BWW Review: MAMMA MIA at At The Welk Resort Theatre
The Welk Resort Theatre's production of Mamma Mia is a cheerful high energy entertainment, a worthy example of why the musical has been a favorite of many dozens of production companies around the world since its 1999 London premiere. The story is set on the Greek island of Kalokairi where we learn that Sophie, a 20-year-old bride-to-be, doesn't know who her father is. She's secretly read in her mother Donna's diary that it must be one of three men Donna had brief affairs with 20 years ago. Determined to find out which one it is, Sophie has invited them to her wedding without telling her mother.
The possible dads are caricatures of an Australian adventurer and writer, a British banker, and an American architect. They are played in a likeable lighthearted manner by Lance Arthur Smith, Mike Bradford, and David S. Humphrey respectively.
Donna's friends Rosie (Nancy Snow Carr) and Tanya have also been invited to the wedding. In their younger days the three had sung as a disco group called the Dynamos. The entire wedding party is staying at the villa Donna owns and runs, which becomes the scene for reminiscences, arguments and romantic entanglements. The plot is built around 25 songs recorded by ABBA in the 70s, hits like "Take a Chance on Me," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Name of the game," and "Dancing Queen."
The Welk Theatre's cast of 19 singers and dancers made the audience wish disco still dominated the music charts. ABBA's catchy tunes were delivered with delightful
conviction. and good-natured humor infused acting and spirited dancing. Misty Cotton (Donna) has a voice of theater-filling power, and Olivia Hodson is excellent as her daughter Sophie. Hodson has a lovely pop-music voice, with an occasional flash of Broadway power, and was believable as a vivacious young woman alternately delighted by the prospect of marriage and anxious to know who will walk her down the aisle. Her fiancé Sky is played by Richard Bermudez who projected carefree confidence, enhanced by well-worked pecs and abs.
Barbara Schoenhofer has played Tanya several times before and makes the character's mix of temptress and comedian one of this production's delights. Cougarish Schoenhofer and a youthful Chris Bona as Pepper got laughs and enthusiastic applause with ABBA's arch "Does Your Mother Know." More laughs came during a beach-front scene as four young men, including Pepper, bounced impishly around the set in scuba gear that included ridiculously clumsy duck-like fins.
Most cast members double as dancers and or backup singers. Non-speaking ensemble dancer Lindsey Denham's constant motion and liveliness typified the entire cast's enthusiasm. Keyboardist Justin Gray heads a big-sounding five-piece group that also includes synthesizer, percussion, guitar and base. Colorful disco-era costumes designed by Winfield Murdock add further excitement and variety.
Director Larry Raben and choreographer Karl Warden make sure driving upbeat music and a busy stage dominate the production. But quieter dramatic scenes provide needed changes of pace, a trick-of-the-trade many action-movie directors need to learn.
Lawrence Welk died in 1992. Recognizing that younger theater goers are needed to offset the shrinking number of those who remember the once popular band leader, the Welk Theatre has been staging a wider range of productions and recently completed a remodeling of the theater lobby, greatly reducing the number of Welk photos and memorabilia. Mamma Mia and the upcoming production of Menopause herald a new strategy that will emphasize popular Broadway musicals. If they are as entertaining as the current production of Mamma Mia, an increasing number of theater goers may find it worth learning the route up interstate 15 from San Diego to Escondido. A theater package adds dinner to the evening for an extra $20, but maestro Welk was not famous for fine cuisine, trademark champagne-bubbles notwithstanding.
Mamma Mia runs through February 24th. Menopause begins in June, 2019. See schedule and ticket information at the Welk Resort website.
Photos courtesy Welk Resort Theatre.