September 21, 2019 | Todd Thomas
When I saw Mamma Mia, I was seated in front of a group of sequin-clad women who had clearly pre-gamed the show, and were having a joyous time at the ABBA jukebox musical. When you see Mamma Mia! (and you really should), don’t expect the weightiness of “Hamilton,” or the societal messages of “Rent” or the brutal satire of “Book of Mormon.” In fact, don’t expect a very believable story line. But believe the story anyway and have a great time because I promise you’ll be singing the songs for days to follow, whatever you decide to wear.
Mamma Mia, written by Catherine Jones with music and song by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulveaus, is set on a Greek Island where Sophie Sheridan (Karly Laskowski) is about to get married and would like her birth father to give her away; the problem is, she has no idea who he is.When she finds her mother’s diary and invites three men who had been romantically involved with her mother 20 years ago to her wedding, hoping she will be able to identify her father. Also in attendance are Donna’s best friends and fellow pop trio members, as well as various friends of all. This is one seriously big wedding, and Donna has to manage all of the chaos that ensues..Laskowski plays Sophie who gets us into this mess to begin with. She has a strong stage presence and delightful voice that can handle the ballads as well as the faster more character tunes. Aaron Haines, a well experienced performer was also a lot of fun as Sheridan’s fiancé, Sky. Holly Booth does a fantastic job as Donna. ABBA songs can be difficult as solos and Booth nailed them every time. All of her numbers were great but my favorite was the energy, power and pace behind “Winner Takes it All.” Tonight, Booth owned the stage.
Bill Adamo, Chad William Baker and Paul Yakuber play the three potential fathers. All are talented and all play each as very distinct and different characters. Every time I thought I had a favorite, another scene would produce another favorite. Adamo, Baker and Yakuber clearly had a great time with their roles. Ann Russell-Lutenske and Natalie Slawnyk play Rosie and Tanya, the two former singers in Donna’s Trio. Slawnyk manages to do a 2-hour plus show in stilettos which is super impressive. Russell-Lutenske gets to use her pipes a few times and along with Adamo has a hilarious bit just before the wedding ceremony.
When directing a show such as this, there are many pieces to manage and director Tommy Wedge did well. His casting was obviously spot on and his staging, combined with the choreography by Jennifer Hopkins and music direction by Jim Hohmeyer kept the show moving and entertaining from beginning to end. The set was beautiful and had many interesting levels but made the stage smaller than it actually is. An archway narrowed the front of the stage and the entire set seemed much closer to the audience than necessary. With a 36-member cast this meant that some actors had to jump over steps or pass by each other in ways not to get caught in a jam.
Costumes designed by Courtney Anderson Brown were a ton of fun for this show. I can only imagine many hours of sequins and polyester! Sheridan’s trio had the iconic disco jumpsuits but one dance number including the male company in scuba gear was one of the highlights of the evening.
The lighting was my least favorite technical aspect of the show, although some of the issues can be chalked up to opening night glitches. The design by Peggy Mead-Finizio seemed to have singers in dark spots quite often and at times used novelty just to be novel. For example, during the “SOS” number I was distracted by the lighting which seemed almost random. Later, during a number between Donna and Sam, green floor circles appear that encircle them, and move with them but for no apparent reason. These circles had not appeared earlier nor did they appear later, so the purpose was lost on me.
At the start of a new community theatre season in the Tri-City area, actors, singers and dancers have to decide whether they want to be in a show at Pit & Balcony, or Midland Center for the Arts or Bay City Players because schedules conflict. The true value of the collaboration of these three theatres, enabled by the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, is that it allows for the amazing talent in our region to be on stage with each other all in the same production. When you see the show, take a moment during one of the full cast numbers, for example the title song “Mamma Mia” and watch the dance, look at the energy and listen to the voices. These are folks with day jobs, or school, or tons of other obligations. When you see the level of talent and commitment in your co-workers and classmates up there, you will be truly amazed.