Mason Street’s ‘Mamma Mia’ is Abba-solute fun
SAUGATUCK, Mich.–Summer nights in Saugatuck are always fun, but Mason Street Warehouse dials the delight up a notch by staging an ABBA-solute party.
The summer stock theatre company’s bright and sunny production of Mamma Mia! which features 24 hit songs from the 1970s Swedish rock group ABBA, runs through July 15 at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.
This is a fun, top-shelf musical production with veteran actors reprising the primary roles of feminist rocker turned hard-working single mom Donna (Heather Patterson King) and her 20-year-old daughter’s three possible fathers: Sam (Mark Epperson), Harry (Tim Connell) and Bill (T.J. Mannix).
Wide-eyed and innocent daughter Sophie’s heart’s desire is for her father to walk her down the aisle and “give her away” at her wedding. Sophie secretly invites the three men to the fictitious Greek island where her mother runs an aging hotel, which is the site of the nuptials. The three dads, as well as a gaggle of quirky aunties and bridesmaids all arrive on the eve of Sophie’s wedding.
Sophie believes that she’ll magically know her real dad when she lays eyes on him. Surprise! That doesn’t happen. Instead, she feels a connection with each possible dad through his fondly recalled memories of her mother.
Meanwhile, Donna, who is steeped in “girl power,” is unnerved when three old flames from one unforgettable summer simultaneously show up, all seemingly hopeful of becoming an ongoing part of her daughter’s life.
The fun that ensues features feathers, flippers, acrobatics and infectious music that’s sure to get you singing and swaying. By the last five minutes of the sold-out performance I attended, I could have counted the few people who remained seated. It felt like a dance party.
The premise of this script is kind of silly, really. A bride-to-be is determined to have a “white wedding” that includes a father she’d never known – and who didn’t know she existed – in a traditional role. Sophie is anxious, but she doesn’t experience disappointment or rejection that a girl in that circumstance would risk.
Furthermore, the music of ABBA – whose popularity peaked in 1977 when “Dancing Queen” skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard charts – couldn’t be considered “great” outside of the Disco era.
It’s obvious that an attempt was made to mesh the ABBA hits, which are about 20 years older than the stage play, with the storyline–but there are some misses.
Yet this show is so fun that you don’t mind suspending belief, and possibly good taste, and just enjoying it. The music and the story are uplifting, even restorative.
Mamma Mia! Is a story that’s better suited to the stage than a movie. If you saw the movie version, which starred Meryl Streep as Donna, and felt underwhelmed, be assured that seeing the stage version is a different experience altogether. You won’t have to grin-and-bear Pierce Brosnan’s attempts to carry a tune. Mark Epperson is a Sam who can actually sing.
Actress Becca Andrews is stellar as Sophie, and certainly a rising star. Miles Jacoby is also wonderful in the role of Sophie’s fiancé, Sky.
Donna’s hilarious-in-heels “Dynamo” friends Tanya (Gina Milo), and Rosie (Amanda Ryan Paige) amp up the comedy, as do Sophie’s bridesmaids Ali (Lily Talevski) and Lisa (Payton Reilly), and the hotel maintenance crew Pepper (Elliott Litherland) and Eddie (Lyonel Reneau).
This high-energy show also includes an entertaining and athletic acting ensemble comprised largely of recent graduates and students of fine arts programs at Michigan colleges and universities.
The dramatic highlight of the show is Heather Patterson King’s heart-rending performance of “The Winner Takes it All.” The chorus line of buff guys in wet suits wearing flippers singing “Lay All Your Love on Me” is a genuine showstopper. The cat-and-mouse “Take a Chance on Me” dance between Rosie and Bill is adorable.
Mamma Mia is directed and choreographed by Kurt Stamm. Set designer Todd Engle and lighting director Jennifer Kules manage create the illusion of a Greek island. Costume designer Darlene Veenstra’s embellished outfits in neon colors catapult us back to the 1970s. Sound Director Jamie Reed is part of an seven-piece orchestra that performs a score written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with some songs by Stig Anderson.
Don’t miss this one.