MOM MIA! at the village theater
I realize, dear readers, that for some, ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” musical jukebox is not for them. Maybe they’re not ABBA fans or maybe they just don’t like to have fun, but either way, I can shamelessly say that I’m NOT the one of them. I’ve loved this show ever since it first danced into the world of musical theater in 1999. Beyond my love for the songs of the Swedish 70s pop group, this is one of those shows which demonstrates how a jukebox musical can work, seamlessly and inventively work the songs into the story. They don’t stop the story for a dance break unless they explicitly take that moment, but embrace the story with each song’s already narrative lyrics. But I’ve seen productions go wrong. This is by no means a bulletproof show. But for those like me who love the show, I can happily say that the current production at village theater embraces history, fun and glorious songs, and hits every wonderful note that makes this piece great, and more.
For those who’ve lived under a rock for 20 years, the story’s detours begin with Sophie (Varinique “V” Davis), a young girl about to marry her boyfriend Sky (Christian Quinto). She and her mother Donna (Lisa Estridge) lives on a small island in Greece and runs his mother’s tavern. But Sophie is eager to find out who her father is. After discovering her mother’s diary when she was conceived, she discovers that it could be one of the three men, Harry (Mark Emerson), Invoice (Nathaniel Tenenbaum), or Sat (Shabazz Green). In order to find out who it is, and unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie invites the three of them to the island for her wedding. And chaos ensues, all to the sound of ABBA’s foot-stomping, hip-shoving songs.
Director Faith Bennett Russell not only embraced the tone of these delightful numbers, but also the fun of their situations and messages. She staged it beautifully against the equally stunning Charles Murdock Lucas backdrop filled with flower curtains covering the facades of simple yet effective stone walls. And when combined with Brian TovarStunning island ambience lighting design and nightclub glamor are in full effect. But beyond the staging and the excellent choreography of Katy Tabb, Russell has incorporated the humor into the play especially when it comes to the antics of the three dads. And with the exceptional musical direction of Aaron M. Davis Norman and Andrew Panyou’ll have no choice but to jump to your feet for the mega-mix at the end to dance your ass off.
But it’s the cast that has to sell this joyful spectacle, and they handle it with glee. Let me first start by extending my congratulations to the whole thing. There are very few numbers in the show where the ensemble isn’t in full force lending their voices and dance moves and it’s their exuberance that solidified the fun of the night. You can see everyone has come to play and the fun they have on stage totally infects the joy the audience is feeling. There are no small roles in a great musical like this, only super talented backup singers who give it their all and sometimes manage to steal a scene or two. For example, Cy Paolantonio playing (what I assume was) Sky’s grandmother, and killing me every time she hobbled up on stage.
Now on to the adorable couple. I’ve seen enough productions where Sky and Sophie have absolutely zero, I mean zero, chemistry together, which makes you wonder, is this the first time these two have met? That’s not the case here. Davis and Quinto not only have crazy chemistry, but it’s actually pretty hot. And that’s what a young couple about to get married should have. So, congratulations on getting us all a little hot under the collar with your PDAs. But beyond affection, both are stunning. Davis has a power of voice and she let it fly many times. And the equally talented Quinto also pulled off some fantastic comedic moments that took the sky from a male prop on stage to a fleshed-out human.
Then there are the ladies. Donna is supported by her old friends and bandmates Rosie and Tanya (Be Russell and Trina Mills) and two best friends you can’t imagine. Each not only took their moments to shine, but also showed a close friendship with Donna. Estridge is now in the books as one of my favorite Donnas (and I’ve seen quite a few). His incredible voice is matched only by his acting skills and comedic timing and his letting go in the “Mamma Mia” number is worth the price of admission. Mills manages to channel her inner Diva for Tanya and completely sells “Does Your Mother Know?” And Russell took Rosie to whole new levels of awesomeness, making her a force of nature and killing her with “Take a Chance on Me.”
But it was the fathers who absolutely floored me. They’re certainly written as very different men, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen characters more distinctive and fully formed from these roles, let alone hilarious. Green is the most serious of the trio and the straight man in the room, but he still lets his individualism and self shine through. Emerson took the goofy but lovable nerd to a whole new level and made Harry a joy to watch. And Tenenbaum brought some incredibly funny moments with his incredibly deadly moves, making him my favorite Bill I’ve seen. And all three, of course, have amazing voices.
When all is said and done, there was no weak link in this show. From the opening introspective, Sophie’s “I want” moments to the shaking roof, the disco mega-mix at the end, this production is exactly what it should be, FUN! And so, with my three-letter grading system, I give village theaterThe production of “Mamma Mia!” a “Thank you for the music, for giving it to me” YAY+. An absolutely delicious and fun-filled evening!
“Mom Mia! » performs at village theater in Issaquah until July 10e before moving to their Everett location on July 15e until August 7e. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.