BWW Review: Arts Center of Cannon County's MAMMA MIA! Offers a Gleeful Take on ABBA-inspired Musical
Director Darryl Deason's Unique Choices Give Hit Show a New Persona
Director Darryl Deason makes some unique choices - no matter the show he's working on - and with his latest (Mamma Mia!, now onstage at Arts Center of Cannon County through Sunday, September 1) he gives the megahit musical a whole new "persona" while maintaining the show's enormously entertaining message.
Sort of like "an extra-special episode of The Golden Girls," ACCC's Mamma Mia! - not to be confused with Studio Tenn's Mamma Mia! which runs through September 8 in Franklin - is given a new lease on life, as it were, thanks to Deason's casting choices: Imagine if Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia were given a holiday special, filled with special guest stars, a bigger budget and an orchestra, choreography and an ensemble of younger actors eager to learn from their mentors and you'll have a fairly good notion of how Deason's Mamma Mia! is interpreted for the sell-out audiences filling the Woodbury theater to overflowing in order to revel in the ABBA-inspired spectacle.
With a cast led by Brenda Gregory (a longtime educator who has inspired countless of her students at Murfreesboro's Siegel High School to pursue their dreams) as Donna Sheridan, with Diane Enright and Annie Clements as her sassy best mates Rosie and Tanya, and Robert Hiers, Gerald Melton and Noel Clements as the men in their lives, ACCC's Mamma Mia! is unlike any other production of the smash-hit Broadway musical you may have seen. It's a veritable who's who of Middle Tennessee community theater, many of whom have been playing together since the theater's founding in 1980 (or even before that date, considering that some of them were in high school together) and together with their younger castmates they create a fiercely entertaining, if sometimes unexpected, show that keeps audiences enthralled from start to finish.
Lindsey Mapes Duggin, last seen on the ACCC stage as Kathy Selden in the season-opening Singin' in the Rain, is perfectly cast as Sophie, Donna's daughter who (on the eve of her wedding) decides to determine who among three possible candidates is her birth father. It's a riotously funny set-up, to be sure, and Duggin and her onstage fiancé Wes Duffield (as Sky) lead the production's younger contingent with appealing good charm throughout the proceedings. Jordan Black (as Ali) and Miranda Hunter (as Lisa) are well-cast as Sophie's best pals, while Owen Langford (Pepper) and Daxton Patrick (Eddie) provide ample support as Sky's wingmen leading up to the wedding day. Among the younger contingent of actors, Jack Jones (the young man has so much stage presence you'll be hard-pressed not to focus on him every time he comes onstage), Sharon Bessant, Quantavius Rankins and Catalina Rice have standout moments.
But clearly, it's the "adults" among the cast who audiences have come to see cavort about the ACCC stage: Gregory is all business as Donna, but during her scenes with Enright and Clements we are given a glimpse into the younger woman whose decisions have brought everyone to this point in life. The chemistry between the three women is strongly felt and it's easy to suspend disbelief and imagine them all raising a ruckus across Europe back in the 1970s. Enright looks for all the world like Kathy Griffin's doppelganger, while Clements very nearly steals the entire show (lock, stock and barrel) as the flirtatious, oft-married Tanya.
Robert Hiers delivers a funny turn as Harry "Headbanger" Bright, while Gerald Melton is believable as adventurer/writer Bill Austin and Noel Clements is good as Sam Carmichael, the architect who broke Donna's heart all those years ago.
Deason stages the show with a certain sitcom-ish glee, which engages the audiences no end, and thanks to Regina Wilkerson Ward's swell choreography, the action continues unabated from start to finish, infusing the show with high-octane energy and ensuring the ensemble garners more than a little applause and adulation from the crowd. For example, we've rarely heard a more raucous response to "Lay All Your Love on Me" as we did for Ward's version and Act One's "Voulez-Vous" is showstopping (even if "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme" rivals it for sheer impact).
Mamma Mia! Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Anderson. Originally conceived by Judy Craymer. Directed by Darryl Deason. Musical direction by Robert Hiers. Choreographed by Regina Wilkerson Ward. Presented by Arts Center of Cannon County, Woodbury. Through September 1. For details, go to www. artscenterofcc.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).