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As stories go, Mamma Mia! is a light, simple love story injected with plenty of humor and song – nothing heavy in the least, rather an evening island getaway where the sounds of ABBA reign supreme. It is the story of Sophie Sheridan and her mother Donna, who have made home on a Greek Island where they own and run a small resort. But the story really begins when Sophie, unsure of who her real father is, invites three possibilities to her wedding based on information she’s uncovered in her mother’s journal. Of course, Donna has no clue until the three men show up at the island – awkward! With several people vacationing at the island in anticipation of Sophie’s wedding to Sky in a few days, multiple love narratives unfold - and how couldn’t they? After all, you have a handful of romantically starved individuals thrust together in close proximity to each other on a tropical island that oozes amorousness, coupled with the fact that they all seem to lose control to ABBA classics, which come aplenty. 

Marriott Theatre takes on Mamma Mia! as their latest production, uniquely staging the energy-filled production in the round, giving the audience the feeling that they too are guests at the island resort as the action is up close and the aisles are frequently used during the performance. Set designer Scott Davis does a fantastic job creating an island atmosphere throughout the theatre. Strategic alterations are made to convert the musical to the round, including scenic touches like the moat of illuminated water that surrounds the stage and the walls behind theatre goers that are converted into those of a Greek taverna complete with the colorful shutters of French-styled windows. Adding the finishing touches to the Mamma Mia! setting are dazzling costume designs by Theresa Ham and lighting effects by Jesse Klug. 

Danni Smith takes on the leading role of Donna Sheridan, the short-haired brunette replacing the prototypical long-haired, wavy-blonde we are used to seeing in this production. The change is nice. Smith, who was last seen at Marriott Theatre in Man of La Mancha, serves up a powerhouse vocal performance, especially during her crowd stunner “The Winner Takes It All” and her heartfelt rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers”, delivered with just the right touch of care and concern a mother would have for her daughter. Capturing the essence of Donna so well, we immediately like her and cheer for her. Putting it bluntly, Danni Smith is truly extraordinary. Meghan Murphy and Cassie Slater are rightly cast as Donna’s two lifelong friends Tanya and Rosie. The casting couldn’t have been more perfect. As many times as I have seen Mamma Mia!, I have never seen a more believable friendship than that as between Donna and her besties in this production, which is so convincing you’d think it true in real life. Murphy gets to show off her great sense of comedic timing as Tanya, also taking it to the house vocally, hitting one way out of the park in the racy number “Does Your Mother Know”. 

Taking on yet another challenging vocal role in the show, this one of Sophie, is Tiffany Tatreau, who handles it with apparent ease. Tatreau, undoubtedly gifted in the vocal department, tackles several demanding songs on her own and adds on many occasions to the captivating vocal harmonies that make this musical so special. 

Sophie’s three possible fathers are also cast well, Peter Saide getting plenty of chances to display his own finessed vocal skill as Sam Carmichael, while Karl Hamilton and Derek Hasenstab draw some big laughs as Donna’s other two ex’s Harry Brightwell and Bill Austin. Russell Mernagh makes his own mark as Sky, Sophie’s soon to be husband. Mernaugh, whose beach bum charm is nothing short of convincing, puts forth a well-rounded performance that makes him a solid choice for the role. Overall, the cast is just sensational from top to bottom, getting strong support from its incredible ensemble who wows the audience on several occasions with big-time dance and vocal routines.

All the elements are in place to provide an entertaining evening without even the slightest lull. The stage is often taken over by energetic dance numbers that will have you tapping along or beautifully arranged ballads that will move your soul. The humor is abundant, the subject matter light and the visuals so easily take your mind elsewhere - somewhere dreamy. Yes, the table is perfectly set to enjoy a night of ABBA hits done with much originality from “Dancing Queen” to “Waterloo”. Fun is "the name of the game" in this wild ride stringed together by a compilation of the Swedish sensation's biggest hits - so much fun in fact, that you might have to pull out your glitzy, bell-bottomed, spandex one-piece (we all have one, don't we?) after getting home from the show.  

Mamma Mia!, already a winning show, has now become even more of a special experience as it is put together so well, and uniquely, by Marriott Theatre in a way that cannot be seen anywhere else. When you put it all together – the great music, the talented performances and a setting that takes you miles and miles away to a tropical bliss – it all adds up to “Having the time of your life”.

Highly recommended. 

Mamma Mia! has already been extended and is being performed at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through April 16th. For more show information, click here.     

   

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I just love a good whodunit. Who killed who, how and why – the suspects, the accusers, the whole shebang. The Game’s Afoot, currently running at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook, is just that – murder, suspense and also plenty of laughs.

The Game’s Afoot by Ken Ludwig, author of “Lend Me A Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo”, is a very engaging mystery/comedy that revolves around William Gillette, an actor best known for his on stage portrayal of the famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. We are taken back to Christmas Eve, 1936, where Gillette hosts a dinner party for some of the cast members in his latest production. It’s a wintry night as the guests arrive throughout the early evening to Gillette’s Connecticut mansion. Soon after guests acquaint themselves with each other, a murder takes place and Gillette calls himself into action as his Sherlock Holmes character in order to solve the mystery. Hilarity ensues as everyone becomes a suspect, including Gillette himself.

The Game’s Afoot is anchored with a fine cast, most notably Derek Hasenstab as the energetic and always deducing, William Gillette, and Angela Ingersoll as the vivacious Daria Chase. Hasenstab recalls, “I love William Gillette and I like Ken Ludwig’s writing. He writes fun stuff for the actors to play with.” Rod Thomas also makes a splash as Gillette’s longtime friend, Felix Geisel.

Incidentally, Gillette is based on an actual person. Gillette wrote the stage version of Sherlock Holmes back in the late 1800s, adding to the character the pipe and deerstalker cap. Hasenstab adds, “He was an eccentric person. He built a castle in Connecticut, he was an inventor and he loved keeping up with the technology of the day.”

The show is set in the inside the living room of Gillette’s mansion and is quite jaw-dropping once exposed as it is lavishly rich and has murder mystery written all over it. Snow constantly falls behind its large windows giving the desired effect of a winter storm, while an entire wall spins back and forth from fireplace and mantle to cocktail bar with the pull of a lever – a sconce near the living room’s entrance way.

The show has some pretty funny moments but is really consistently humor rich from beginning to end, at the same time presenting a compelling enough mystery to entertain on its own. The characters are quirky and likeable – more so as you get to know them, and one kind of gets the feeling that they are part of the dinner party even though they might be rows away from the stage.

The Game’s Afoot is simply fun. If you, like myself, enjoy whodunits, you’ll really find this show a treat.

For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.

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