Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Mamma Mia!
Great Lakes Theater
Review by David Ritchey

Nick Steen and Jillian Kates
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
For Broadway quality musical theater, look no further than the Great Lakes Theater's production of Mamma Mia! This is theater at its best, when everything falls into place and it's in a good place. This studding production of Mamma Mia! is in the Hanna Theatre, Cleveland.

The story is set on a Greek island in a small hotel owned by Donna Sheridan (Jullian Kates). Donna's daughter Sophie (Kailey Boyle) plans to be married to Sky (Jake Slater) the next day. The wedding preparations have almost exhausted Donna and as the celebration approaches the guests begin to arrive.

Donna has raised Sophie alone while managing the hotel with only the help of a small staff of young men who live on the island. She has never made a references to Sophie's father to her daughter, but Sophie wants her father to walk her down the aisle. In Donna's found diary, Sophie reads references to three men, anyone of whom might be her father. Without Donna's knowledge, Sophie mails invitations to the wedding to each of the men. Sophie plans to interview each of them to find out which is her father, and he will walk her down the aisle. The three men arrive (Nick Steen, Alex Syiek and Eric Damon Smith) on the island for the wedding with no idea of Sophie's plan.

Back before she became a mother, Donna was a member of the singing group "Donna and the Dynamos" with two good friends, Tonia and Rosie. In their vintage costumes, the three women will perform some of their routines.

By the wedding scene, which is a wedding planner's nightmare (remember this is a comedy), some of the right people get married and some other right people don't get married. But, who cares—it's musically frenetic, visually exciting and emotionally fluffy. Everyone lives happily ever after or at least through the curtain call.

This story is set to the music of ABBA, a group that had great fame in the 1970s and has found a resurgence of that popularity in part because Mamma Mia! has introduced the ABBA songs to new generations. A movie version of this musical and a film sequel have also helped.

Catherine Johnson (book) wrote the sunny, funny tale of family and friendship. The songs were mostly written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with Stig Anderson contributing to some selections. ABBA's biggest hits "Dancing Queen," "The Winner Takes It All," "Money, Money, Money," "I Have a Dream," "Thank you for the Music," "Take A Chance on Me" are all here, plus a number of others.

This 25-member cast, at times, seems to fill the stage in Hanna Theatre. They remind us of what good musical theatre should be. Everyone can sing and dance.

Jillian Kates could carry every song in the show. Her role gives her more variety than most of the other performers. Nick Steen, one of the candidates for Sophie's father, has been with Great Lakes for six seasons. He has a beautiful singing voice, dances well, and is as handsome as a matinee idol.

Choreographer Jaclyn Miller has created one of the best dance programs I've seen in Cleveland in a long time. The dance numbers are appropriate for the story, the music, and the era of ABBA's fame. Miller had the advantage of a well-trained, large dance company. Most of these performers received training in Baldwin-Wallace dance classes.

Costume designer Tracy Christensen obviously worked with scenic designer Jeff Herrmann to coordinate the brilliant colors on the stage and in the costumes. Their work makes this production a visual treat for the audience. The set includes three hotel buildings. The center building rotates to reveal sets on two sides and opens to reveal Donna's bedroom.

However, director Victoria Bussert should get star billing. She has helped her cast create believable characters in this cotton fluff script. Too often the director dismisses depth of characters in order to rush through to the musical numbers. Bussert works to make the songs, the comedy, and the dances part of the revealing of the story of real people. She's the best musical theater director working in this area.

At the performance I attended, the audience stood to enjoy an eight-minute long curtain call. The cast came back to the stage in new costumes and sang more song from the ABBA catalogue. The audience sang along, clapping their hands, as the curtain call became almost a third-act of the show.

Mamma Mia!, through November 11, 2018, in the Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, 2067 E 14th St, Cleveland OH. For ticket information call 215-241-6000.

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