REVIEW: Mega Musical MAMMA MIA! Returns to Baltimore

It was three years ago that Mamma-Mia! last played Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre. Are there still enough fans who either haven't seen it or still desire to see it again?  The answer is a resounding yes!

On a rainy, raw Tuesday evening, Nov. 24, 2009, close to 2,000 Mamma-Mia! maniacs packed the restored Hippodrome Theatre, and almost all the remaining performances until Sunday evening, Nov. 30 are selling well.  So, is this tour version worth the ticket price? Absolutely!!

Some have called the tour of this hit musical "The Mini-Mia" and the name does fit to a degree.  The cast is a little smaller, the orchestra has fewer instruments, there is no raked stage, there is no rising deck used in two scenes as  in the Broadway version, no huge moon to light up the audience at the end of the show, only the curtain at the beginning of Act II has the psychedelic light show versus the entire theater on Broadway, and finally during "Voulez-Vous", there are no lights on the floor to highlight the great Anthony Van Laast  choreography (sorely missed in the film).

Even so, if you are part of the few musical theater aficionados who have not had the good fortune to see this hit ABBA inspired show, you will not be disappointed in the least.

The story of a young girl about to marry on a Greek Island who is searching for her real father (there are three possible Dads) is loosely based on the wonderful  Gina Lollobrigida 1968 film "Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell," in which three former GI's (Phil Silvers, Peter Lawford, and Telly Savalas) each think they are the father of Mrs. Campbell's child.

The child here is named Sophie, played by Liana Hunt, who is a recent graduate of New York University's prestigious CAP 21 program, which churns out terrific musical theater talent. A note about Hunt's looks. I have noticed that most actresses in this role are blonde.  It's always nice to see a Sophie who resembles the model used on the poster.

The story by Catherine Johnson uses the musical library of Sweden's composers extraordinaire, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (the two B's of ABBA) to move the story forward.  Lyrics from the hit song "Chiquitita" sung to Sophie's mom, Donna Sheridan (played by the talented Michelle Dawson) by her former two members of the all girl band "Donna and the Dominos", Rosie (played by the funny Kittra Wynn Coomer) and her sexy side-kick Tanya (Rachel Tyler) include the line "...and the wedding is tomorrow" (which it is!!).  This line almost always gets a laugh.  Donna sings to her former beau about their times together in Paris ("Our Last Summer") and sings "...And now you're working in a bank, the family man, the football  fan, and your name is HARRY!" (Which it is, played by Michael Aaron Lindner).  Unfortunately on opening night, Lindner's microphone malfunctioned and he was unobtrusively given a  hand mike which really complicated what normally is a very moving scene.  The audience graciously gave him a nice hand has he continued the song as if he was a crooner.

Sophie's two other possible dads are Sam Carmichael (played by John Hemphill) and Bill Austin (Martin Kildare). For some reason, the latter character has always been from Australia a la Crocodile Dundee. Maybe Kildare had trouble with the accent or not but here he's an American playing a character dressed like he was the lead in the film "Indiana Jones". I did find it strange though when he first meets Sophie he says "G'day" like he's Australian.

There are other highlights in the cast. Sophie's two best  friends are played by Ayme Olivo (Lisa) and Monette McKay (Ali). McKay could become a big star. She truly steals the opening number "Honey, Honey". When she's on stage, it's hard to keep your eyes off her.

Playing Sophie's intended, Sky, is Adam Jacobs. It's a shame this character only really gets one big number in Act I "Lay All Your Love on Me".  Michael Roberts McKee is Eddie who helps Donna with her Taverna. He demonstrates not only that he possesses great comedic talent, a good voice, and is a great dancer.

However, what you will remember from your evening in the theater is the fabulous ensemble.  Whether it's in the infectious "Money, Money, Money", the terrific  "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" or, my favorite of them all, "Voulez-vous", they dance and sing their hearts out. Their spirit and energy just engulfs the stage. So here's to the almost always under-appreciated members of the talented ensemble: Stephani Barnum, Katy Blake, Sara Braslow (Dance Captain,swing), Lyndsey Cole, Jane Cooke, Vincent Corazza, Donell James Foreman, Kevin Thomas Garcia (swing), Eric Giancola (Assistant Dance Captain, swing), Elena Gutierrez (swing), Carole Denise Jones, Geoffrey Hemingway, Leah Joseph, Jennifer Noth, David Reiser, Matthew Tyler, Bradley Whitfield, and John-Michael Zuerlein.  They somehow do this eight shows a week. Kudos to you all!

So much of a musical of course depends on the musicians. The original Music Director on Broadway, David Holcenberg, continues on as Associate Music Supervisor. In the pit conducting is Bill Congdon. He is surrounded with some talented musicians: Faith Seetoo, Wendell Vaughn, and Lauren McGee (with Mary Sugar on some nights) on the keyboards, Tim Morey and Darren Poirier on guitars, Paul Pasmore on electric bass, Jeff MacPherson on drums, and Mark Mule on percussion (I love those chimes at the conclusion).  Without this crew, the show wouldn't happen.

There are, however, a few items I had problems with.  For whatever reason, the comedic part given to Rosie has been changed a bit so it's now too broad. There's more shtick than I think is necessary. What surprised me at the of the show, she accepts money from Tanya betting that a character in the show was really gay.  I didn't think this added anything.

Changing the national origin of Bill Austin from Australian to American I think is a mistake. I really like the idea of the three men being American, British, and Australian.

At the end of Act I, just after "Voulez-Vous" when Sophie is faced with the question who is really her dad, we heard over the loudspeaker, "Please remain in your seats for an important announcement." And what was it?  A jewelry store promotion demonstrating a couple getting engaged in a box seat. Was this necessary?

Finally, this is the time of the year when actors promote the charity "Broadway Cares, Equity Fights Aids". So come prepared to donate. You can also get your photo taken with cast members, buy autographed posters, and purchase other memorabilia--all for charity.

For tickets, call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

To learn more about the show, visit the website www.mamma-mia.com.

 Mamma -Mia! is returning to the Baltimore/Washington area playing at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia July 7-11, 2010. Visit www.wolftrap.org/summer.

Next up at the Hippodrome (from Dec. 16-27) is Dreamgirls which is coming straight from New York's Apollo Theater. I caught a glimpse of the "Dreams" on the CBS coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade and was quite impressed. Visit WWW.DREAMGIRLSONSTAGE.COM.

For comments, write to cgshubow@broadwayworld.com.

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From This Author Charles Shubow

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