Mamma Mia is a musical built around the songs of the 1970’s pop group ABBA. The band’s music was whimsical, peppy, and without great depth. As such, the script for Mamma Mia makes little effort to be high-brow or meaningful. Rather, it is as whimsical and fanciful as the songs that inspired it.
Twenty years ago Donna had flings with three different men, nine months later she became a single mother running a small Greek island getaway. Fast forward to the present and Donna’s daughter Sophie is engaged to be married. Sophie wants her father to walk her down the aisle, so she invites all three possible fathers to the wedding in hopes that she can figure out which one to call Dad.
As matriarch Donna, Amber Dow is a delight. She has a natural charm that blends with the character’s down to earth qualities and a dynamic vocal belt that will curl your toes. As the bride-to-be Sophie, Aly Blakewell is young, charming, and endearing – everything an ingenue should be.
Sophie’s fiancé is played by Rob Falbo Jr. whose charismatic smile reaches to the back of the theater. Throughout the show he just looks like he is happy to be on stage doing something he loves.
The three fathers are well matched, and each create their own distinct character. John Barnett is dapper and charming as Sam Carmichael, an American architect. Jeff Cook is hilarious as English banker Harry Bright. Cook’s “dance solo” tribute to John Travolta is one of the funniest things to grace the Woodstock Opera House stage in years. Rounding out the trio of possible fathers, Chris Griffin provides an enjoyable take on Bill Austin, a travel journalist and confirmed bachelor.
Also on hand are Donna’s best friends Tanya, a true cougar played with just the right amount of sexual energy by Kate Curtin, and frumpy cookbook writer Rosie, embodied divinely by Lisa Czarny-Hyrkas. Czarny-Hyrkas’ Take a Chance on Me with Griffin’s Bill is one of the funniest numbers in the show.
Rounding out the notables in the cast are Sophie’s bridesmaids played nicely by Becca Polk and Britny Hendrickson, and the girl crazy hired help played hysterically by Thomas Neumann and Brendan Gaughan.
There is not a lot of substance to Mamma Mia; it’s not going to be confused with Shakespeare. So, director Barry R. Norton piles on the cheese in virtually every scene and it works well. The show is filled with special moments like hidden gems.
Norton’s directorial choices are well complimented by the lively choreography of Chesney Murphy. She does an excellent job of playing to her dancers’ strengths and keeping the scenes visually stimulating.
The songs are the best part of Mamma Mia, and vocal director Susan Falbo has her singers in top form. There is not a bad singer in the bunch.
Under the direction of Dave Childress, the orchestra is spot on perfect. You could well be at an ABBA concert.
The costumes, particularly during the extended curtain call, are to die for. Costume Coordinators Holly Adkins and Trudie Dreyer have out done themselves.
For an enjoyable night of entertainment, you don’t need to look farther than a night at the theatre with the music of ABBA delivered by an extremely talented cast. You can tell the cast of Mamma Mia is having a great time and its infectious. You will leave with a smile on your face.
Mamma Mia plays at the Woodstock Opera House (121 Van Buren Street) Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through October 20, 2019. For tickets call the Box Office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.
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