Theater review: “Mamma Mia”Written by Chad Meredith | | email@example.com
The musical “Mamma Mia” blends twenty-two songs of the Swedish pop band ABBA with a romp about a girl named Sophie Sheridan (Liana Hunt), who is about to be married. Unbeknownst to her mother, Donna (Michelle Dawson), Sophie invites her mother’s three former heartthrobs (played by John Hemphill, Martin Kildare, and Michael Aaron Lindner), in hopes to discover her father. Smoothly integrated songs, a meticulous technical crew, and memorable performances made the Stranahan theatre’s latest production of “Mamma Mia” a success. Before the production began, the audience was transported to a maritime setting.
On the stage was a curtain of waves. This curtain was cerulean blue and navy blue, and was filled with horizontal waves. Surrounding these waves was a turquoise frame, which had two vertical lines, one on each side of the stage, and a horizontal line going across the top of the stage. These framed waves made the audience feel like they were underwater. With an abrupt crash of thunder, “Mamma Mia” began.
The overture made the audience feel like they were at an ABBA concert. A loud melody from an electric guitar swiftly took hold of the audience’s ears. As the lights slowly dimmed, the guitar melody mixed with a piano, followed by an integration of drums. As the overture played, light and shadow effects gave the waves a rippling effect. The setting took the audience to a Greek island getaway.
The ruins of two circular buildings stood on center stage. The slant and cream color of these buildings made them look ancient. Each of these towers had a blue door under an overhang. Throughout the production, these towers were turned around to reveal different locations of the Sheridan’s island getaway. The unconfined setting enhanced the production’s nautical atmosphere. Michelle Dawson was a standout.
As many people know, Donna Sheridan was played by Meryl Streep in last year’s film adaptation. Instead of imitating Meryl Streep’s performance, Dawson gave the audience her own take on Donna. When Donna said “that eyesore is going to be my casino,” Dawson’s determined smile and concentration toward a far away landmark made the audience believe her. In the song “Money Money Money,” Dawson’s quick shuffling and dice-shaking gestures made it look like Donna was actually gambling. In this song, Dawson’s low pitch was perfect. Dawson continued to wow the audience with every number she sang.
In song “Mamma Mia,” Donna is surrounded by her former lovers, and cannot imagine why she left any of them. As she sang, Dawson leaned against a door for support. Dawson then slowly sank to the ground. This sinking conveyed the oppressing forces of her past memories and regret. When Dawson turned her head from side to side in panic, it appeared as though murderers were on either side of her. When Dawson sang “Just one look,” her pitch was high, and the words trembled. This trembling conveyed how just looking at her former lovers makes Donna feel the same longing she felt when she first fell in love with them. While Liana Hunt was also entertaining, her voice hit a couple sour notes.
In the song “Honey Honey,” Hunt’s smile and excited visage made the audience eager to hear what Sophie’s mother wrote in her diary. At the beginning of the production, in the song “I Have a Dream,” Hunt spoke the words “even if you fail.” Speaking these words emphasized the idea that it is never too late to succeed or make one’s dreams a reality. When Sophie sang “Lay All Your Love on Me,” Hunt stayed in the same chord when she needed to go higher. Had Hunt changed the chords as she sang, she would have hit all the right notes. Hunt sang Sophie’s other songs without faltering. As Sophie’s outrageous aunt Rosie, Kittra Wynn Coomer was hilarious.
Coomer latched on to the audience’s funny bone, and never let go. When Rosie sang “Chiquitita tell me what’s wrong” in the song “Chiquitita,” Coomer put her hands on her waist to convey the power and respect Rosie has as a close friend of Donna. Coomer also used her build to her advantage. When Donna, Rosie and Tanya (Rachel Tyler) sang “Dancing Queen,” Donna jumped up in a dance step, and Tanya followed in succession. When Rosie attempted this move, Coomer arched her back, widened her eyes and mouthed a swear word to convey throwing her back out. When Donna and Tanya went to do this move again, Coomer just threw her arms up and gave the two other woman a look that said “That’s all I’m doing. Deal with it.” As Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers, John Hemphill delivered a memorable performance.
In the song “S.O.S.,” Donna and Sam sing about how they miss each other’s love and company. Through subtle movements, Hemphill made the audience share Sam’s feelings of despair. When Hemphill narrowed his eyebrows and slightly shook his head, he conveyed Sam’s longing for the relationship he once shared with Donna. Hemphill made Sam a relatable, sensitive man simply by looking down and fidgeting with a chair. While most of “Mamma Mia’s” songs give insight into the characters’ thoughts and personalities, “Mamma Mia’s” largest weakness is the songs that lose its focus.
Even though “Knowing Me, Knowing You” allows the audience to see how hard it was for Sam to break up with Donna, it is an unnecessary number. Sam’s dialogue and the other songs he sings vividly reveal that it was difficult for him to break up with her. In this song, there is an awkward moment where Sam kneels down next to Sophie while he sings the words “breaking up is hard to do.” What makes this blocking awkward is that it looks like Sam is breaking up with Sophie. The song “The Name of the Game” should have been reduced to just a couple lines of dialogue, since it merely informs the audience that Bill Austin (Martin Kildare) believes that he is Sophie’s father.
The premise of “Mamma Mia” sounds like it should be a theatrical train wreck. Since ABBA’s songs were not originally written for a musical, a person might not guess that many of their hits could be so smoothly integrated into one. Most of the songs tie in to the characters and plot so strongly that it is hard to believe that these songs were not originally written for “Mamma Mia.” Even though “Mamma Mia” is about a girl discovering her own identity, it is also about the choices we make in life, and how we deal with the consequences. The cast had the entire house clapping to the songs, and dancing long after the final scene.