Mamma Mia!


By Philip Pearce

MAMMA MIA!, seen around the world by who knows how many millions since its 1999 London premiere, kept up the good work last weekend with nearly-full to sold out houses at PacRep’s Golden Bough Theatre.

The show’s musical score, in case you hadn’t heard, links 22 smash singles by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus to a romantic story by British playwright Catherine Johnson that holds your interest without overtaxing your intellect. It’s loud and tuneful and fun, with slick direction by Susanne Burns and a nice guitar, bass, drum and keyboard combo led by Desma Johnson.

The night I attended, an audience full of baby boomers cheered and whistled as the cast brought loud and strobe-lit life to numbers like “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,“ “Money, Money, Money” and the chart-topping title song.

Mamma Mia! is an apt name for a story about a 20-year-old romantic named Sophie (“I Have a Dream”) and her strong-willed unmarried mom Donna, (“The Winner Takes It All”). Donna’s determined feminist independence gets knocked down and then rebuilt when Sophie secretly arranges a reunion with three men Donna had one-night stands with nine months before the girl’s birth. Understandably curious to know which of the gents should lead her down the aisle and give her away when she marries a nice local lad named Sky, Sophie invites the three candidates to her wedding. Don’t ask awkward questions like how she immediately knows the addresses of three strangers. What matters is that they show up and complications ensue. Johnson might well have named the show Papa Mia if only ABBA had written a hit number with that title.

Played by a winsome Nicole Cofresi, the busybody Sophie charms as a character, dances with grace and sings with a lyric soprano that pleases but sometimes gets drowned out by the band. As Donna, now the busy manager of a popular Greek island taverna, Equity player Lydia Lyons wonderfully projects determined feminist chutzpah, not least when she reunites for the wedding with the two other members of her old glamour girl singing group, (“Donna and the Dynamos”). As retired sixties divas who still know how to sizzle, Tanya (Jill Miller) is all Nordic blonde put downs and Rosie (Sheila Townsend) bubbles and bounces delightfully.

The dancing is excellent, thanks to Miller who not only plays Tanya but choreographs the show. Mamma Mia! works best when it’s moving smoothly through big musical numbers and bits of light comedy like Rosie’s Act 2 courtship of Bill (“Take a Chance on Me”). It’s less successful in a brief but embarrassing dream sequence, which attempts to paint Sophie’s quandary over three possible dads as a bit of Agnes DeMille psycho ballet.

The cast list is built around groups of three. Sophie’s three possible dads are nicely contrasted, adroitly acted and effectively sung by James Brady as Sam, Scott McQuiston as Bill and Stephen Poletti as Harry. Sophie herself shares gossip and giggles with two attractive buddies named Ali (Tara Marie Lucido) and Lisa (Lizzy Lippa). Fiancé Sky (Joshua Reeves) meanwhile does some drunken horsing around at a bachelor night party organized by two tireless taverna waiters, Pepper (Malakai Howard) and Eddie (Brian Balistreri).

Sobered up after his bachelor night, Sky takes offense at not having been told in advance about Sophie’s three-man parenting contest. But he still goes loyally through with the wedding, only to have Sophie, for reasons I couldn’t fathom, halt things at the altar and decide to stick to Sky but, to follow her mother’s lead, dispense with marriage. Never mind; her unexpected decision prompts the quick-thinking Sam to do what Cary Grant does at the end of The Philadelphia Story: there are a clergyman, a congregation and some bridesmaids on hand, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Why not marry the gal he loved-and-lost all those years ago and bring on a happy ending?

It’s that kind of show. As with those old pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, you’re not there to worry much about plot or character. You pay your money to watch Fred dance cheek to cheek with Ginger or, in this case, Sophie, Donna and all those other attractive people sing and dance their way through those nice ABBA tunes. The company, in fact, follows the curtain call with an all-hands reprise of favorites from the show that ought to send everyone home humming.

Mamma Mia! plays weekends plus Thursdays (plus one on Thanksgiving Eve) at the Golden Bough through December 23.

Photo by Stephen Moorer