BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! at Ogunquit Playhouse
Any new production of the hugely popular musical "Mamma Mia!" starts with a basic advantage. It's known as a great show. But it's also a challenge to keep it fresh.
- Now underway at the Ogunquit Playhouse is a high-energy production that establishes its own identity while furthering the show's reputation for being an exceptional entertainment.
For a reminder, the story concerns a young woman who, on the eve of her wedding, tries to find out which of three men referenced in her mother's diary is her father. She invites all three to the Greek island where her mother operates a taverna and the wedding is to be held.
Songs by the 1970s mega-hit pop group ABBA are used to highlight elements of the plot and, more importantly, provide the soundtrack for an abundance of attention-grabbing song and dance numbers.
When it's done as well as it is in Ogunquit, revisiting this show is in part like running into an old friend (indeed, part of why the story itself pleases). Looks may have changed but that good feeling is still there. It's also hard to imagine that those seeing it for the first time won't be won over. Retro it is, but also so much fun.
Some new technical capabilities installed at the venerable theater for its 85th season add dazzle. But most of the credit for this show's success is owed to the human factor. With able support from those behind the scenes, a multi-talented cast of performers give it their all in the tale of dreams and loves, both lost and found.
As the feisty mother of the bride, Jodie Langel gets to show a bit of dramatic range as her character comes to grips with her past. "One of Us" and "The Winner Takes It All" provide her with opportunities to showcase both her expressive singing and acting talents.
Old friends, played by Kate Chapman and Angie Schworer, join her in several numbers that recall a happier time for the trio- all still looking for love. Chapman and Schworer also provide earthier moments with some suggestive and even raunchy humor. It all went over well at the performance reviewed here.
The live offstage band led by Jeffrey Campos revs-up through the theater's improved sound system to build "Chiquitita" and "Dancing Queen" to delightfully over-the-top dimensions, as a corps of ever-ready dancer/singers join in.
The three prospective dads include Patrick Cassidy (whose father Jack Cassidy played this venue years ago), David Engel and Fred Inkley. Engel and Inkley have choice moments as lovable eccentrics while Cassidy plays the straight-up hero (until the encore, at least).
Cassidy takes center stage for "Knowing Me, Knowing You," as his character tries to reignite with his old-flame, and scores in tandem with Langel on "S.O.S." He seems to summon his singing voice from some reserve, finessing a few lines in true leading man style.
The younger generation is represented by Briana Rapa, as the bride-to-be, and Mike Heslin, as her betrothed. Each gets to romp a bit with pals (Sarah Faye Beard, Taylor Broadard, Andy Tofa, DJ Petrosino), on such tunes as "Honey, Honey" and "Voulez-Vous," before the big day.
The diminutive Rapa is a charmer throughout, adding that girl-on-the-verge- of-womanhood angle to "I Have a Dream" and "Slipping Through My Fingers." Her nightmare number, "Under Attack," starts the second act off on a highly-imaginative note.
Making effective use of a rotating stage and lighting improvements, director Larry Raben and choreographer Richard J. Hinds have added just enough new elements of movement and focus to enhance the joyful center of this exciting production.
With word of a film sequel coming soon, "Mamma Mia!" will likely be gracing stages and screens around the world for some time to come.
Reviewed: May 21 (matinee); continues through July 1
Contact: 207-646-5511; ogunquitplayhouse.org
Photo by Gary Ng