Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Judy Craymer, Richard East and Björn Ulvaeus, for Littlestar in association with Universal, present the smash hit musical Mamma Mia! at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. The musical features the original music and lyrics of ABBA, as written by the team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with a book by Catherine Johnson. Although the title of the musical is taken from the group's 1975 chart-topper "Mamma Mia," the plot is fictional, not biographical. The musical opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on October 18, 2001, where it is still playing. It received two Drama Desk Awards and five Tony Award Nominations. A popular movie version starring Meryl Streep was released in 2008 introducing a new generation to the music of ABBA, and sparking interest in the successful national tour of the musical seen here at the Kravis Center.
The story of Mamma Mia! that of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan, who lives with her mother Donna on the small Greek island of Kalokairi, where Donna runs a hotel called Villa Donna. Sophie is planning to marry her fiancé Sky, and wants her father to be present to give her away. Unfortunately, she doesn't know who her father is. After reading Donna's 20-year-old diary, Sophie concludes he is one of three men: Sam Carmichael, Harry Bright or Bill Austin. Without telling her mother or fiancé, Sophie mails wedding invitations to all three. The men come to the island, thinking Donna asked them to come. Donna's two best friends have also come to the island for the wedding. They are the forever single and fun-loving writer Rosie, and the wealthy and pampered three-time divorcé Tanya. In the '80s, the three longtime friends were a singing group called Donna and the Dynamos. The women bond in Donna's time of turmoil as Sophie's paternity is pondered. At the end of a frenzied weekend, a wedding takes place, though perhaps not quite the one that was planned.
Michelle Dawson as Donna is a fine actress, but never quite delivers the desired vocal passion and volume. She struggles with the tender song "Slipping Through My Fingers" as it seems to rest right on her break. She is more caught up in switching back and forth between her head and chest voice than in the simple beauty of this lullaby-like song. Her shallow breathing before the awaited climax in "The Winner Takes It All" results in a moment that is too little too late. Rachel Tyler is sassy and sexy as Tanya in "Does Your Momma Know," but needs to bring more of that quality to her entire performance. Kittra Wynn Coomer is quite the comedienne as Rosie, selling the role with her dry sense of humor and comic mugging. Together the three women sound sensational together in every song.
John Hemphill, who plays Sam, truly has a beautiful pop singing voice, which is a relief to hear after the way the role was butchered vocally in the film by Pierce Brosnan. Ian Knauer is charming as the head-banger turned proper English banker, Harry Bright, with a smile that lights up the stage. Martin Kildare has a jaunty masculine quality as the Outback explorer, Bill Austin. All three men capture a balance of humor and seriousness in their characters that make them enjoyable foils to their female counterparts.
Liana Hunt is sweet as bride-to-be Sophie and has believable couple-chemistry with the handsome Adam Jacobs as Sky. The energetic dancing and crisp singing of the ensemble is matched by an exceptionally good nine-piece band that sounds twice its size.
Try to resist the infamous "South Florida standing ovation" where audience members stand up and leave as soon as the bows start, as the bows themselves contain a surprise bonus performance number. Filled with wonderful songs and colorful costumes this production is well worth watching to the very end.
ABBA skyrocketed to fame after winning a Swedish Eurovision Song Contest in 1972. The quartet was comprised of members Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida) and Agnetha Fältskog. They gained international popularity by writing songs with simple lyrics and catchy melodies, and offering a full but clean sound achieved by overdubbing the female singers' voices in multiple harmonies. Their many hits include well known songs such as "Waterloo," "Fernando," "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Money, Money, Money," "The Name Of The Game," "Chiquitita," "Super Trouper," and "Mamma Mia. ABBA broke up in 1982 having sold almost 400 million records world wide. The group still sells two to three million records per year, and their songs remain on the most requested playlists of many radio stations.
Mamma Mia appears August 4th 9th, 2009 in the Dreyfoos Hall of the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. The Kravis Center is located at 701 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, FL. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. For information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 561-832-7469 (561-832-SHOW) or 1-800-572-8471 (1-800-KRAVIS-1). Or online at www.kravis.org.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.