BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! is Pure Fun at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse

BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! is Pure Fun at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
The company of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival production of MAMMA MIA! Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.

Auburn's Merry-Go-Round Playhouse has opened its 2018 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival with the very popular, smash hit musical Mamma Mia! The catchy and fun musical, strongly directed by Artistic Director Brett Smock, is packing the house at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, celebrating its 60th anniversary.

The show features music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame (some songs with Stig Anderson). Catherine Johnson's book tells the story of a young girl named Sophie (Emily Kristen Morris) who is about to walk down the aisle in the Greek Islands to marry Sky (Michael Williams). She needs to have her dad there to make her white wedding complete. Unfortunately, she does not know who her father is so she invites three possible Dads. Sophie's mother, Donna (Sally Wilfert), does not handle three past love interests arriving just in time for the wedding very well, but luckily her best friends Tanya (Nicolette Hart) and Rosie (Jodi Kimura) are there for her. The three men returning to the Greek islands - where they all met Donna in the first place - brings a change to the wedding, relationships, and Donna's love life.

Mamma Mia! Is beloved by many audiences all over the world and it's easy to understand why. It has the music of ABBA, romance, spandex, jumpsuits, disco lights, and a lot of dancing (and yes, there is dancing in the aisles with the audience members).

This production boasts a talented and energetic cast. Sally Wilfert, Nicolette Hart, and Jodi Kimura steal the show when they take center stage together as Donna, Tanya, and Rosie, respectively. Their comedic timing, energy, and chemistry with each other ensure spectacular performances of "Chiquitita," "Dancing Queen," "Super Trouper," and many more. They also make strong impressions as individual.

Sally Wilfert dazzles as Donna thanks to her top notch comedic skills, clear and effortless vocals, and passion. She leaves it all on the stage and the results are phenomenal. A true Broadway star, she shines on all of her numbers, but especially "The Winner Takes It All." She also delivers a gorgeous rendition of "Slipping Through My Fingers."

Nicolette Hart is confident, sassy, and seductive in the role of Tanya. She certainly knows how to flaunt it - one need not look farther than her take on "Does Your Mother Know." She has the look, attitude, and comedic abilities to bring down the house as Tanya. Her character really shows off the fabulous wig designs by Al Annotto and Tiffany Howard's detailed costumes. The artistry that went into creating her look help her display sassiness at its finest.

Jodi Kimura is a fabulous character actress. She gives her all to portray Rosie and has the audience laughing non-stop with every facial expression and comedic antic. Her number "Take a Chance on Me" along with Joe Gately (another brilliant and comedic character actor) as Bill Austin is an audience favorite.

Donna's other former love interests also give top notch performances. Gary Milner as Sam Carmichael delivers strong vocals in "S.O.S." and "Knowing Me, Knowing You." Geoffrey Allen Murphy is incredibly likeable as Harry Bright, especially in the number "Our Last Summer."

Emily Kristen Morris took a while to get into the role of Sophie on the night I attended, but she got better as time went on. Her sweetness and beauty are evident from the opening number, "I Have a Dream (Prologue). You are drawn to her wide-eyed expression and flowing golden hair as you gaze at the beautiful scenic design by Michael Schweikardt. Morris delivered the lines beautifully and she is adorable in the role, but unfortunately her vocals were disappointing on "Thank You for the Music" (a number she sings with Joe Gately, Gary Milner, and Geoffrey Allen Murphy), but the vocals improved as the show progressed.

The ensemble shows off Brett Smock's entertaining and detailed choreography in the favorite and familiar production numbers such as "Money, Money, Money," "Lay All Your Love on Me" (featuring Michael Williams' stellar vocals), "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme," "Voulez Vous," and "Under Attack." The title song "Mamma Mia" is entertaining and memorable as well. All the catchy musical numbers really come to life thanks to the brilliant musical direction of Jeff Cox and the live orchestra.

There seemed to be some sound issues and missed light cues on the night I attended, but they will most likely be worked out as the run continues.

The season opener is just pure fun and puts a smile on your face thanks to the entertaining numbers and talented veteran actors. Don't miss your chance (seriously, tickets are going fast) to see this carefree musical about love, family, and friendship.

Running time: Approximately two hours and thirty minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Mamma Mia! runs through June 27, 2018 at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in Auburn, New York as part of the 2018 season of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival and the theater's 60th Anniversary. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions, click here.

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