Without a song or a dance what are we?
“So I say, thank you for the music!” That’s the audience’s message for Mamma Mia!, now on stage at Grand Bend’s Huron Country Playhouse. The encore number, complete with spandex and gold lamé, gets a loud and long standing ovation.
Mamma Mia! is the quintessential juke box musical, where writer Catherine Johnson took a playlist of very popular ABBA songs, and wove a story around the lyrics. The musical opened first on London’s West End in 1999 and ran for 13 years. In 2000 it opened in Toronto and stayed for five years. It ran on Broadway for 14 years from 2001 to 2015. The closure on Broadway allows regional theatres, such as Drayton Entertainment, to produce the show.
Of course, there was also the 2008 movie, which gave us the beauty of the Greek island, but lacked powerful singers. Meryl Streep’s voice was just adequate, while Pierce Brosnan is still embarrassed about his singing.
But this production of Mamma Mia! which has made the circuit of Drayton Entertainment venues around Ontario, is a highly polished production: Beautiful voices, amazing dance and entertaining comedy make this a must-see show.
Mamma Mia! tells the story of Donna, an independent, single mother raising her daughter while running a struggling resort on an idyllic Greek island. Sophie is the opposite of her mother: she wants to get married before she heads off on adventure, and so the wedding is planned. Donna has invited her two best girlfriends, who were former singers with her, to celebrate the occasion. Sophie, after reading her mother’s old diary, is set on finding out who her father is. She invites three men from Donna’s past, believing she will know her father when she sees him.
But with the wedding the next day, Sophie ends up with all three men wanting to take her down the aisle. Eventually, to her mother’s relief, Sophie realizes that the wedding was just an excuse to find her father, and decides she and her boyfriend can wait for marriage. Donna, on the other hand, finds her long-lost love.
Blythe Wilson is perfect as Donna. Wilson brings her extensive resume to the role – She was Donna in Toronto’s Mirvish production of Mamma Mia!, and has played Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins on the National Tour and on Broadway. She also toured as the Narrator in Joseph with Donny Osmond, and has acted at Stratford and Shaw Festivals. It’s a coup for Drayton Entertainment to have her on their stages. Wilson’s rich and beautiful voice is perfect for the ABBA tunes such as The Winner Takes It All.
Danielle Wade as Sophie opens the show with I have a Dream. Her beautiful voice has a crystal clear bell-like tone. Colin Sheen who has teamed up with Danielle Wade in last year’s Anne of Green Gables and Footloose brings the same charm to the role of Sky, the unsure but willing-to-please groom.
The three possible Dads are played by an irresistible trio; Matt Palmer as Sam Carmichael, Mark Harapiak as Bill Austin, and Michael Killinger as Harry Bright. There’s great fun when we flash back to them as hippies in the 70s. Palmer’s rich voice sounds wonderful in SOS and Harapiak is perfect as the travel writer and committed bachelor. It’s fun to watch the real-life couple (Harapiak and Wilson) enjoying themselves together on stage. Killinger delivers a glorious and poignant rendition of Our Last Summer.
Jenni Burke and Jackie Mustakas play Donna’s former singing partners and long-time friends. Burke has fun as Rosie singing Take a Chance on Me in a flirty scene with Harapiak. Mustakas as a cougar-like Tanya and Sam DiGiuseppe as Pepper have great fun with Does Your Mother Know.
Sophie’s two best friends are enjoying themselves – bachelorettes and bridesmaids Judy Kovacs as Ali and Jade Repeta as Lisa, both with great comedic timing.
The ensemble has excellent dance moves. The crowd pleaser is a choreographed number where all the men dance in flippers as they prepare to go diving. Graeme Goodhall and Tyrell Witherspoon are standouts with their amazing flips and acrobatics. Director and choreographer David Connolly has done this up in a neat, Broadway-style package.
To Artistic Director Alex Mustakas’ credit, Mamma Mia! will no doubt prove popular with nostalgic audiences. It will sell out quickly, and the tickets are good value. If you don’t have tickets yet, call immediately. The great ABBA music transports you to the 1970s, and the talented cast will take you back to original musical in the early 2000s.
Mamma Mia! continues with eight shows a week until September 3 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com
Photo: Jenni Burke, Blythe Wilson, Jackie Mustakas and Company in Mamma Mia!, Drayton Entertainment. Photo by Hilary Gauld Camilleri.
Music & Lyrics by Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed & Choreographed by David Connolly
Musical Direction by Steve Thomas
Performed by Christy Adamson, Jenni Burke, Stephan Dickson, Sam DiGiuseppe, Graeme Goodhall, Mark Harapiak, Jessica Horn, Michael Killinger, Judy Kovacs, Jon-Alex MacFarlane, Erik Markewich, Jennifer Mote, Jackie Mustakas, Matt Palmer, Jade Repeta, Colin Sheen, Danielle Wade, Christine Watson, Blythe Wilson, Tyrell Witherspoon.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 11 to September 3, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson