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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

Boys love their rockets. We find this out rather quickly in Marriott Theatre’s world premiere of October Sky, a new musical based on the 1999 film featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper. Written by Aaron Thielen with the music and lyric by Michael Mahler, the play opens with a heavy duty musical number “Marching into Hell” where a handful of coal miners head deep into the dangerous coal mines.

Taking place in 1957 Coalwood, West Virginia, most boys are destined to become coal miners. Opportunity to take another career path are far and few between. The city depends on the mine, which has become even more dangerous with newer technology that powders the coal, leaving a hazardous dust to be inhaled and cause lung disease rather than the older days where the mineral was gather by using picks. Occasional gas explosions also take place as we find out in the first scene as news of such a tragedy leaves thirty dead in a nearby mine.

Homer’s father, John Hickam, heads a large mining crew and fully expects his son to follow suit. However, when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik for all the town to see in the October Sky, Homer and his friends are driven to make a rocket of their own. Naturally, Homer’s father sees this as a distraction, while the town supports the boys as their rockets slowly become more and more advanced, despite their moments of failure. With the help of Miss Riley, Homer’s teacher who recognizes their interest in such a science as a way to avoid the destined mining life, the boys eventually take their work to a series of science fairs. While Homer’s mother is supportive and pleased with Homer’s ingenuity, his father still struggles with the idea. 

October Sky is not just a story about boys making rockets, it is also a story about support from friends, changing hearts and perseverance. It is a feel good story that encourages one to follow their dreams.

Superbly cast, I really enjoyed Nate Lewellyn in the role of Homer Hickham. He is a bit reminiscent of a young and boyish Tom Hanks. Lewellyn displays his solid vocal range in many challenging numbers, perhaps most notably in Act II’s “Stars Shine Down”. Ben Barker, Patrick Rooney and Alex Weisman perfectly round out the quartet of rocket builders while Susan Moniz really shines as Homer’s wise and loving mother, Elsie Hickam. One of my favorite performances is that of David Hess as John Hickam. I really find it a pleasure to observe Hess’ vocal prowess and his ability to execute such a wide variety of emotions. 

The songs are lyrically clever – and often funny, while the set has a few fun surprises such as the effect used as the miners take an elevator down into the mine. Theresa Ham does a fantastic job as costume designer, really pulling off the 1950s era and Dance Captain Jameson Cooper utilizes some very unique and original ideas in the big dance numbers. The show is finally brought together tightly with a strong ensemble and a wonderful band that knows how to get their southern twang on when needed. 

One of the show’s big crowd pleasers was the knee-slappin’ number “Moonshine”, a lively number that takes place in the backwoods and has the actors playing instruments as “Bathtub Amos & The Drunk as a Skink Jug Band”.  

October Sky runs around two-and-a-half hours long but is quite enjoyable throughout thanks to a fetching story, fun effects and enjoyable musical numbers. October Sky is being performed at The Marriott Theatre through October 11th. You can find out more about the show or order tickets at www.MarriottTheatre.com. 

 

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