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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

Who remembers the 1960s TV show “Hazel”? It may not be as easily recollected as such classics as “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “The Andy Griffith Show” or “I Love Lucy”, but for those who loved 1960s sitcoms back in the day or have been introduced to them thanks to networks like ME TV, it would be hard to forget Hazel, the lovable, take-charge maid played by Shirley Booth, who treasured nothing more than taking care of the Baxter family. Now, some fifty or so years later Drury Lane Theatre presents the World Premiere “Hazel: A Musical Maid in America” as an ode to the silver age of television. 

Directed and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, “Hazel” brings a new adventure to the dutiful maid and Baxter family. When Dorothy Baxter wants to go back to work much to husband George Baxter’s lack of support, enter Hazel who is hired to maintain the family’s home and take care of young Harold Baxter. A story in itself as Dorothy tries to take on the world of interior design with a corporate gig and wonders if she still has what it takes to succeed, the plot takes a twist when Harold believes he has captured a photo of a U.F.O. It doesn’t take much for word to get out of his spaceship sighting and for the Air Force to get involved. Kind of out there but remember we are talking about an era where U.F.O. scares were not so uncommon and TV was getting blitzed by series that included space ships and aliens. So the tie in actually makes sense. 

The evolution of Hazel continues. What began as a single-panel cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post back in 1943, was then brought to life in 1961 as a popular sitcom that went on to span five seasons. Hazel was not only known for keeping a spot-free home, but it was her big heart and droll sense of humor that made her one of TV’s most beloved heroines of the early to mid-1960s. In “Hazel: A Musical Maid for America” Klea Blackhurst admirably takes on the role as the tough as nails housekeeper, injecting just the right dose of humor and no-nonsense into her character while offering a dynamic vocal range in many of the show’s numbers. 

Both Ken Clark and Summer Naomi Smart are finely cast as George and Dorothy Baxter and are highly convincing as the 1960s married couple, gelling well with each other. Each also displays a finely tuned vocal presence of their own with Smart really lighting up the stage in her back to work number “Sheer Perfection”. The cast is well rounded and provides outstanding contributions from Ed Kross as Hazel’s love interest Bonkers Johnson, Casey Lyons as Harold Baxter and a strong ensemble that is highlighted by Bill Bannon and Meghan Murphy.

Boasting a very impressive, ever-changing set that really enhances the 1960s essence, “Hazel” is an entertaining spectacle as much as it is a fun, light-hearted comedy that gets its digs in at the male narrow-mindedness of the era and delves into the accepting of those for who they are. With plenty of energetic musical number laced with humor and wit, we are presented with a well-rounded comedy that comes with a nice measure of nostalgia.  

“Hazel: A Musical Maid in America”, a presentation full of clean humor (pun intended), a fun story and enjoyable big show numbers, is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through May 20th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.     

 

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