Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Break out the neon polyester and dust off your copy of "ABBA Gold"! Mamma Mia! has come to town and it is the hottest ticket in Washington. Now playing at The National Theatre, Mamma Mia! opened on March 28th and was recently extended through June 8th.
This touring production of the Broadway hit features the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, and focuses on Donna, the proprietress of a Greek island resort. As a free wheeling child of the '70s, Donna had encounters with three very different men. One of these encounters resulted in pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her daughter, Sophie. Now, on the eve of her daughter's wedding, Donna comes face-to-face with these men and the twenty-year-old question that she has not been able to answer - who is Sophie's father?
Mamma Mia! is driven primarily by its score. Catherine Johnson's weak book is really just a showcase for these crowd-pleasing tunes. But crowd-pleasing they are. Perhaps the show's appeal lies in its high energy, or better yet, the fact that these familiar songs have been a part of our pop culture for so long. At any rate, Mamma Mia! tends to be more flash than substance.
Part of that flash is also created by the showy lighting design by Howard Harrison and the bigger than life choreography by Anthony Van Laast. Adding to the experience are the eye popping costumes by Associate Costume Designers, Lucy Gaiger and Scott Traugot.
The energy in this piece can be infectious and it is in large part due to its cast. It is obvious they are enjoying their work. Broadway veteran Dee Hoty (Footloose, The Will Rogers Follies) gives a spirited performance as the overwhelmed Donna. As her buddy, Rosie, Gabrielle Jones brings a quirkiness to the role that is endearing. Mary Ellen Mahoney as the frequently married Tanya is amusing, and Michelle Aravena delivers a sweet performance as Sophie, the bride-to-be. Although faced with characters that are pretty shallow, all of these women embrace their roles and fortunately for the audience, get the opportunity to show off their terrific pipes.
Gary P. Lynch (Sam), Mark Zimmerman (Harry), and Craig Bennett (Bill) are entertaining as the three potential fathers. However, the star of the three is Craig Bennett. His vibrant portrayal steals the spotlight whenever he is on stage.
Mamma Mia! is fun for ABBA fans and non-ABBA fans alike. It does provide a lively night at the theater, but it is far from being high art. Overall, Mamma Mia! is like eating cotton candy. It's pretty to look at, tastes great while you are eating it, but it ultimately leaves you unsatisfied.
Mamma Mia! Book by Catherine Johnson. Music and Lyrics by Benny
Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and some songs with Stig Anderson. Directed
by Phyllida Lloyd. Production designed by Mark Thompson. Lighting
designed by Howard Harrison. Sound designed by Andrew Bruce and Bobby
Aitken. Musical Supervisor, additional material and arrangements by
Martin Koch. Choreography by Anthony Van Laast. Cast: Dee Hoty, Gary P.
Lynch, Michelle Aravena, Ryan Silverman, Gabrielle Jones, Mary Ellen
Mahoney, Craig Bennett, Mark Zimmerman, Evy Baysic, Karen Burthwright,
Mike Erickson, Joe Paprella, Charlie Brady, Kim Craven, Jennifer DiNoia,
Cody Green, Lori Haley Fox, Chilina Kennedy, Melanie Merkosky, Daniel
Jason O'Keefe, Nadine Roden, Ambere Rogers, Milo Shandel, Elizabeth Share,
Ian Simpson, Jason Snow, Michael Torontow, Devon Tullock, Astrid Van
Wieren, Shawn Wright.