BWW Review: Entertaining but Staid MAMMA MIA! At Theatre by The Sea

BWW Review: Entertaining but Staid MAMMA MIA! At Theatre by The Sea

If you take a second to think about it, MAMMA MIA is a very strange musical. Based on the musical catalog of Swedish superstars ABBA, it takes place on a Greek island where nearly everyone is American. Classic ABBA hits (with minor lyrical changes) are shoehorned into a skimpy plot, but somehow, probably since this show doesn't take itself too seriously, it all works. Theatre by The Sea in summer is the perfect venue for a show like this, especially since the audience is likely to also be dressed in the type of summer resort-wear the cast is also wearing. The whole vibe is a bit like a fancy summer camp with really good singers. The only real hiccup with this production, oddly, is the direction and choreography of TBTS's Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill. Hill has directed many exceptional shows over the years (Sister Act, The Music Man, The Wizard of Oz), but the blocking and lack of movement in key moments caused the show to drag in certain spots.

Mamma Mia begins with 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Malia Monk) one month before her wedding to Sky (Nick Walker Jones). Sophie was raised by a single mother who never told her who her father is. As luck would have it, Sophie recently found her mother's old diary and managed to deduce the names of three potential fathers. She decides to invite them all to her wedding (by putting her mother's name on the invitation) to see if she can figure out her true patronage before getting married. Needless to say, this is rather jarring for her mother, who is then forced to confront some old feelings and choices when her old loves arrive on her island.

Across the board, the performances in this show are phenomenal. Those familiar with ABBA's catalog will know that their songs can be incredibly difficult to sing and require an impressive vocal range, and Erica Mansfield as Donna Sheridan (Sophie's mom) belts out several heartfelt and flawless numbers over the course of the show--from "Dancing Queen" to "The Winner Takes it All" she delivers 100%. Monk is also sweet and well-meaning as Sophie with a beautiful clear soprano that handles the high end of the scale with tremendous ease. Her cover of "Under Attack" is particularly well executed and includes a well-choreographed nightmare sequence.

Jeannette Bayardelle, who was phenomenal in last year's Sister Act, steals every scene as Donna's friend from her lounge singing days--Rosie. The combination of Bayardelle and Tari Kelly who plays Donna's other friend, Tanya, can't miss. The two of them have an impish delight in every scene they're in, in particular their duet of "Chiquitita" is laugh-out-loud hysterical, and shows the lengths friends will go to cheer one another up when there's boy trouble.

Despite the hilarity of many of the scenes, and the high level of energy from the ensemble dancers, there are several moments in this show that just drag. Donna and one of Sophie's potential dads--Sam, have the most unresolved issues, and have many heartfelt duets trying to work things out. Unfortunately, these duets include no movement of any kind, just the two of them standing on stage either singing to each other or the audience. Certainly an elaborate dance number during a heartfelt song makes no sense, but instead they just stand there for up to three minutes staring at each other. The first time it happens, it's a bit bizarre, the next few times, it just seems lazy. In particular, during "The Winner Takes it All", since there's nothing else for the audience to really focus in on, one pays particular attention to the lyrics, which is also pretty distracting. That song wasn't written about Sam and Donna for this musical, instead there are several lyrics that don't quite match up with their story, which sadly undermines the feeling the scene is trying to invoke.

Overall, this is a lovely and fun summer show with a few hiccups. Kyle Dixon's sets evoke the perfect feeling of a Greek island and a beachy taverna, but unfortunately make the already narrow stage look even narrower, so those sat in the wings find their view obscured occasionally when actors move upstage, and the whole stage feels oddly crowded at times. However, the songs and musical performances are the reason to see this show and they are top notch. It's almost overwhelming how many amazing songs ABBA generated, and Mamma Mia is the perfect show for fans of fantastic pop music.

Photo: Jeannette Bayardelle (Rosie), Erica Mansfield (Donna), and Tari Kelly (Tanya). Photos by Steven Richard Photography.

Mamma Mia! continues at Theatre By The Sea through July 21. Performances are scheduled for Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, Thursdays at 2:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 and Sundays at 5:00 pm, with special added matinee performances on Tuesday, July 3 at 2:00 pm, Sunday, July 8 at 1:00 pm, Wednesday, July 11 at 2:00 pm and Wednesday July 18 at 2:00 pm. The theatre is located at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield. Tickets range in price from $52 - $75 (additional fees may apply). Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm, Sundays from 12 noon - 5:00 pm and performance days until curtain, online 24-hours-a-day at www.theatrebythesea.com and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (866) 811-4111 or (401) 782-TKTS (8587).

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From This Author Andria Tieman

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