BWW Reviews: Tuneful songs, artistic choreography in the DNA of SNS' MAMMA MIA
Near the front of the Playbill for the Short North Stage's production of MAMMA MIA is a list of all the sponsors for the musical based on a collection of ABBA songs. Sadly, 23 & Me is not among them.
The DNA testing and analysis firm missed a golden opportunity for product placement. With DNA testing, Sophie (played by Katie Davis) would not have had to wait 20 years to find her father and saved her mother Donna (Jodie Langel) a whole lot of migraines. Of course, director and choreographer Dionysia Williams would also be wondering what to put in the second act.
The jukebox musical, which was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2002 and was made into a movie in 2008, opened Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 30 at the Garden Theater (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus).
As she is preparing to get married, Sophie finds her mother's diary and attempts to decipher who is her biological father. The problem is Donna's diary leaves a trio of candidates for that post. During the summer of 1978, Donna was somewhat of a local celebrity, heading up the band, Donna and the Dynamos. During that fateful summer, Donna was swept off her feet, not once, not twice, but three times by Sam (Ian Short), Harry (Luke Bovenizer) and Bill (Patrick Schaefer). Neither Donna nor Sophie know who the father is, and Sam, Harry and Bill are blissfully unaware they were candidates for the honor. (See how DNA testing would have been really helpful here?)
As the wedding nears, Sophie ponders who will give her away to her fiancée Sky (Jesse Trieger) and decides to send all three candidates invitations to the wedding as her mother. Lo and behold, all three show up at the island as do Donna's two former bandmates Tanya (Tonyia Rue) and Rosie (Jesika Lehner) arrive.
The show is brilliantly cast. Davis portrays Sophie with a starry-eye optimism that is quirky and fun and yet believable as she eyes up her mother's former lovers to see if she can see a glint of herself in their eyes. Langel's Donna comes across as Sophie plus 20 years of experience and a child. The chemistry between the two works exceedingly well and both bring their own unique take on ABBA's songbook. Langel's moving take of "The Winner Takes It All," written as a ballad about divorce in 1980, is the highlight of the show.
Short, Schaefer and Bovenizer each bring a unique spin as three potential DNA donors with Sam being the serious architect, Bill a free spirit novelist, and Harry, a former headbanging musician who is now a British banker. The merry-go-round waltz with Sophie in "Thank You for the Music," is sentimental without being schmaltzy.
Rue and Lerner provide much of the comedic relief as Donna's former bandmates. Rue's Tanya proves she can still pull in the young ones as she fends off the advances of Pepper (Mateus Da Silva), Eddie (Michael Carrier) and other would-be suitors in "Does Your Mother Know?" Sophie's bridesmaids, Lisa (Lisa Glover) and Ali (Shannon Lane) also seem like they could be mirror images of Donna's bandmates 20 years ago. Williams' choreography, the vocal talents of a strong cast of actors and Zac Delmonte's conduction orchestra of Tony Richards and John Constanza (keyboards), Morgan Mills and Brogan Reilly (guitars), Sara Smith (bass) and Joe Spurlock (drums) combine for a solid performance.
If there's a flaw to MAMMA MIA, it's not the cast but the fact that it is a jukebox musical. ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, who wrote the music for CHESS, have written for Broadway before and wrote many great songs. If it would have been written as a song for a musical instead of the pop charts, "What's the Name of the Game?" and "The Winner Takes It All" would be Broadway standards. While it may have pleased ABBA fans, trying to shoehorn "Super Trouper" into MAMMA MIA doesn't work and one could live (quite happily in fact) without revisiting such ABBA clunkers as "Money, Money, Money," and "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme." Some parts of everyone's DNA are worth forgetting.
Short North Stage presents MAMMA MIA with 8 p.m. performances on Dec. 13-15, 20-22, and 27-29 with 3 p.m. matinees on Dec. 15-16, Dec. 22-23, and Dec. 29-30 at the Garden Theater (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus). For more information, contact 614-725-4042.