Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Mamma Mia! opened Tuesday, November 10, 2008, with a high-power, high-energy production in the Palace Theater, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland.
This is the third or fourth time I've seen Mamma Mia! This production seems different and better than the previous versions. Sophie, who is looking for her father, now has more angst about being raised fatherless than previous Sophies. This translates into a genuinely emotional moments on the set.
The opening night performance was notable for four understudies taking over leading roles: Rachel Tyler (Donna), Bradley Whitfield (Sky), Katy Blake(Tanya) and Erik Giancola (Pepper). Theater legend has it that understudies bring a wonderful spark to a show and enliven the production. That legend proved to be true from the overture to the last shouts at the end of the curtain call.
People seated near me commented on the energy of the young cast. But, this is a two generation cast: mother and father of the bride and their mature friends share the stage with the youthful bride, groom and their friends. I noticed no difference in the energy level. Some of the cast members who are 40+ sing and dance with as much energy as the young cast members.
Who won this generational energy battle? The audience.
Mamma Mia! is based on the music and lyrics recorded by ABBA several years ago. Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are responsible for the music and lyrics and wrote some songs with Stig Anderson. Most of the music and lyrics remain familiar from disco days or from repeated playing on radio.
I'm especially taken with the script by Catherine Johnson, who worked with a large number of songs with familiar lyrics. She wrote the book around those songs. The dialogue leads seamlessly into songs that seem to have been written to complement the book.
This is a joyous production that deserves the attention of those who enjoy musicals. It will appear at the Palace Theatre through November 15.
Cleveland audiences may anticipate The PlayhouseSquare's the next production, Wicked, which opens Wednesday, November 18 and plays through December 13. For information about tickets for Wicked or Mamma Mia!, telephone 216-241-6000 or visit www.playhousesquare.com.
The North America tour of Mamma Mia! continues to Montgomery, AL (November 17-19); Huntsville, AL (November 20-22); Baltimore, MD (November 24-29); Hartford, CT (December 1-6); Utica, NY (December 8-10); Binghamton, NY (December 11-13); Boston, MA (December 15-27); Ottawa, Canada (December 29-January 3); Appleton, WI (January 13-17); Miami, FL (March 30-April 4) and Scranton, PA (April 23-25).
- David Ritchey