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BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! How Can You Resist This??


BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! How Can You Resist This??

Many of my readers know my connection with MAMMA MIA! on Broadway (see my bio below). When I saw many months ago that Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia would be presenting it (the professional regional premiere) I knew it would be a money maker and knew, after seeing many Toby productions, it would be done well. Well, not only have they done well, this edition of MAMMA MIA! is just plain superb.

From the clever set, amazing costumes, terrific lighting, wonderful orchestra, great dancing, superb ensemble and talented leads, this is a MAMMA MIA! for the ages, not to be missed.

For the unenlightened, the story surrounds a 20-year-old bride-to-be Sophie (the amazing Maggie Dransfield) who opens the show with the moving ballad "I Had a Dream" (a surprising way to start a Broadway show). She is about to be married to "Sky" (Paul Roeckell making his Toby's debut). While Sophie was unaware of who her father was, the possibilities changed after she discovers her mother's diary and she noticed her mother "Donna" (the talented Heather Marie Beck) had three trysts from a summer 21 years ago and surmises her father probably is one of these three. So she finds the addresses of her three possible dads and invites them all to attend her wedding assured they would want to return to the Greek island where Donna has opened a taverna. And she was right.

The three putative fathers are Harry Bright (Darren McDonnell), Bill Austin (Russell Sunday), and Sam Carmichael (Jeffrey Shankle). None of these men have any idea why they got invitations to the wedding and were totally unaware that Donna had a child who was getting married.

Music was big part of Donna's life as she had a women's band known as "Donna and the Dynamos". Her two fellow singers and friends Tanya (Coby Kay Callahan) and Rosie (Tess Rohan) bring incredible comic relief giving suggestions to Donna how to handle this strange situation the day before her daughter's wedding.

It doesn't take long that the three "fathers" figure out why they were invited to the wedding and they all volunteer to walk Sophie "down the aisle". Sophie's two best friends Ali (Jamie Pasquinelli) and Lisa (Cassie Saunders) note there should be a WIDE aisle.

The genius of the show is the music by the Swedish Rock Band ABBA written mainly by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. It was Judy Craymer who fostered the idea to use the ABBA canon of songs to push the story forward and what a success this turned out to be.

It was in 1974 that ABBA became world famous when their hit "Waterloo" won the Eurovision song contest. It was 25 years later MAMMA MIA! opened in London's West End becoming the 8th longest running musical in London's West End history and after try-outs in Toronto and San Francisco, opened on Broadway in October 2001, one month after the 9/11 tragedy. According to the book "MAMMA MIA! How Can I Resist You?" there was much talk about postponing the opening or even canceling it. But, the Broadway community and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani pushed the show to go as scheduled citing the fact that it was the perfect antidote to the tragic event. Giuliani became a frequent follower of the show.

Few people may recall MAMMA MIA! was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2002 but lost to THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. I was fortunate to attend the Tony Awards show at Radio City Music Hall and recall the terrific ovation the cast received after their presentation. The other two shows nominated were URINETOWN, THE MUSICAL and THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.

MAMMA MIA! lasted until 2015 and launched a movie version with Meryl Streep and just recently released a much better sequel "MAMMA MIA! Here we Go Again" (actually filmed in Croatia).

Director and Choreography Mark Minnick does a superb job here. He incorporates some of the great dance moves from the original Choreographer Anthony Van Laast and the ensemble performs them brilliantly.

Expect to hear some great ABBA tunes and thanks to the wonderful six-piece orchestra under the baton of Ross Scott Rawlings (who also did the great orchestrations) and Greg Knauf they work magic.

Baltimore's famous AT Jones & Sons provides the superb costumes, David A. Hopkins is the Scenic and Lighting Designer (beautifully done) and Mark Smedley did the great Sound

What a coincidence I sat with Mr. and Mrs. Mo Dutterer. Mo was the Drama Teacher at Centennial High School in Columbia and had three former students in the show. Heather Marie Beck (Donna) was a drama student as well as A. J. Whittenberg (ensemble and uncredited in the program), and Maggie Dransfield (Sophie) who was his vocal student for seven years. They were beaming during the show and rightly so.

MAMMA MIA! runs until September 9, 2018 and is selling out quickly. Please, do not miss it! For tickets, call 410-730-8311 or visit

Next up at Toby's is AIN'T MISBEHAVEN running September 14 to November 4, 2018


Baltimore Center Stage has just announced their new Artistic Director, Stephanie Ybarra. Ybarra comes from New York's Public Theater where she currently serves as Director of Special Artistic Projects. She will transition to Center Stage beginning in October and join the staff full-time in December.

Olney Theatre Company continues with HMS PINAFORE AND PIRATES OF PENZANCE until August 19, 2018 and SOUTH PACIFIC opens August 31. Make note of their three noteworthy one night only concerts: ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (October 12, 2018), FINIAN'S RAINBOW (March 15, 2019) and CHILDREN OF EDEN (July 26, 2019).

PASSION has opened at the Signature and runs until Sept. 23.

Another Sondheim hit musical SWEENEY TODD heads to the Rep Stage in Columbia running September 6 to September 23.

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is at Round House Theatre from August 29 to September 23, 2018.

The Kennedy Center continues with HAMILTON (until September 16) and THE COLOR PURPLE (until Aug. 26).

Speaking of THE COLOR PURPLE, the Broadway star for it and Tony-winning British actress Cynthia Erivo will be performing at the Baltimore Symphony's2018 Gala Concert Saturday night, September 15 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $50. Call 410-783-8000.

PBS has just announced its fall 2018 GREAT PERFORAMNCES line-up which will commence on Friday, November 2 and continue November 9, 16, and 23 from 9 to 11 p.m. Look for the Tony Award-winning production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, a live production recorded in the UK of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, John Leguizamo's latest theatrical showcase "John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway", and "Harold Prince - A Director's Journey, a retrospective look at the 60-year career of this Tony Award-winning producer and director.

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From This Author Charles Shubow