Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia! is a colorful, fun-filled spectacle. With Music and Lyrics by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Book by Catherine Johnson, the musical, based on the classic ABBA songs, is the ninth longest-running show in Broadway history. Indeed, this version, directed by Jennifer Cooper, with musical direction by Jessica Deskin and choreography by Pauline Lamb, is sold out for its month-long run. It is a wonderful way to end their season.

Andrea Ostrowski Wildason, Traci Denhardt, and Alica B. Sweeney in ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Alison Harbaugh.

Karlee Allen plays Sophie, the daughter of Donna (Traci Denhardt) with a youthful energy. She and her friends Ali (Grace Mueller) and Lisa (Sierra Basilio), visiting for her upcoming wedding, laugh at all the “dot, dot, dots” in her mother’s diary about the men she writes about dating. They dance across the stage in “Honey, Honey” in pure delight. Allen also shows intensity and determination, though, whether in “The Name of the Game” trying to convince her possible father Bill (John Andrew Rose) to tell her mother his suspicions, or in “Lay All Your Love on Me”, a steamy, sensual dance with her fiancé Sky (Christian Zelaznog). In “Under Attack,” she weaves between the three men who could be her father, pulled by each of them.

Traci Denhardt plays Donna with a fierce independence. On first seeing Sophie’s possible three fathers, she races down the steps, singing “Mamma Mia” with equal parts joy and surprise. She angrily dismisses Sam (Wayne Doyle), wanting nothing to do with him, singing of her pain and heartbreak in a heartrending “The Winner Takes It All.” She takes center stage in “Money, Money, Money” stamping her foot at her lack of funds. “Super Trouper” is a joyful song with her friends Tanya (Alicia B. Sweeney) and Rosie (Andrea Ostrowski Wildason), recreating their good old days.

Alicia B. Sweeney gives great comic timing to Tanya. She dominates the stage in “Does Your Mother Know,” shimmying with pool boy Pepper (Drew Looney) before hurtling him to the ground. Andrea Ostrowski Wildason gives Rosie an independent streak that gets challenged. She begins “Take a Chance on Me” in surprise at herself, declaring her love for Bill (John Andrew Rose), before becoming confident and chasing him around the stage. Both Sweeney and Wildason comfort a despondent Denhardt in “Chiquitita,” pulling off her blanket and giving her booze. “Dancing Queen” has the three of them grooving and cheering Denhardt up.

Wayne Doyle plays Sam with a vulnerability. After realizing Donna hadn’t invited him, he sits to the side as others sing, looking worried. He sings to Allen of his divorce in “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” a heartrending song. His duet with Denhardt in “SOS” is touching, as he sings of the love they had.

Josh Mooney gives a quiet strength to Harry, one of Sophie’s possible fathers. He sings joyfully in “Thank You for the Music” of happy memories, and “Our Last Summer” is a touching song of their relationship.

Sierra Basilio, Karlee Allen, and Grace Mueller in ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Alison Harbaugh.

John Andrew Rose plays Bill with great comedy. He races offstage after realizing Allen’s plans, and tries to flee Wildason’s declarations in “Take a Chance on Me.” Cristina Shunk’s reactions as Minister Alexandra during the wedding are hilarious.

Set Designer Dan Snyder has created a set that makes the audience feel like they’re right in Greece, with a weather-beaten cottage in the middle, in white paint and blue trim. Steps on the right lead to French doors, while another staircase leads to a terrace on the second story. To the far right is a covered archway, with tables and chairs, while on the left is an open-air wooden vineyard where the musicians are. In the front center of the stage, a long wooden dock extends into the audience, lined by light bulbs.

Costume Designer Lisa Chadwick makes simple outfits that help distinguish each character. Donna begins the show in denim overalls, later changing to a floral summer dress. Sophie starts in a blue summer dress, later wearing a shiny silver dress, and then a white top and black and white skirt, as well as a gorgeous white wedding dress. Tanya starts in an elegant dress and high heels, later changing into a pink bikini top and blue sarong. Harry wears a beige sports jacket and khakis, later changing into a blue dress shirt and grey trousers. Bill wears a series of tropical shirts and baggy khakis, while Sam wears a blue short-sleeve shirt and khakis. For one number, some in the cast wear turquoise ABBA-style outfits.

Lighting Designer John H. Purnell does a fantastic job with lights, creating all sorts of beautiful effects that highlight the action onstage. During “Money, Money, Money” red lights shine. In “Voulez Vous” purple light washes the stage, making the performers look mysterious. Waves of different colors shine over the stage throughout “I Have A Dream,” making for a lovely ending to the show. Sound Designer Bill Reinhardt ensures the performers and music can be heard, and throws out sound effects, like wedding bells.

Music Director Jessica Deskin has the music going strong. With Ken Kimble serving as Conductor, the musicians blend the catchy, toe-tapping music with the performers’ singing to make a gorgeous sound. Choreographer Pauline Lamb makes lovely movements for the performers, with lifts and twirls. “Lay All Your Love on Me” and “Under Attack” have especially intricate, powerful dances. During intermission, Dance Captains Sierra Basilio and Drew Looney teach the audience the choreography for the encore number. Jennifer Cooper has done a wonderful job as Director. The performers perfectly navigate the stage and each other. They hit all the right emotional moments, giving the songs their all. You’ll want to shout “Opa” at this show!

Running Time: Approximately 2 and a half hours, with a 20-minute intermission.

Mamma Mia! plays through September 1, 2019 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise Street in Annapolis, MD. To see if tickets are available, check at the door, call the box office at (410) 268-9212 or check online.

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