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

One of the world’s most popular musicals has found a temporary home at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. And you should see it! Celebrating five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the 1964 hit takes on a most interesting chapter in the life of Don Quixote while spending time in prison as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. Based on one of 17th century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes’ most famed characters the 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote set the stage for what has become one of the most successful musicals to date. Often referred to as a play within a play, Man of La Mancha focuses on Quixote, an imprisoned writer who has turned away from the harsh realities of the world such as battle, crime and poverty and decides rather to view the world as he wants to see it where a prostitute, Aldonza, can instead be a his beloved Dulcinea, a battered cane can be a mighty sword or a cooking pot can be a prized helmet – a victorious trophy. 

 

Music Director Ryan T. Nelson and six-time Jeff Award director Nick Bowling take on this long-time prolific musical, splendidly piecing together a production that engages throughout and profoundly touches the heart. It is together with the powerhouse acting performance of Nathaniel Stampley, that this production goes over and beyond, becoming an instant Marriott classic and a show that will long be remembered for its superb acting and gripping storytelling. Stampley brilliantly seizes the lead role, which is really two leading roles, as the passionate writer who has defied the Spanish Inquisition along with the imaginary knight he has become in his imagination. 

  

Stampley is an actor you can easily root for. Magnetic and captivating, Stampley is a tour de force, capturing the character’s subtleties while becoming a dominating presence when called for, particularly during his breathtaking rendition of the production’s famed song “The Impossible Dream”, which led to a much deserved extended applause that only escalated to a higher volume every time the cheers began to die down.  

 

Stampley gets solid support from actress Danni Smith who delivers a memorable performance of her own, the two skillfully playing off each other to generate the much needed connection to make this show work. Richard Ruiz is also excellent as Quixote's trusty sidekick, Sancho. As all Marriott shows go, we are treated to a very gifted ensemble, as well. 

 

Director Nick Bowling does add a twist to the original by having the story take place in modern times. Simply said, it works. As Bowling explains, “We put the story in modern day with the notion that there are inquiries still going today and there will always be inquisitions.” Bowling’s underlying tones are powerful and serve as a wake up call for some while everyone can still enjoy a masterful musical that can be as heartwarming as it can sad and often humorous in just the right spots. 

 

Wonderfully acted with a slew of talented vocal performances, Man of La Mancha is a sure summer hit that is sure to make theatre goers cheer, feel and emphasize with and for a man who dares to dream the impossible dream and fight the unbeatable foe. 

 

Man of La Mancha is being performed at Marriott Theatre through August 14th. Tickets range from $50-$55. For more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.               

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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