BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! at Sioux Empire Community Theatre
I had the chance to catch the SECT season opener, Mamma Mia!, last weekend and it was sensational! The cast, a great mixture of high energy women and men ranging in age from young 20 and 30-something newcomers to some SECT theatre mainstays, all came together and blew the roof off the Orpheum with this tribute to the Swedish mega-hit band. You can't help but sing (and dance) along to every song, because you know them all by heart.
Directed by long time local director Kim Bartling, Mamma Mia is a seventies summer road trip to a tiny Greek Island full of the ABBA songs we all grew up with. The familiar tunes are all woven together in a sweet love story about a young woman, Sophie Sheridan, played by Kieren Humke, on the eve of her wedding, her used-to-be diva rock star mom, Donna Sheridan, played by Kjerstin Smith, and the 3 men who may or not be Sophie's dad, Sam Carmichael, played by Paul Ridgeway, Harry Bright, played by Kevin C. Humke and Bill Austin, played by Rick Huffman.
Sophie (Kieren Humke) opens the show, singing a beautiful tune as she prepares for her upcoming wedding. She is soon joined by gal pals and bridesmaids , Ali, played by Madison Rimmer and Lisa, played by Alex Newcomb Weiland. Together they dial up the energy in anticipation of their best friends big day as they each strut their stuff to "Honey Honey" while reading Donna's diary and trying to figure out who Sophie's father might be based on the "dot dot dots" her mother wrote way back when. They are soon followed by the arrival of Donna's long time friends and bandmates "The Dynamos", Tanya, played by Sue Martens and Rosie, played by Kerri Smith. They bring even more energy and love for Donna as she struggles to cope with the stress of her daughters impending wedding day. It's easy to see the connection between mom and daughter with each of them surrounded by their girl tribes and best friends.
Highlights and stand out moments were many, so here are just a few of my favorites: I thought the stage pictures created during some of the dance numbers were wonderful. Especially "Money, Money, Money", "Our Last Summer" and "Gimme, Gimme" with the women's chorus surrounding the "Dads" in some awkward and hilarious moments. The flipper dance in "Lay All Your Love On Me" was another highlight and the male dancers killed it. In yet another standout number, Tanya (Martens) holds nothing back in her slightly naughty version of "Does Your Mother Know?" Martens, a longtime community theatre favorite, has too much fun with the male dancers, especially when Pepper, played by the sensational Marvin Moser, takes the stage. Moser is a force to be reckoned with, but Martens sets him straight with her impeccable voice and genius comedic timing. Sophie (Keiren Humke) showed her vocal chops when she pleads with her fiancé Sky played by Reid Determan in "The Name of the Game?" Another fantastic stage moment was the second act opener, as four cast members made their way to the front of the stage and serenaded the audience with a sweet ukulele rendition of "Mamma Mia." Perfection!
But the biggest show stoppers of the night in my opinion, were a tie between the dazzling dance and light show when Donna (Kjerstin Smith) and the Dynamo's reunite to sing "Super Trooper", complete with a giant mirror ball, sparkly blue disco costumes for the trio, a pop up surprise chorus from the balconies and lit jars that floated in from above and then were untied and used in the dance sequence. It was a "super" fun and spectacular touch to the classic ABBA song. And then there was the sizzling and sexy song "Take A Chance On Me" sung by Rosie (Kerri Smith) and Bill (Huffman). Smith is positively hilarious as she beguiles and seduces Huffman, another community theatre fav, and he is more than a willing participant. When she hops on his back and then slides down to crawl through his legs and lure him in "fishing style" and he "swims" to her, it was pure musical theatre magic and the crowd went wild!
Because this was a jukebox musical of sorts, without the talented choreography of Rebekah Merriman, many of the musical numbers could have easily fallen flat. Her intricate moves and expert staging elevated the songs to a whole new level and helped tell the story through dance just as much, if not more, than the music and the melodies.
The quaint set, designed by Jacob Habermann, immediately transports the audience to a small outdoor Greek taverna, complete with a stone patio featuring a beautifully painted inlaid medallion and the quintessential white stone facade with sea blue doors and trim and a small boardwalk/wooden dock that lines the front of the stage. The audience is also invited to get involved in the action on the patio even before the show starts as the dancers host a pre-show disco dance party while a DJ spins some 70's hits like "Brick House" and "Night Fever".
The costumes by Kendra Dexter and Janet Leisinger enhanced the effect a sultry night in Greece with cast members dancing and moving in gauzy, flowing summer dresses, skirts, flip flops and shorts that made you just want to hang onto summer a little longer. Later in the show the costumers crank up the volume even more and deliver the ABBA style outfits they were so well known for. (Spoiler alert... Don't leave right after the show ends or you'll miss even more dazzling costumes and ABBA hits!)
Technically there were issues with sound and some performers microphone levels were not balanced with the tracked music. Often times the music over powered the voices or vice versa. This is an annoying issue that presents itself when backing tracks are used and the performers are left at the mercy of just a sound man to adjust levels and volumes instead of having a live band and a conductor to bring the music to life, both instrumentally and vocally.
I have to give a huge pat on the back to director Kim Bartling and music director Amy Morrison for taking a chance (pun intended) on this diverse and talented group of people and bringing together young and (somewhat) older performers from the Sioux Falls community to bring this fantastic show to the stage. The energy they created both as an ensemble and in their individual performances was something special. "Thank you for the music!"
The show runs one more weekend, October 3-5. For ticket information, visit SiouxFallsTheatre.com or call 605-367-6000.