Take A Chance on It . . .

Sophie is getting married and she’s inviting her dad.  The trouble is that she doesn’t know who he is.  Using her mother’s diary, she has discovered three possible candidates, but will she be able to discover which one, if any, is her pop before her big day?  This is the story of Mamma Mia! written by Catherine Johnson with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Mamma Mia! is one of those shows that’s short on story, but long on fun.  It’s a crowd pleasing, raucous romp where the tale is meant to take a back seat to the music.  But I promise you that you’ll be singing along and bopping to the ABBA tunes interpreted by Jim Boggess and his superior orchestra long before the night is through.  The show is strengthened remarkably by the direction of Jeff Horger who kept the energy and joy flowing through his cast and maximized a few serious moments along the way.  It also doesn’t hurt that Horger’s cast includes a slew of some of the finest talent in local musical theatre.

Frankly, I thought the work of the ensemble was worth the price of admission on its own.  If you took away the rest of the cast and just had to watch the shenanigans, antics, and singing of the chorus, it would still be a great time.  They are that good.  It’s some of the best harmonizing I’ve heard in a show and be on the lookout for Marcus Benzel as Dionysus.  Without uttering a single word, he tells a fantastic story through facial expressions and body language.

There are so many strong performances in the supporting cast that it’s hard to know where to begin.  For starters, there’s the work of Brendan Brown and Justin Eller who show some impressive comedic chops with their roles of Eddie and Pepper, the “help” at the Villa Donna.  Angela Jenson-Frey and Emily Peklo sparkle as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna, and her former singing partners.  Ms Jenson-Frey is tremendous as the shallow and snobby, but good-hearted, Tanya and Ms Peklo is a hoot as the tomboyish Rosie.  Both ladies also have fabulous altos which they put to good use in “Dancing Queen” as well as in solo moments, specifically “Does Your Mother Know?” for Ms Jenson-Frey and “Take A Chance on Me” for Ms Peklo.

Jacob Roman and Mike Palmreuter entertain as 2 potential candidates for Sophie’s father.  Palmreuter plays Bill, a travel writer with a major phobia for commitment while Roman plays Harry, a successful British banker whose headbanging leaves something to be desired.  Roman has a particularly lovely tenor which soars in “One Last Summer”.

Victoria Luther gives a winning performance with her take on Sophie.  Ms Luther brings a real sweetness and honesty to the role.  There’s really nothing terribly sneaky about her plan to invite her possible fathers to her wedding.  Once she meets them, she’s actually mostly up front about why she invited them.  Ms Luther can also belt a tune as her soprano kept batting musical pitches in numbers such as “Honey, Honey”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Slipping Through My Fingers”.

Sarah Ebke is a force as Donna, Sophie’s mother.  Ms Ebke’s Donna is an independent woman used to standing on her own two feet as she raised a daughter plus single-handedly ran a hotel.  But she’s also a very dedicated mother and a very sensitive soul.  Ms Ebke’s magnificent alto got many of the night’s best numbers including “Mamma Mia”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “One of Us”.

Adam Hogston has, arguably, the most well developed character in the form of Sam.  Hogston’s Sam is clearly still in love with Donna and Hogston displays a mighty emotional range and haunting emotional vulnerability as he wrestles with the multifaceted feelings wrought by his love from his nervousness about seeing Donna again to talking about the dissolution of his marriage with Sophie.  Hogston’s tenor will really touch hearts especially with his melancholic rendition of “S.O.S.”.

Jim Othuse opts for a simpler set with a hotel that evokes images of a Spanish villa and a dock with a view of the sea.  His lighting was also right on the mark with their changes with the emotional beats of the play.  Darin Kuehler’s properties added just the right touch, especially the pictures and items in Donna’s room.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are varied and strong from the beachwear, to the ABBAesque costumes seen at the curtain call and Sophie’s bachelorette party, to the hideous leisure suits worn by the potential papas at the start of Act II.  Melanie Walter’s choreography is a wonder.  Her dancers are satin smooth and I was especially impressed with the comedic swimwear number that kicked off Act II plus the curtain call number.

Mamma Mia! delivers exactly what it promises and that’s a rip roaring good time.  The songs are memorable and the dancing is entrancing.  A nearly full house seemed to agree with my assessment and another Playhouse hit seems to be on the horizon.  Oh, and I can already see the T.A.G. nomination for Best Ensemble for that curtain call.

Mamma Mia! plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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