What is there not to like about a colorful Greek island where a kooky array of energetic characters belt out some of ABBA’s most memorable upbeat tunes? The setting is familiar to anyone who enjoyed the popular star-studded film, “Mamma Mia!”
The music tells it all.
So, Davidson Community Players took a chance in living up to Hollywood standards by staging a theatre version of the film’s 2008-award-winning musical. Their play opened June 20 at the Duke Family Performance Hall of Davidson College.
Actually, it was the theater where the fun began. “Mamma Mia!” became the longest-running West End show on Broadway, garnering a number of Tony Awards in 2002 along with accolades for other theatrical productions around the world.
Not to be left behind, the Davidson Community Players’ version of “Mamma Mia!” earns a few accolades of its own. The gorgeous, one-and-a-half story, brightly multi-colored, door-studded set, designed by Dee Blackburn, is sensational.
The vivacious troupe, headed by David Townsend, making his director’s debut, is energetic. Dances, choreographed by Gina Duckworth, are in full swing. Costumes, designed by Lisa Altieri, are lavish. ABBA’s favored music, directed by Anne Beach, is on target and upbeat.
But Davidson’s Tony goes to Greg Thorn for his spectacular lighting and sound design. It’s about the best I’ve seen around Lake Norman. Bravo!
It’s obvious that the cast is having the time of its life. How can they miss with such upbeat numbers as “Money, Money, Money,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” “Voulez-Vous” and “I Do, I Do, I Do”?
With music and lyrics by Bjorn UIlvaeus and Benny Andersson, and the book by Catherine Johnson, “Mamma Mia!” is an entertaining, albeit nonsensical, pointless story. It’s the music that lightens the heart.
The first act, where we meet all sorts of cheerful players, is replete with some of ABBA’s most energetic songs. The second act, though subdued by comparison, renders some of the Swedish composers’ most impassioned tunes.
On the eve of her wedding, Sophie, played by Mooresville’s Hannah Puryear, invites three men to the island, one of whom, she suspects, could be her father. Puryear opens the show with “I Have a Dream” and remains onstage most of the time rendering solos, duets, ensemble and full-company renditions gracefully. Her romance with the understanding Sky, played by the handsome Lucas Devore, passionately reprises, “I Have a Dream.”
Sophie’s mother, Donna, is portrayed by Jenna Tyrell, whose “Winner Takes It All” in the second act nearly breaks your heart. Adoringly, the audience responded with unending applause. A versatile dancer, the contralto Tyrell effectively delivers many heartfelt tunes. Her spoken lines, however, tend to rise in shrill anger, overshadowing the element of surprise for her character.
The could-be Dads are Harry, played by Bill Reilly, Sam, portrayed by Mike Carroll and Bill, performed by Richard Colven.
Who knew Reilly, a seasoned actor with all sorts of unusual roles in his repertoire, could sing? Speaking with a British accent, Reilly’s Harry harmonizes a breezy duet with Donna, “Our Last Summer.”
Carroll’s “S.O.S.” with Tyrell lacks romance. “You’re a little minx, you’re worse than your mother,” Sam tells Sophie, and his “Knowing Me, Knowing You” with her lacks warmth.
Colven, however, delivers a rollickingly romantic “Take a Chance on Me” with Rosie, played by Melissa Bowden. They’re hilarious!
A former dancing queen with Donna and Tanya, portrayed by Sarah Farra, Bowden delivers a witty Rosie. The trio, filled with antics, is spectacular whether singing or dancing an upbeat “Chiquitita” and “Super Trooper” or cavorting with the high-kicking ensemble.
Farra is the sexy one, making Sky’s friend, Pepper, played by Evan Little, nearly faint, while singing “Does Your Mother Know” to him.
The bride and groom’s other supportive friends include Chandler Wolfe as Lisa, Dylan Beiler as Eddie and Rebekah Gresser as Ali.
Townsend selected a remarkably young cast to deliver the story. The youthful ensemble, most making their Davidson mainstage debuts, includes Boston Antunez, Brianna Bernhardt, Jack Bruce, Robbie Buker, Lauren Cunningham, Zendyn Duellman, Sharon Foster, Audrey Hockman, Connor Merson, Manisha Parekh, Abigail Pauley, Michael Prascak, Mia Rice, Olivia Schoch, Hayden Waugh and Destiney Wolfe.
“Mamma Mia!” will set your toes a-tapping and keep your spirits high. Patrons leave the theatre smiling, so it’s worth trying to buy a ticket. They’re scarce. Most performances are sold out, even the two additional shows. But you never know, it’s even worth standing by for a no-show. Invariably, one can usually get a seat.