BWW Review: MAMMA MIA at Casa Manana

BWW Review: MAMMA MIA at Casa MananaIf it's Friday night, the lights are low, and you're looking out for a place to go, catching a musical at Casa Manana is generally a pretty solid option. In all honesty, there are few US theatre companies who can compete with their ability to bring Broadway-caliber entertainment to a regional stage. And although MAMMA MIA is not full of deep meaning, the jukebox hit still is able to scratch your Broadway itch.

Even though the major focus of the show is the famous toe-tapping tunes, here's the basic storyline: Twenty-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Chelsea Williams) is engaged to beach babe Sky (Anthony Fortino) and is eagerly anticipating the arrival of friends and family to the Greek island where she and her single mother Donna (CJ Greer) live as the owners and operators of a weathered hotel and bar. When Sophie unlocks her mother's decades-old diary, she learns that her mother had affairs with three separate men around the time she would have been conceived. Sophie boldly invites the men to attend her wedding and, to her surprise, all three arrive. Enter Sam Carmichael (Christian Whelan), Harry Bright (Michael Brian Dunn) and Bill Austin (Michael Visconti), the three potential dads whom Donna is not keen on seeing. But with Donna's lifelong gal pals, Tanya and Rosie (Cheryl Allison and M. Denise Lee), in tow, there's no drama that can't be overcome by a disco beat.

Mamma Mia isn't a heart-wrenching or even thought-provoking work of art, but Casa puts their best foot forward with an unstoppable, all-star cast. As the "Mamma" herself, CJ Greer's stellar performance is perfectly punctuated with a poignant and soulful take on "The Winner Takes it All," which is arguably the highlight of the act. She is well matched by stage daughter Chelsea Williams, whose years on Broadway and tour with Mamma Mia have helped her perfectly flesh out the often superficial score. And with supporting roles led by Cheryl Allison, M. Denise Lee, Kyle Igneczi, Anthony Fortino and Charlie H. Ray, you can't quite ask for more talent packed onto one stage. The trio of dads might look a decade too old to have been young travelers and foreign exchange students when their story begins, but Christian Whelan, Michael Brian Dunn, and Michael Visconti all skillfully carry their portion of stage weight.

Had director Tim Bennett and, especially, choreographer Abbey O'Brien staged the cast with more opportunities for explosive energy, perhaps my fellow Tuesday night audience members would have been more inclined to jump out of their seats, as is often seen in Mamma Mia across the globe. Instead, the under-utilized ensemble is often singing on the sidelines with movement that requires no stretching. Musical director Edward G. Robinson has the company's vocals crisp and clean, but the audio hum through act one plus the overall imbalance of offstage vocals (however pleasing) led to some unfortunate upstaging of the principal singers. David Neville's lighting, Tammy Spencer's costumes, and Catherine Petty-Rogers hair/makeup helped enhance the onstage elements.

Overall, if you can forgive the fluff and enter the theatre for pure fun, Mamma Mia is a perky, if not predictable, pop musical sweet enough to satisfy your after-dinner craving. Tickets and more information can be found at www.CasaManana.org.

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From This Author Kyle Christopher West

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