Monday January 23rd 2017

“Mamma Mia” review by Lawrence Riordan

mamma-mia-544On an island off the Greek mainland, the perennially unwed expatriate, Donna Sheridan (Rebecca Mason-Wygal), a paragon of female singlehood and independence, prepares for her twenty-year old daughter, Sophie’s (Chelsea Williams) “white wedding” in which the latter is to be joined in matrimony with the equally youthful Sky (Eric Presnall). Unbeknownst to Donna, Sophie has invited three men from her mother’s past: Harry Bright (Mark A. Harmon), Bill Austin (Michael Colavolpe), and Sam Carmichael (Jeff Drushal), knowing that any one of them may be her father. Sophie falsely assumes that she will recognize her dad at first sight, and ask him to walk her down the aisle to the surprise and delight of her mother (another false assumption). Mamma Mia Fox Theater

Instead, all three men claim paternity over Sophie, leading to emotional crises for Sophie, Donna, Sky, and to a lesser extent Donna’s two friend’s: Rosie (Sarah Smith) and Tanya (Bailey Purvis) over what it means that this secret has been kept for so long, and how to move forward in the wake of its imminent revelation. The first act of “Mama Mia” is very light, but what the script lacks in weight, the production more than makes for by the exceptionally well-executed choreography (Anthony Van Laast), and inexplicably (aside from this play, I dislike ABBA) fun, pop, and enlivening music delivered with great force by the cast, especially in the ensemble numbers.

Initially, Bailey Purvis, in her supporting role as Tanya, largely centers the play. Her comically apt make-up and costume, including a dress very heavily split at the sides, in conjunction with her mannerism and gestures make her a convincing and comic socialite. During the rather lengthy if incredibly light exposition, she provides a less invested view of the proceedings (she’s thrice divorced). She serves as someone we can watch and with whom we can observe as the stage is set (forgive the pun). She also has one of the strongest female voices in a cast full of them. However, the play becomes slightly heavier around the second act, and Rebecca Mason-Wygal, who has the unenviable task of inhabiting a character played by Meryl Streep in the film, comes into to her own as Donna, more than delivering on Catherine Johnson’s narrative by injection. The crises and authenticity with which she delivers the spoken dialogue, and the emotional intensity with which she sings, look refreshingly more like something one would find in a high tragedy. In doing so, she insists that the play not be simply a series of show stopping numbers (although it is that too), but also an exploration of the emotional relationship between Sophie and her mother, and what Donna’s decision never to have married, or even contacted, Sophie’s father means for both of them twenty years later.Mamma Mia Fox Theater

With the exception of Jeff Drushal’s strong singing voice, the men, especially the older ones, are somewhat eclipsed by the actresses, but this play is largely story of the Donna and Sophie in which the male characters play counterintuitively peripheral roles so perhaps that is what director Phyllida Lloyd was going for. The central conceit of the play is a little far-fetched. How could Donna completely maintain the secret of Sophie’s paternity so for so long in the face of what had to be pretty incessant questions? What are so many expatriates doing on the island? (Sophie’s bridesmaids; Sky’s groomsmen) That said, this is a musical comedy in which people spontaneously burst into perfectly choreographed song and dance numbers so willing suspension of disbelief can go pretty far. The humor is not high-brow. In fact, it can be quite crude and extremely sexually suggestive. However, it is often fairly clever, and each actor and actress is a gifted comedian. Ultimately, what stays is the mind is largely the fun of the music, dance, and singing, but thanks largely to Ms. Mason-Wygal and a lesser extent Ms. Williams, it is palatably mixed with considerable pathos.Mamma MiaFox Theater

“Mamma Mia” being produced by Work Light Productions at the Marcus Center located at 929 North Water Street in downtown Milwaukee.By the way, it is an easy drive to Milwaukee and parking is far less costly than downtown. Performances are Saturday February 21, 2015 at 2:00 and 8:00 pm and Sunday February 22 at 1:00 pm and 6:30 pm. Best availability for tickets is the Sunday 6:30 performance. They are available by phone at 414-273-7206 or Online at www.MarcusCenter.org or www.Ticketmaster.com.

This is a quick touring company and only in town for a short time. “Mamma Mia” is what I call a every year show. You can anticipate that it will return next season- somewhere. The music placed into this script is delightful and works- which is why it comes back on a regular basis. If you look around at the audience, you will see that many of them are “Mamma Mia ” regulars. Enjoy! There are student RUSH tickets at $25

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