Marriott Theatre's 'Mamma Mia!' a spirited revival...
"Mamma Mia!" is the musical theater equivalent of a conversation candy heart: a sugary, pastel-colored confection lacking nutritional value. But like the candy, "Mamma Mia!" has an undeniable appeal, evidenced by the rapturous response audiences have to its frequent revivals.
The latest comes courtesy of Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, whose peppy production of the jukebox tuner -- set to songs by 1970s Swedish pop group ABBA -- follows Paramount Theatre's 2016 revival by five months. What Marriott's version has going for it -- besides a couple of knockout performances -- is a canny creative team led by director Rachel Rockwell, who is clearly in on the joke.
Rockwell and choreographer Ericka Mac embrace the silliness of this featherweight show pairing midtempo, synthesizer-driven, disco-pop by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (along with Stig Anderson) with a contrived, corny book by Catherine Johnson.
Mac's athletic choreography -- which meshes 1970s disco moves, music video style and comic touches such as dancers performing in scuba flippers -- adds sizzle to the hokey story. That said, Rockwell, whose work reflects her flair for crafting emotionally authentic scenes, creates several winning moments, including the poignant mother-daughter duet "Slipping Through My Fingers."
Music director Ryan T. Nelson and sound designer Robert E. Gilmartin take care to ensure Marriott's live performance approximates ABBA recordings. That means recreating ABBA's multilayered vocals and swirling accompaniment with offstage singers and computer-enhanced keyboards. It's all quite effective.
As for the story, it unfolds during the 1990s, on a Greek island prettily evoked by Jesse Klug's mottled lighting and Scott Davis' set, a Mediterranean haven surrounded by water. The island is home to progressive, single-mom Donna (Danni Smith) who -- after spending her youth playing in a girl band and traveling around Europe -- settled down to run a taverna and raise her daughter Sophie (Tiffany Tatreau).
Sophie, a more conventional 20-year-old, plans to marry Sky (Russell Mernagh). But before she does, she wants to learn the identity of her father. To that end, she has invited three of Donna's former lovers -- American architect Sam (Peter Saide), British banker Harry (Karl Hamilton) and Australian travel writer Bill (Derek Hasenstab) -- to the island hoping to learn which of them is her dad in time for him to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. The wedding guests also include Donna's former bandmates: thrice-divorced Tanya (the cougariffic Meghan Murphy) and single author Rosie (a pleasantly droll Cassie Slater). Tanya catches the eye of younger man Pepper (Liam Quealy), while Rosie falls for Hasenstab's Bill.
The chemistry between Smith, Murphy and Slater is evident, particularly in the merrily nostalgic "Dancing Queen" which resonates with any woman who ever sang into a hairbrush as a teenager. Murphy stops the show with the sizzling "Does Your Mother Know?" So does Smith, whose polychromatic voice and candor make the 11 o'clock number, "The Winner Takes It All," so memorable -- and credible.
And credibility can be an issue with a show like "Mamma Mia!" which is cobbled together from hit tunes. It feels inherently artificial. Moreover, it seems to undercut the themes of female power and independence it initially embraces.
Maybe I'm thinking too hard. The contradiction didn't seem to bother the near-capacity audience opening night. They responded ecstatically to the eight-minute coda performed with gusto by cast members dressed in designer Theresa Ham's glittering gold and silver costumes that probably blew Marriott's sequin budget for the season.
It was a feel-good ending to a sweet show that leaves you wanting more. Kind of like a candy heart.