Theatre

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

Lincolnshire, IL – The global phenomenon seen by over 60 million people all around the world and one of Broadway’s longest running hits, MAMMA MIA!, kicks off Marriott Theatre's 2017 Season, running February 8 through April 2, 2017 with a press opening on February 15 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Multi Jeff Award Winner Rachel Rockwell (World Premiere of October Sky and 42nd Street at Marriott Theatre; Ride the Cyclone at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and MCC Theatre, New York; and Brigadoon at Goodman Theatre), returns to direct the much-loved  piece, with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, and book by Catherine Johnson.Rockwell, who has an extensive history with the show, having performed it many times including on Broadway, joins forces with longtime collaborators Set Designer Scott Davis, who will re-imagine the signature theatre-in-the-round space, and Costume Designer Theresa Ham who returns to the Marriott following the success of October Sky, along with Choreographer Ericka Mac and Musical Director Ryan T. Nelson.

 

“I’m really excited to put my spin on this exuberant celebration of music and friendship,” says Rockwell. “The show is a story of the enduring female relationships in our lives – mothers and daughters, women supporting each other. Paired with these songs that we all love, it brings such joy. It truly is a love letter to that ABBA sound."

 

MAMMA MIA!is the story of the dynamic relationship between independent and carefree mother, Donna Sheridan, and her spirited daughter, Sophie, who she has raised alone on an idyllic Greek island. While Donna invites her two best friends to her daughter's wedding, practical and no-nonsense Rosie and wealthy, multi-divorcee Tanya, Sophie has plans of her own up her sleeve. On a quest to find the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle, she brings back three men from Donna’s past to the Mediterranean paradise they visited 20 years earlier, hoping to build a bond with the father she’s never known. Chaos ensues over the next 24 hours as new love blooms and old flames are rekindled on this lush island full of possibilities. Fusing explosive dance numbers with timeless songs, including “Dancing Queen”, “S.O.S.”, “Money, Money, Money” and “Take a Chance on Me,” MAMMA MIA! will have audiences singing along to all the classic favorites in this feel-good story full of laughs, love, family and friendship.

 

MAMMA MIA! stars Danni Smith as “Donna Sheridan” (The Marriott Theatre: Man of La Mancha and City of Angels; Paramount: A Christmas Story; Porchlight: Chess), Meghan Murphy as “Tanya” (The Marriott Theatre: City of Angels; Drury Lane Oakbrook: Smokey Joe’s Café), Cassie Slater as “Rosie” (The Marriott Theatre: Man of La Mancha and City of Angels), Tiffany Tatreauas “Sophie Sheridan” (The Marriott Theatre: Sister Act and Spring Awakening; Chicago Shakespeare Theater/MCC: Ride the Cyclone), Peter Saide as “Sam Carmichael” (Chicago Shakespeare/Old Globe: Sense and Sensibility; Paramount: Oklahoma!; Las Vegas: Jersey Boys), Karl Sean Hamilton as “Harry Bright” (The Marriott Theatre: For the Boys and The Full Monty; Goodman Theatre: Wonderful Town; Chicago Shakespeare Theater/MCC: Ride the Cyclone), Derek Hasenstab as “Bill Austin” (The Marriott Theatre: How To Succeed…, Spring Awakening, October Sky; Lookingglass Theatre Company: Eastland), Russell Mernagh as “Sky” (The Marriott Theatre: Evita; Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Ride the Cyclone; The Mercury Theatre: The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes), Kayla Kennedy as “Ali,”Lillian Castillo as “Lisa,” Liam Quealy as “Pepper,” and Gerard Salvador as “Eddie.” Also featuring Ari Aaron, William Carlos Angulo, Aramie, Julie Baird, Nathaniel Braga, Colte Julian, Tommy Lucas, Ericka Mac, John Marshall, Jr., Zoe Nadal, Hanah Rose Nardone, Laura Savage, Colette Todd and Kylah Williams.

 

The production will feature set design by Scott Davis, costume design by Theresa Ham, lighting design by Jesse Klug, sound design by Bob Gilmartin, properties design by Sally Weiss, musical supervision and orchestra conducted by Patti Garwood.

 

The performance schedule for MAMMA MIA!is Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., with select Thursday 1:00 p.m. shows. Ticket prices range from $50 to $60, including tax and handling fees. Call for student, senior and military discounts. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings there are a limited number of FREE dinners available with the purchase of a full-priced theatre ticket, which can only be purchased through the Marriott Theatre Box Office. To make a restaurant reservation, please call 847.634.0100. Free parking is available at all performances. To reserve tickets, please call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or go to www.ticketmaster.com. Visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.

 

Published in Buzz Extra
Tuesday, 13 September 2016 14:39

Paramount's Mamma Mia! About As Fun As it Gets

The plot is simple enough. Donna Sheridan raises her daughter Sophie now twenty-years-old, on a Greek island where she runs a small island resort. Sophie, about to get married, wants to be walked down the aisle by her father. Problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is. A bit of snooping through her mother’s diary offers three possibilities, leading her to invite each to her wedding, much to her mother’s chagrin as Bill Austin (Steve O’Connell), Harry Bright (Michael Gillis) and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Diebold) show up to the island where Sophie figures to find out which is her real father. Again, the plot isn’t very complicated. But we do not see Mamma Mia! for its plot, we see it because it’s Abba charged soundtrack is fun, the set and costumes are colorful, the dance numbers are contagious and the show has a good share of laughs. Simple, light and fun - the perfect anecdote to escape from the daily, or not-so-daily, doldrums so many of us endure, if even for two hours and twenty minutes.

 

Currently running at Paramount Theater in Aurora, we get a production equipped with a slightly different set from the traditional Mamma Mia! look fans have come to known, and it works quite well. Accompanied by a full backdrop flooded with video projections of waves gently making their way to the shoreline and trees with leaves softly blowing in the wind, it’s easy to get lost in the rich island atmosphere. Though the set design limits the larger dance numbers, this production makes it work with its own unique choreography that rivals most other presentations. 

 

A strong ensemble bolsters a capable cast, the musical numbers strongest during choruses or added backing vocals. Though Amy Montgomery as Donna can carry a tune, her voice is just enough to warrant her taking on the leading role. However, she is often strengthened by surrounding cast members during harmonies, and by the way – the harmonies throughout the show are fantastic across the board! But Montgomery clearly has the personality and charisma for the role, overall making her casting sensible. Donna’s two sidekicks Tanya (Jennifer Knox) and Ali (Sara Sevigny) are wonderfully played, each character getting their respective laughs and admirably tackling their vocal duties. Sevigny truly shines as Ali during her duet with Bill, “Take A Chance On Me” displaying a great sense of comic timing (as well as O’Connell), while Knox hits one out of the park in her gritty number “Does Your Mother Know” showing off her dancing prowess in a heated exchange with Pepper, the young flirt who has eyes for her since her arrival to the island. 

 

We can easily buy into Dieblod, Gillis and O’Connell as Donna’s three past love interests, each also adding to the production with fine vocal offerings and just the right touch of physical humor. Diebold is no stranger to the role of Sam Carmichael having toured with Mamma Mia! on the Broadway North American Tour.    

 

Still, you can’t have a successful production of Mamma Mia! without a strong Sophie, and Kiersten Frumkin is just that. Vocally on par for each of her many numbers, Frumkin is able to capture the essence of Sophie, projecting a true sense of wonder, hope and elation into her role, creating a believable twenty-year-old optimist that we can’t help but relate with and root for. 

 

Though Mamma Mia! is far from a profound life lesson, it does promote self-acceptance in many ways and leaves us with hope that past mistakes can sometimes be corrected, even if twenty years later. 

 

With one Abba hit after another Mamma Mia! grabs its audience from its opening number “I Have a Dream” and doesn't let go until after its finely built crescendo finale number “Waterloo”, where each seat in the theater is now empty due to its occupants dancing and clapping along with the cast. 

 

Mamma Mia! is the feel good night out everyone can use to take in some great music and have some healthy laughs that will have audience members wanting to do it all over again. Mamma Mia! is being performed at Paramount Theatre through October 30th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.paramountaurora.com. 

 

As Sophie sings along with Bill, Harry and Sam, “Thank you for the music”.

Recommended.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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