Thank You for the Music. . .and the Singing. . .and the Dancing. . .and the Fun

Sophie is getting married and she wants her father to give her away.  The problem is she doesn’t know who he is, but has it narrowed down to 3 candidates.  She could ask her mom, but she doesn’t know which of the 3 it is either.  Which dad gets the honor?  Find out in Mamma Mia!, currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

I’ve always thought there was a certain genius to this script.  Catherine Johnson managed to create a musical that is almost devoid of plot (the mystery of the fathers is introduced at the top of the show and then almost forgotten about until Act II), but is so packed with fun that nobody really gives a hoot. The play’s appeal lies in the classic ABBA numbers whose lyrics are used to move the play along.

Brandon McShaffrey provides a remarkable piece of direction to this musical.  He adds a lot of little touches and flourishes that make the show far more than a jukebox musical.  He manages to make the show feel realistic by adding dramatic moments, sweet moments, and funny moments.  In short, he has transformed it into a slice of life production.  He’s also guided his actors to strong, vital performances and they are characters as opposed to caricatures.

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than seeing a supporting musical cast that gives their all to a show.  It adds such a crucial dimension to a musical.  Without it, a show will collapse.  This cast not only fueled the show with a vibrant energy, but they were obviously having fun and a particularly infectious kind as it spread throughout the audience as the night progressed.

Some standout members of the supporting cast include Maria Konstantinidis and Megan Opalinski as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna.  Ms Konstantinidis is delightfully vain as the snobbish Tanya while Ms Opalinski had the crowd roaring as the fiercely liberated, yet man-hungry Rosie.  Both women have beautiful singing voices and harmonize well, providing memorable moments in harmony with “Dancing Queen” and in solos such as Ms Konstantinidis’ turn in “Does Your Mother Know” and Ms Opalinski’s take on “Take a Chance on Me”.

Other strong performances come from Trevor Berger who is sweet and sincere as Sophie’s fiancée, Sky, and Danny Vaccaro as Harry Bright, a former headbanger (at least in his mind) now turned wealthy stuffed shirt with a heart of gold.

Megan Arrington is splendid in the role of Sophie.  She does an excellent job presenting Sophie’s search for that missing part of her identity, but she also manages to bring a, oh, let’s call it duplicitous mischief to the role.  Sophie is a bit underhanded as she lies to her fathers to get them to come to her wedding, keeps almost everyone in the dark as to their inclusion, and the wedding may actually be a scheme to discover the identity of her dad.  But there is nothing diabolical about her actions.  Sophie just wants to understand herself completely.

Miss Arrington possesses a gorgeous upper alto/lower soprano and she shines in numbers such as “I Have a Dream” and “The Name of the Game”.

Faith Sandberg sizzles as Donna.  She definitely embodies 70s flower power as she boldly and unapologetically lives life as a single, entrepreneurial mother.  She lives life on her terms and anyone who disagrees with it can get to stepping.  But she also brings a deep sensitivity to the character and has a tangible love for her daughter.  Ms Sandberg turns her songs into performance pieces as she acts through them as opposed to simply singing.  Some of her shining moments come with her renditions of “Mamma Mia!”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “Our Last Summer”.

Alan Gillespie gets the character with the most arc as Sam Carmichael.  Sam actually has a genuine story and Gillespie plays it for all its worth as he adds lovely emotional beats and even adds a touch of haunting sadness to Sam.  Gillespie also has a powerful tenor voice and has one of the night’s most memorable numbers in “S.O.S.”.

David Foster provides an impeccable piece of choreography.  Not only are his dancers silky smooth, but the choreography is also original, fun, and even funny, especially with the male ensemble’s work in “Lay All Your Love on Me”.  Shon Causer’s lights really enhance the scenes, especially the use of light and shadows when characters give private monologues.  Star Turner has designed a nice little villa which evokes a feeling of age and dilapidation.  Kevin Casey and his orchestra provide a tuneful night of entertainment.

This show is exactly what it presents itself as:  a pure unadulterated fun fest.  You’ll feel good by the time the night is through and if you’re not having fun, well, I suspect you probably don’t have a pulse.

Mamma Mia! plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 8.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 24, July 3, 7 and 2pm on June 24, 26-27, 30, July 6, 8.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

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