mia!_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
Björn Ulvaeus (music and lyrics): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B6rn_Ulvaeus (Wikipedia).
Benny Andersson (music and lyrics): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Andersson (Wikipedia).
Stig Anderson (lyrics): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stig_Anderson (Wikipedia).
Catherine Johnson (book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Johnson (Wikipedia).
Work Light Productions, LLC (tour producer): http://www.worklightproductions.com/ (official website).
Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He is currently directing Theatre Raleigh’s June 18-22 and 25-29 presentation of Jon Robin Baitz’s 2011 Off-Broadway and Broadway play, Other Desert Cities, which became a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/. (Note: He is shown here playing the whimsical Leaf Coneybear in Theatre Raleigh‘s 2013 production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.)