The 2007 North America tour of Mamma Mia!, which continues Nov. 2-4 Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, is the best Mamma Mia! yet and one of the most invigorating and entertaining offerings to date from Broadway Series South. Last night’s high-octane performance was frequently interrupted by applause and concluded to a raucous hand-clapping, toe-tapping standing ovation that went on and on and on.
Produced by Judy Craymer, Richard East, and Björn Ulvaeus for Littlestar Ltd., in association with Universal Music Group, Mamma Mia! spotlights a charming multigenerational love story penned by Catherine Johnson and set to a veritable hit parade of classic rock songs by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of the Swedish super-group ABBA (1972-82), plus some songs co-written with Stig Anderson and additional material and arrangements by musical supervisor Martin Koch.
Even if you saw Mamma Mia! when it played Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in 2004 and 2006, director Phyllida Lloyd and choreographer Anthony Van Laast have put enough refreshing new wrinkles in the 2007 tour to make revisiting this Broadway hit worth your while. Lloyd and Van Laast not only have assembled a crackerjack cast, but also have set a brisk pace for this exuberant production.
Mary Jayne Raleigh is a real spitfire as independent single mom and struggling Greek taverna owner and operator Donna Sheridan; and Vicki Noon is a real charmer as her impetuous 20-year-old daughter Sophie, who snoops in her mother’s diary for the year she was conceived and then secretly invites three of her mom’s old flames to her upcoming wedding in hopes that she will be able to recognize which one of them is her father.
The most likely candidate is tall and ruggedly handsome American architect Sam Carmichael (played Thursday by Mark Campbell, subbing for Sean Allan Krill). The others are oddball Australian outdoors writer Bill Austin (Milo Shandel) and effete British banker Harry “Head Banger” Bright (Ian Simpson). Sam and Donna parted on the worst of terms, and Mark Campbell and Mary Jayne Raleigh don’t quite have the volatile “I love you, I hate you” romantic chemistry needed — but both of them sing superbly.
Milo Shandel and Ian Simpson create the truly unforgettable offbeat characters that form the other two sides of this long-ago love quadrangle with great wit and infectious high spirits. Allison Briner is a stitch—indeed, she gives a Carol Burnett-like slapstick performance—as Donna’s fumbling feminist best friend and former band-mate Rosie, and Christine Sherrill is one really sexy middle-aged mama as Donna’s other best friend and former band-mate Tanya. The reunion of Donna, Rosie, and Tanya as Donna and the Dynamos—encased in lurid spandex and wobbling on mile-high platform shoes—is one of the very highest points of an evening of high points.
Timothy Ware is hunky but a bit bland as Sophie’s fiancé Sky; Enrico S. Rodriguez and Anthony Cefala are hilarious as Donna’s employees Pepper the horndog and Eddie the master manipulator; and Erica Dorfler (subbing for Rebecca Covington) and Sarah Katherine Mason are cute as Sophie’s best friends and bridesmaids Ali and Lisa.
The hard-rocking accompaniment by musical director/conductor Susan Draus (keyboard), associate musical director Bill Congdon (keyboard), Emily Witt (keyboard), Tim Morey (guitar), Darren Poirier (guitar), Paul Pasmore (electric bass), Jeff MacPherson (drums), and Mark Mule (percussion) kept Raleigh Memorial Auditorium jumping Thursday night; and these marvelous musicians combine with director Phyllida Lloyd, choreographer Anthony Van Laast, and an energetic and highly expressive cast and the visually striking production design by Mark Thompson, lighting design by Howard Harrison, and sound design by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken to make Mamma Mia! as much, if not more, of a must-see musical the third time around as it was when it first brought Broadway Series South audiences to their feet on March 9, 2004.
Broadway Series South presents Mamma Mia! Friday, Nov. 2, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 3, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $26-$76. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio-describe the 8 p.m. Nov. 3rd performance. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Show: http://www.mamma-mia.com/default.asp [inactive 9/09] (official web site) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=10610 (Internet Broadway Database). The Tour: http://www.mamma-mia.com/ustour/ustour.asp [inactive 9/09]. The Film: http://www.mamma-mia.com/movie.asp?sec=movie [inactive 9/09] (official web site) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0795421/ (Internet Movie Database).