BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! at Connecticut Repertory Theatre
What happens if you take the upbeat and danceable pop music of a Swedish supergroup, place it in a beautiful sun-drenched setting, add in a dash of comedy, some athletic dancing, and a pinch of bright colors, and wrap it all in a simple, but entertaining, story? You get MAMMA MIA!, the hit musical featuring the music of ABBA, which is the first musical offering in the 2019 Nutmeg Summer Series at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) at the University of Connecticut. The CT Rep, once again under the artistic direction of Terrence Mann (who also serves as the director of this production), is offering MAMMA MIA! as one of only two shows this summer season (down from the typical three) in order to give more people the opportunity to see each production.
If you have never had the pleasure of attending the party that is MAMMA MIA! before, or not seen the movie version (actually, if you haven't seen that one, you may be better off), the musical tells the story of young Sophie (Kelly McCarty) who lives on a small island in Greece, raised by her single mother, Donna (Jessica Hendy). Sophie is getting married to Sky (Mason Reeves) and she sends wedding invitations to the three men who she discovers (from reading her mother's diary) all could be her father, Sam (Bradley Dean), Bill (Jamie Colburn), and Harry (Rob Barnes). All three accept, and when they arrive, throw Donna for a loop on the eve of the wedding. Also attending are Donna's best friends and former members of her 1970's girl group, Donna and the Dynamos, Rosie (Jennifer Cody) and Tanya (Lauren Blackman). The girls try and help Donna cope with the drama, while enjoying the island setting, all while Sophie goes through her own identity crisis and pre-wedding jitters. As you might expect for a lighthearted musical like MAMMA MIA!, plots are resolved relatively easily, ending with a dance party and a celebration (with a twist!).
MAMMA MIA! is an interesting musical in many ways. It was one of the first mega-hit jukebox musicals that spawned so many others, good and not-so-good, and one that audiences couldn't get enough of. The simple plot, the use of familiar and fun music, and the scenic placement of the plot added up to a huge hit. In CT Rep's production - all of these elements are present and more. Under Terrence Mann's nimble direction - the excitement never stops. One scene easily flows into another with energetic transitions that create a feeling of movement that keeps the audience engaged. In less skilled hands, this could add up to confusion, but Mr. Mann does a great job crafting the story with his nimble cast.
As with all CT Rep summer musicals, the cast is made up of a mix of theatre professionals and college students, which, for a show like MAMMA MIA! works extremely well. Jessica Hendy, gives a powerhouse performance as Donna, delivering a headstrong and protective mother who is thrown off by the arrival of her past loves. Her delivery of "The Winner Takes It All" stops the show with its power and brilliance. As her two friends and bandmates, Jennifer Cody (Rosie) is hilarious and just a ton of fun to watch, and Lauren Blackman (Tanya) as the sultry and worldly divorcee, is fabulous, especially in her scenes fending off the over eager young Pepper (RJ Higton). Each of the three candidates for father-of-the-bride give strong performances as well. Rob Barnes' Harry is buttoned up and straight-laced, which contrasts to his prior life as "Head Banger". As writer and world-traveler, Bill, Jamie Colburn is great, especially in his scenes with Jennifer Cody. Finally, Bradley Dean shows off a powerful voice and a great delivery as the architect and Donna's lost love, Sam. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, including Mason Reeves and Kelly McCarty as Sky and Sophie - looking like they are having a ton of fun every moment they are on stage.
The creative design of MAMMA MIA! reinforces the fairy tale setting, especially via Tim Brown's Greek Isles inspired set (in bright white and blue) and Fan Zheng's beach-appropriate costumes. Her 70's inspired jumpsuits at the end of the play are particularly fabulous. The music (with all its 70's synth glory) is delivered brilliantly by a nine-piece orchestra directed by music director Geraldine Anello and the choreography by Mary Ann Lamb and Jessica Walker is athletic and energetic.
CT Rep's MAMMA MIA! is in one word - fun. It is accessible, entertaining, visually stimulating and easy to watch. It is hard to leave the theatre without a smile on your face or to resist dancing (and singing) along during the high-energy curtain calls. If you have never attended the party that is MAMMA MIA!, or if you have and have missed the silly, yet satisfying experience that it offers so well - I encourage you not to miss this production.
MAMMA MIA by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) runs at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT through June 22. Evening performances start at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinee performances start at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Subscription package options range from $60 to $78. Single tickets prices start at $48. For additional ticket information or to purchase tickets by phone, call 860.486.2113. To purchase tickets online, visit www.crt.uconn.edu.
Top Photo Credit - MAMMA MIA! directed by Terrence Mann opens the 2019 Nutmeg Summer Series at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, onstage thru June 22. Tickets at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Mid Photo Credit - Jennifer Cody (Rosie), Jessica Hendy (Donna), and Lauren Blackman (Tanya) in MAMMA MIA! directed by Terrence Mann, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru June 22. Tickets and information at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Mid-Photo #2 - Lauren Blackman (Tanya), center, and the ensemble of MAMMA MIA! directed by Terrence Mann, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru June 22. Tickets and information at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Bottom Photo Credit - Jessica Hendy (Donna) and Rob Barnes (Harry) in MAMMA MIA! directed by Terrence Mann, onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre thru June 22. Tickets and information at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.