By Cassandra Call
Last weekend, the hit musical “Mamma Mia!” showed at Proctor’s Theater and filled the room with the energized songs of 70’s pop group, ABBA. It’s that type of “jukebox musical” where the story was written around the pre-written songs, and yet the music fits perfectly in the albeit predictable storyline. Not only does the show make you want to get up and dance, but it has exciting choreography and a unique, picturesque set. Even after the final bows, “Mamma Mia!” continued to spread joyful energy, earning three much-deserved musical encores.
From the first powerful chord of the overture, excitement fills the air. The electric guitar, keyboard and drums bring a strong rock feel as we are introduced to Sophie, a young fiancée who yearns to find out who her father is.
We see Sophie (Chelsea Williams) in the Prologue where she sings the soft and hopeful ballad, “I Have a Dream.” In secret, she mails wedding invitations to three of her mother’s old friends, each of whom could potentially be her father. With a swift lighting change, we jump three months into the future to the day before her wedding. Her best friends, Lisa and Ali, greet Sophie with running hugs. Through the playful song, “Honey, Honey,” Sophie reveals her mischievous plan, unbeknownst to her mother or her guests.
Then, the cast members change the set from exterior to interior by rotating the stucco walls across the painted stone patio. Now, Sophie’s mother, Donna, is greeted by Rosie and Tanya. As they catch up from years of not seeing each other, Donna expresses her struggles as a single mother running a restaurant in the song “Money, Money, Money.”
Georgia Kate Haege plays Donna with much passion and energy, showing off her strong, full voice. The choreography is crisp and dynamic as her male patrons snap their heads to stare at her, interjecting with mocking lines, like “ain’t it sad?” Despite being one of the lesser known songs of ABBA’s, it was one of the show’s best.
Next we meet Sophie’s three special guests: flamboyant British musician Harry Bright (Andrew Tebo), American travel author Bill Austin (Marc Cornes), and the kind, down-to-earth architect Sam Carmichael (Jeff Drushal). They all arrive with big, distinct personalities. My only complaint is that Harry’s British accent isn’t always consistent.
Suddenly Sophie comes in and she is all frazzled, excited and almost childlike when she realizes who the men are. Harry then finds an old guitar he had once given to Donna, and begins to play the sweet song, “Thank You For the Music.” When Sophie recognizes the song and joins in singing, Harry knows she must be Donna’s daughter. But is Harry Sophie’s father?
This quickly moves into the song “Mamma Mia,” when Sophie leaves and Donna enters. Here Donna is shocked to find three of her exes all at once, expressing her mixed emotions over each breakup. Once she walks in and starts singing, the lights change to red with a spotlight on her, while the men freeze in place. It’s as if the entire number is in Donna’s head—a jumble of nervous thoughts. Laughter bursts from the audience when a few ensemble members, singing the back-up harmonies, peek through the sides of the doorway, appearing to be singing floating heads.
There’s a lot of comedy, particularly with Rosie and Tanya and also with Sophie’s fiancé Sky (Eric Presnall) and his buddies. Tanya and Rosie unpack in their shared room, where some silly antics are passed. They cheer her up first by singing the quieter, harmonious “Chiquitita”, reminding her of their good old days as a singing trio with the very fun and famous song, “Dancing Queen.”
Meanwhile Sophie and Sky are singing their sexy duet, “Lay All Your Love on Me,” when they’re interrupted by Sky’s friends prancing onstage in bright purple wet suits and flippers. They pull the couple away from each other for an impressive dance number, still singing, which was quite impressive.
Besides excelling in strong singing and fun dancing, the show also creates the perfect environment for each scene. The party scene is a great example of this, with its loud music and crowded dance floor. When Sophie pulls aside each of her “fathers” to talk to them, everyone in the party ensemble behind them moves in slow motion silhouettes.
But eventually, Sophie decides to let her loving mother give her away at her wedding, as she certainly knows a lot more about her daughter than Sophie’s father would (whomever he is). That’s not after Donna sings the beautiful “Slipping Through My Fingers” while helping Sophie get ready on her big day.
When Sophie joins in with her beautiful harmony at the end, there is not a dry eye in the theater. It’s the best and most touching of songs in the second act. Even though Sophie longs to find her father and we learn more about Donna’s relationship with each of her former lovers, “Mamma Mia!” really is a feel-good, mother-daughter story.