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It’s a wise child who knows her own father. Unfortunately, for the lovely Sophie on her beautiful Greek island, such is not the case. She has only her single mom, Donna, and no dad to walk her down the aisle and give her away to the handsome Sky. What’s a girl to do? Why not invite all three of her mother's paramours from the fateful year of her conception to the wedding so she can ascertain which one did the deed? Thus, the very thin plot for Mamma Mia! is born, as well as a reason to showcase more than 20 songs by that Swedish phenomenon of the '70s, ABBA.

The large crowd at the Kavinoky Theatre braved frigid temperatures Opening Night to see and hear the cast and musicians perform this almost twenty-year-old jukebox musical, and were treated to an exuberant, spirited night of music and dance, and some very flashy disco costumes designed by Jessica Wegzyrn, as well as film and video designed by Brian Cavanagh. I particularly like the gentle lapping waves of the Aegean Sea reminding us that, yes, there really are still warm places in this world.

There is much to love about this brazenly frivolous show, from the cast to the choreography to the company to the musicians and the lighthearted playfulness of many of the songs. And there are also (a few) moments that display a depth of feeling, as in “Winner Take All,” sung with great anguish, sense of loss and anger by Debbie Pappas Sham as the broken-hearted Donna. 

Lisa Ludwig and Loraine O’Donnell as Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s compadres in excess during the '70s, each bring wonderful comic presence to the mix. Ms. Ludwig’s Cher-like wig is a hoot as she hobbles along on her stilettos and flirts with the beach boys, particularly Pepper (Patrick Coleman), who does his best to woo her with his dirty dancing. She entices them all with the tongue-in-cheek “Does Your Mother Know,” singing and dancing with the company.

Ms. O’Donnell offers up a show-stopping and hilarious “Take a Chance on Me.” She kills it and her prey, Bill, played by a dumbfounded Matt Witten who realizes there is no escape, succumbs as he knows he must. No getting away from this force of nature, so just give it up and dive in.

Arianne Davidow as Sophie has a lovely voice, but was difficult to understand at times. Microphone issues? Lack of knowledge of many of the songs on my part? Either way, it was not a major distraction from her performance as the sweet and confused Sophie. Her counterpart William Hin, as her fiancé Sky, in the number “Lay All Your Love on Me” certainly did. As he slithered across the stage to Sophie, I feared his chest and other regions might end up riddled with slivers. Not so, though. He made it without incident. And he later shows a modicum of maturity as he confronts Sophie about lying to him.

The Company is superb throughout, thanks to their own talent and the terrific choreography of Director Lynne Kurdziel Formato. The dances are whimsical, energetic, and a delight to behold. The Company does not miss a beat as they sing and dance with the cast, and transform the set from a bedroom to a beach to an outdoor café. Kudos to all of them. One friend said he thinks they are the best part of the show.

The three possible fathers are: Doug Weyand as Harry the Banker (formerly Headbanger), who has a great British accent and generous spirit in his button-down way; Matt Witten as Bill, the writer, wanderer and quarry (of Rosie) who claims he will never settle down; and Peter Palmisano as Sam, Donna’s true love, and the one most-likely-to-be-dad. He seems overly-serious at times in this very light-hearted musical. I would have liked to see more of a sense of bemusement and humor from him.

The well-designed set by David King transports you to a Greek island and Donna’s small Taverna near the beach. This sense of place is enhanced by a clever film backdrop of the sea, waves lapping on the beach, and the hotel rooms. Some of the LED video seems a bit superfluous, while at the same time is enjoyable to watch. I like the breaking hearts at the beginning of each act.

It is clear that a tremendous amount of work and creative fire has gone into this production. It shows. And it does not try to be more than it is – a light and playful night of song and dance and comedy. Really, Mamma Mia!  is all about the music and the dancing. That understood, you cannot go wrong with this production. Seeing Donna, Tanya, and Rosie perform “Dancing Queen” with a blow dryer, curling iron, and antique electric vibrator (the Edison model?) as microphones will make you laugh out loud and want to sing along with them–but don’t. That comes later.

Mamma Mia! at the Kavinoky will warm your heart, if not your nether regions, and make you laugh and sing on these cold, cold January days. You can see it until January 28.

Mamma Mia!

Fri Jan 5th → Sun Jan 28th
Days: Sun, Thu, Fri, Sat
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Ann Marie Cusella

Theater lover, psychotherapist, founder of Cultivate Joy Within, former actor, school owner, etc.
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