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Review: MAMMA MIA! at Village Theatre

The ABBA hit show sparkles at Village.

Review: MAMMA MIA! at Village Theatre
Trina Mills, Varinique "V" Davis, Lisa Estridge,
and Be Russell in Village Theatre's Mamma Mia!
Photo credit: Gabriel Corey.

I am aware, Dear Readers, that for some the ABBA jukebox musical "Mamma Mia" is not for them. Maybe they aren't fans of ABBA or maybe they just don't like fun but whatever the case, I can unabashedly state that I am NOT one of them. I've adored this show since it first danced into the musical theater world back in 1999. Beyond my love for the songs of the 70's Swedish pop group, this is one of those shows that demonstrates how a jukebox musical can work, by seamlessly and inventively working the songs into the story. They don't halt the story for a dance break, unless explicitly taking that moment, but embrace the story with the already storytelling lyrics of each song. But I have seen productions go awry. It is by no means a bulletproof show. But for those that, like me, love the show I can happily proclaim that the current production at Village Theatre embraces the story, the fun, and the glorious songs, and hits every wonderful note that makes this piece great, and then some.

For those living under a rock for the past 20 years, the hijinks of the story start with Sophie (Varinique "V" Davis), a young girl about to get married to her boyfriend Sky (Christian Quinto). She and her mother Donna (Lisa Estridge) live on a small island in Greece and run her mother's taverna. But Sophie has longed to know who her father is. After discovering her mother's diary from around when she was conceived, she discovers that it could be one of three men, Harry (Mark Emerson), Bill (Nathaniel Tenenbaum), or Sam (Shabazz Green). In an effort to discover which one it is, and unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie invites all three of them to the island for her wedding. And the chaos ensues all set to the toe tapping, hip thrusting songs of ABBA.

Director Faith Bennett Russell has not only embraced the tone of these delicious numbers but also the fun of their situations and messages. She has staged this beautifully on Charles Murdock Lucas' equally beautiful set filled with curtains of flowers covering the simple yet effective stone wall facades. And when combined with Brian Tovar's stunning lighting design the feel of the islands and the glamour of a disco are in full force. But beyond the staging and excellent choreography from Katy Tabb, Russell has incorporated the humor of the piece especially when it comes to the antics of the three dads. And with the outstanding music direction from Aaron M. Davis Norman and Andrew Pang, you'll have no choice but to leap to your feet for the mega-mix at the end to dance your butt off.

Review: MAMMA MIA! at Village Theatre
Lisa Estridge as Donna Sheridan with
the cast in Village Theatre's Mamma Mia!
Photo credit: Gabriel Corey.

But it's the cast that has to sell this joyful spectacle and they manage it with glee. First let me start off by extending my kudos to the ensemble. There are very few numbers in the show where the ensemble isn't out in force lending their voices and dance moves and it's their exuberance that solidified the fun of the night. You can see that each and every one came to play and the fun they're having on stage totally infects the joy the audience is experiencing. There are no small parts in a big musical like this, only super talented chorus boys and girls giving it their all and sometimes managing to steal a scene or two. Case in point, Cy Paolantonio playing (what I assume was) Sky's Grandmother, and killing me each time she hobbled onto stage.

Now let's turn to the lovely couple. I've seen enough productions of this where Sky and Sophie have absolutely no, I mean zero, chemistry together making you wonder, is this the first time these two are meeting? That is not the case here. Davis and Quinto not only have insane chemistry but it's actually quite steamy. And that's what a young, about to be married couple should have. So, well done in getting all of us a little hot under the collar with your PDAs. But beyond the affection, the two are stunners. Davis has a powerhouse of a voice and she let it fly repeatedly. And Quinto, equally talented, also managed some fantastic side-eye, comedic moments that took sky from male prop on stage to fleshed out human.

Review: MAMMA MIA! at Village Theatre
Shabazz Green, Lisa Estridge, Mark Emerson, and
Nathaniel Tenenbaum in Village Theatre's Mamma Mia!
Photo credit: Gabriel Corey.

Then there are the ladies. Donna is backed up by her old friends and band mates Rosie and Tanya (Be Russell and Trina Mills) and two better friends you cannot imagine. Each not only took their moments to shine but also showed off a tight friendship with Donna. Estridge is now going down in the books as one of my favorite Donnas (and I've seen quite a few). Her incredible voice is only matched by her acting chops and comedic timing and her letting loose in the "Mamma Mia" number is worth the price of admission. Mills manages to channel her inner Diva for Tanya and completely sells "Does Your Mother Know?" And Russell took Rosie to whole new levels of awesome making her a force of nature and killing it with "Take a Chance on Me".

But it was the dads that absolutely floored me. They're certainly written as very different men, but I don't think I've ever seen more distinctive and fully formed characters from those roles, not to mention hilarious. Green is the more serious of the trio and the straight man of the piece but still let his individualism and self shine through. Emerson took the awkward but lovable nerd to a whole new level and made Harry a delight to watch. And Tenenbaum brought in some insanely fun moments along with his insanely killer moves making him my favorite Bill I've seen. And all three, of course, have amazing voices.

When it's all said and done, there was not a weak link in this show. From the opening introspective, "I want" moments of Sophie to the roof shaking, disco mega-mix at the end, this production is exactly what it needs to be, FUN! And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Village Theatre's production of "Mamma Mia!" a "Thank you for the music, for giving it me" YAY+. An utterly delightful and joy filled evening!

"Mamma Mia!" performs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through July 10th before moving to their Everett location running July 15th through August 7th. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.



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From This Author - Jay Irwin