The musical Mamma Mia! is playing in Frederick, Maryland for the first time at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre. If opening night is any indication, WOB has a hit on its hands.
Director Jordan Stocksdale (music director, set design) makes the story interesting on several levels. First is the story of a young lady who would like her unknown father to give her away at her wedding. Mamma has not discussed paternity for two decades, so daughter does some snooping to contrive a hit list of potential candidates. Then there are stories within the story as mamma confronts 20 years of searing and loss and how a cookbook brings a singer and adventurer together. Finally, and easy for the theatergoer to miss, is the story behind the story. That is the biography of the rise and fall of ABBA members’ relationships through the 70s.
ABBA was a Swedish pop group formed in 1972. The group’s name is an acronym of the first letters of the members’ first names. It became one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, topping the charts worldwide from 1974 to 1982. Catherine Johnson wrote the original musical.
Alexis Krey portrays Sophie, the daughter in search of her dad. Krey’s highlight is “The Name of the Game” with one of her potential biological fathers, Bill (Zane Oberholzer.) She is often featured with her best friends Ali (Becca Sears) and Lisa (Carol Niedringhaus). This is Sears’ first performance with WOB and her dancing is spectacular. Jacob Hale is Sophie’s lover Sky.
WOB-mainstay Jessica Billones’ plays Donna, i.e., Mamma, opening night. Her acting, dancing and singing deserve to be showcased. Her upbeat performance of “Chiquitita” with her former back-up “Dynamos,” Tanya (Jamie Lea Kiska) and Rosie (Sarah Melinda), and “Dancing Queen” are show stoppers. The threesome are WOB regulars.
Michael Reid is outstanding as the salacious Sam – Donna’s lost love of 20 years. His “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is well done.
Melinda’s rendition of “Take a Chance on Me,” with Oberholzer is fabulous. The singing, dancing, and comedy, as well as Bill’s facial and body reactions to Rosie’s sleazy advances, are worth the price of admission.
All of the music comes from ABBA. The upbeat songs, such as “I do, I do, I do” were written when the band members were either in love or falling in love in the early- to mid-70s. Those songs written past 1979 come as the male/female relationships have or were falling apart. One example is “Voulez Vous” a song and dance performed by the entire company at the end of Act I setting up a troubled Act II.
Dee Buchanan, WOB’s resident choreographer, works with a cast including several veterans and a couple of high school students. The cast and ensemble are magnificent in their jukebox-type numbers. The closing numbers involve the full company and showcase the talent.
Stocksdale and Bill Kiska’s set provides a surprising amount of versatility. It opens with a pier in front center stage most actors enter and eventually exit on. Stage left has a door with the mailbox attached and a small wall behind it. Backstage, left to right, is the Greek taverna Donna owns. Stage right has a table in the corner and a door front stage. The center of the stage is usually a plaza.
A few scenes into the first act, stage left implodes – the door and wall disappear. That space is used for props, such as beds or dressing screens, allowing center stage more flexibility for story-telling. What was stage left is now the backstage.
Mamma Mia! is a fun musical through which complex themes of love, hate, revenge, and coming of age are examined. Billones as Donna, in particular, plays a full array of emotions before realizing she has never overcome her past and this might be her last chance.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission