⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆ HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When I saw the Marriott Theatre season schedule, and “Mamma Mia!” appeared on it, I thought “What are they doing”? This is not a show to be done “in-the-round." Then I saw the press release that said the production would be under the leadership of Rachel Rockwell, and knew that they in fact, could pull it off. Chicago theater audiences know that Rockwell is a genius, knowing how to use every inch of every stage she has worked on. Tonight, after watching what she has created on the intimate stage in Lincolnshire, I became even more impressed. “Mamma Mia!” is a long show- over two dozen songs created by ABBA (Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) and some songs with Stig Anderson with a book that ties the songs together written by Catherine Jonson. Yet, under Rockwell's direction and some great choreography by Ericka Mac, the show moves swiftly, never dragging or leaving empty space on the stage.
I am sure that by now, you all know exactly what the tale of the music brings forth. We are on a Greek Island, and the lady who has built the inn/tavern, Donna Sheridan (Danni Smith is superb in her character building and her vocal range is as good as ever) is preparing for her daughter Sophie’s wedding (Tiffany Tatreau proves that big things come in small packages). Sophie has discovered her mother’s diary and found that there are three men, who, based on timing, could have been the father she never knew. Thus, she has sent them all invitations to the island.
The three men are Harry Bright (deftly handled by Karl Hamilton), Bill Austin (Derek Hassenstab is a stitch) and Sam Carmichael (the very able Peter Saide). Sophie spends time getting to know each, and yet never lets on why they are there, until they find out. Donna had been a singer and for the wedding, her two back-up singers (who are also great friends) are there for moral support as well: Rosie (the adorable and very comical Cassie Slater) and Tanya (the sultry, sexy Meghan Murphy, who is spellbinding to watch on stage). There are some wonderful moments between these three, with musical numbers that come close to being “show-stoppers”-“Chiquitita”, “Dancing Queen”, “Super Trouper”.
Another number that will bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart is when Bill and Rosie do “Take A Chance on Me”. Slater and Hassenstab are adorable. Since we are talking adorable, I must mention the handling of “Does Your Mother Know”. Murphy is a hoot and Pepper (Liam Quealy) adorable. The music of ABBA is very loveable; “Thank You For The Music”, “The Name Of The Game”, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”, “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, “Our Last Summer”, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “Money, Money, Money!” and many more. The crowded opening night audience seemed to know every song and by the looks on their faces, loved every minute of the two-hours-thirty minutes of the entertainment.
The ensemble is terrific, making changes after changes. Starting with the two maids of honor, Sophie’s best friends played by Kayla Kennedy and Lillian Castillo and of course, the groom to be, Sky (well done by Russell Mernagh) and Eddie (Gerard Salvador). The rest of the ensemble: Ari Aaron, William Carlos Angulo, Aramie, Julie Baird, Nathaniel Braga, Erica Evans, Cole Julian, Tommy Lucas, John Marshall, Jr., Zoe Nadal, Hanah Rose Nardone, Laura Savage Tommy Lucas, Kylah Williams and Colette Todd. (by the time you see this, Choreographer Mac will be replacing Erica Evans- one Erica for an Ericka, seems fair). They work very hard as this music has big ensemble numbers!
On the technical side, there is no major set in-the-round, but Scott Davis has done some wonderful things allowing the walls of the theater to come to life and sing to us (you must see for yourself) and a few pools of water have been placed around the stage.. The lighting by Jesse Klug is superb and the sound (Robert E. Gilmartin) very unique in that we hear echo effects, making it feel as if ABBA is in the house!. Theresa Ham’s costumes are powerful and very fitting and once again, Sally Weiss proves that she is one of the best propmasters in town!
Patti Garwood conducts the 8 musicians who truly bring the ABBA sound to life and Musical Director Ryan T. Nelson has brought this music to a perfect place. One thing to remember in this production. When the show is over, it is not over! The curtain calls allow for them to do what we call a “re-mix” where the cast redoes some of the numbers with costume changes that are so quick you will wonder how they were able to pull this off. You can see for yourselves as “Mamma Mia!” will play at Marriott Theatre through April 16th (a two week extension).