BWW Review: 'MAMMA MIA!' at Kansas City Starlight Theatre
"Mamma Mia "- How can I resist you?
Combining ABBA's greatest hits, including "Dancing Queen," "S.O.S" "Super Trouper," "Take a Chance on Me" and "The Winner Takes It All," with an enchanting tale of love, laughter and friendship Catherine Johnson has crafted a plot to expertly string together these more than 20 songs (written by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig Andersson) in a show that is in the top ten longest running Broadway shows list. This production serves up both the bouncy electronic music that is familiar, with mother-vs. -daughter story about contrasting views of what constitutes a family.
Mark Thompson's simple, revolving set, appropriately rendered in azure and ivory, provides a balanced background for both the indoor and outdoor scenes. Costume range gives the show a disco era vibe to spark things up.
In this story, 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (portrayed by the sweet-voiced and altogether charming Lizzie Markson) is about to be married, and she wants her father to give her away. However, having stumbled onto her mother's diary from the year of Sophie's birth, she discovers that her father could be any one of three men.
Sophie summons "her three dads" to her wedding on the Greek island where Mom, a feisty, independent soul named Donna (Betsy Padamonsky) runs an island vacation enclave. In her youth, it happens, Mom headed a rock trio, Donna and the Dynamos. And among the wedding guests are, of course, the other members of that group: the chic, lean and thrice-married Tanya (Cashelle Butler) and the sidekick, no-nonsense Rosie (Sarah Smith), a cookbook writer. And, of course they cannot resist putting on their old costumes and singing their old songs.
Ms. Padamonsky has a fine pop belter's voice, and she's enjoyable when she's "getting' down" with her chums, yet transition timing is rapid and frequent which challenges her ability to contrast emotional range in scenes with both her daughter and past suitors, through no fault of her own. Ms. Butler exerts her wiles playing cat-and-mouse with the men of the cast. She is an eye-full presence, on stage, as her character is conceived, and she squeezes every tawdry ounce out of the role imaginable. And, Ms. Smith comedic skills form a character with range and depth out of very little material. Her romantic bid to the intentionally single Bill (Mr. Cornes), in which she sings ''Take a Chance on Me,'' is a highlight in the show.
The daddy trifecta, which has turned up much to Donna's dismay, has numerous takes on romance and relationships in the run-up to Sophie tying the knot with her beau Sky (Dustin Harris Smith). Shai Yammanee gives a strong yet sensitive "Sam" an earnest warmth and his vocals are among the best in the show. Andrew Tebo as Harry and Marc Cornes as Bill round out male trio and provide adept balance to their feminine counterparts.
The full charm of this show is it's ability to so cleverly take a songbook and not force it into a story line, but rather weave a plot that encompasses each song as a stand-alone moment. By doing so, the audience is drawn in. Every now and then when the members of a chorus of Greek peasants pop their heads through the doorway, or dance onto the stage, and further make the whole theater feel like a dance party. So, although the voices of the performers in "Mama Mia!" have considerable power, the show still creates, for the audience, the inviting illusion they could jump onstage and start singing and dancing together. The songs seem to come from some place of hazy collective memory that mesmerizes the crowd so much so that hardly a person leaves without thinking "Mamma Mia!, how can I resist you!"
And...don't leave early and miss any of the encore dance party numbers!
Tickets are available online at www.kcstarlight.com or by calling (816) 363-STAR (7827) or at the Starlight box office at 4600 Starlight Raod, Kansas City MO 64132. Performances begin at 8pm.
Photographs courtesy of Starlight Theatre.