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Theatre Review: Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia!


Opening Sierra Repertory Theatre’s 2018 season is a dazzling, energetically charged production of the ABBA infused musical, Mamma Mia! With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, a book by Catherine Johnson, and some additional songs by Stig Anderson, this smash hit West End and Broadway musical has begun its rounds on the regional theatre circuit. Sierra Rep’s production is the first I have seen that is not a national tour or Broadway staging. However, in true Sierra Rep fashion, the cast and production team have delivered a Mamma Mia! that is sure to make you wanna go again!

Donna is a hotel owner on the Greek Island of Kalkairi. 20 years ago she had a few “dot, dot, dot…” experiences with several gentleman callers so close together in time that it is unclear as to whom the rightful father of her daughter, Sophie, is. Cue Jerry Springer or Maury? No, no, no; we have ABBA to take care of the musical drama for you, and they have finessed the story into a joyous, feel-good, dancing, sing-along frenzy. Becky Saunders and Carrie Lyn Brandon lead the cast as Donna and Sophie, respectively. Ms. Saunders’ charisma and easy going presence makes her the ideal Donna. Ms. Saunders’ stalwart vibrato and sprinklings of riffs are welcomed in her turns at “Money, Money, Money,” “One of Us,” and in an unsuspectingly emotional “The Winner Takes it All.” In a musical where the audience is more of an entertained observer and enjoyer of the music, Ms. Saunders hijacks the audiences’ heartstrings for her “The Winner Takes it All” just long enough to make you realize you actually do have a morsel of emotional attachment to the characters. Ms. Brandon is an earnest, eager, and energetically sound Sophie, embodying the demeanor and emotional responses of a 20-year old who just wants to know who her father is. Ms. Brandon’s vocal talents are perfectly suited for the pop score, shining brightly in the opening/closing “I Have a Dream,” and making some sense of the always weird Act Two opener “Under Attack.” Ms. Brandon and Ms. Saunders have one duet to truly share the motherly-daughterly connection, and they completely nail it in the Act Two “Slipping Through My Fingers.” Ms. Brandon teams up with a well-voiced Bobby Cook Gallagher, who plays Sophie’s fiancé, Sky, to lead an excitingly sensual “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

Playing Donna’s ladies-in-waiting are two scene-stealers in Brenda O’Brien’s Tanya and Cat Yates’ Rosie. Ms. O’Brien and Ms. Yates have not only mastered how to deliver every one-liner perfectly, but have amazing voices to boot. Ms. O’Brien oozes the diva-like qualities Tanya is written to have and triumphantly leads a very fun “Does Your Mother Know?” Ms. Yates is a delight all show long, but it culminates in a laugh-a-second physical comedy turn before entering into a show-stopping “Take a Chance on Me” opposite Kipp Moorman’s Bill. Playing the fathers-in-question are Mr. Moorman as the adventurous writer, Bill; Russell Garrett as the well-off business man, Harry; and Alan Gillespie as the architect-designer, Sam. Each father has multiple times to shine, and these three stage veterans know how to sell a plot twist and laugh with ease. Mr. Moorman is a jolly delight opposite Ms. Brandon in a sterling “What’s the Name of the Game?,” and holds his own opposite Ms. Yates in the aforementioned triumph of a duet, “Take a Chance on Me.” Mr. Garrett delivers a nicely transitioned Harry, going from bothered man who seems inconvenienced by the whole Greek trip to a warm, accepting, internally fun man longing to enjoy his younger days again. Mr. Garrett’s duet with Ms. Saunders, “Our Last Summer,” is altogether pleasant and exudes the reminiscent nature of two former lovers who have found a common ground of happiness. Mr. Gillespie is a dynamite Sam, effectively leading the fatherly trio with paternal warmth and studious intimacy opposite Ms. Saunders’ Donna. Mr. Gillespie’s tenor voice glides through his beautiful renditions of “S.O.S” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” exuding a degree of the desperate acceptance Sam is attempting to evoke from Donna. Mr. Gillespie’s father-daughter chemistry (no, that’s not a spoiler) opposite Ms. Brandon is impeccable, a connection that is lovely to watch and endearing to see grow over the course of the musical.

Featured standouts come from Natalie Graham and Mandy Corbett as Ali and Lisa, Sophie’s friends, respectively. Ms. Graham and Ms. Corbett team up with Ms. Brandon for a lively “Honey, Honey” and provide some of the shows best dance turns in the numerous company numbers. Jesse Graham delivers a memorable performance as Pepper, one of the hunky workers at Donna’s hotel. Mr. Graham flirtatiously partners with Ms. O’Brien to perform an enthusiastic “Does Your Mother Know?,” complete with some dancing gymnastic turns that are sure to impress. In all, Valerie Rachelle’s fully realized direction and choreography makes this Mamma Mia! a gigantic party which sets the cast up to succeed in every scene and song. Ms. Rachelle knows how to fill a stage, knows how to set up bits, and really knows how to choreograph. The dancing in Mamma Mia! can certainly take over the show (which is what I have seen in the past). However, Ms. Rachelle’s balance between dazzling dance turns and movement that adds texture to the scene/song is in perfect harmony, allowing the ensemble and principals to shine when appropriate, but always making the choreography have reason and purpose to it.

Dana Moran Williams has designed a functional and visually appealing set, one that is used well and allows for fluid transitions. Mike Sali’s illuminating lighting design provides washes and specials of Greek-inspired palettes that are warm, effective in setting the tone and the mood for each scene or song being performed. Rebecca Meredith’s costumes are exactly what the script calls for, complementing the Greek ambiance while still adding splashes of color and casualness to the cast. In all, Sierra Rep has provided audiences with an extremely capable group of performers who are delivering this ABBA hit, a magnificent Mamma Mia! Don’t miss this show; you have until April 8th!

Published February 24, 2018

Click Here to read the review on Marc Gonzalez’s The Road To 1,000

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