If you have not already bought your tickets for the electrifying U.S. Tour of Mamma Mia! — now playing Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as part of the Broadway Series South series, what on earth are you waiting for? This brilliant West End and Broadway rock musical, with book by Catherine Johnson and music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, plus some songs co-written with Stig Anderson and additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch, is an invigorating and thoroughly entertaining piece of musical theater that brought the Tuesday night audience to its feet for a raucous standing ovation that spanned three songs: exuberant encores of “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen” and a surprise rendition of “Waterloo,” the song that won the April 6, 1974 Eurovision Song Contest for ABBA and started the Swedish super-group on the road to international stardom.
The current touring version of Mamma Mia! — produced by Judy Craymer, Richard East, Björn Ulvaeus, and Littlestar Ltd., in association with Universal Music Group — is staged with brio by director Phyllida Lloyd and choreographed with lots of sass by choreographer Anthony Van Laast—both of whom staged the still-running Broadway production of Mamma Mia! The show features musical supervision by Martin Koch, production design by Mark Thompson, lighting design by Howard Harrison, and sound design by Andrew Bruce (and Bobby Aitken) — all of whom were part of the original Broadway creative team.
The show also boasts stellar performances by Laurie Wells, who plays single mother Donna Sheridan; Carrie Manolakos, who portrays her spunky 20-year-old daughter Sophie; and Sean Allan Krill, who plays American architect Sam Carmichael, one of three possible dads whom Sophie invites to her upcoming wedding in order to find out which one of them is her father.
Laurie Wells is an exceptional actress and singer, equally adept a delivering a punch line with snap and imbuing a lyric from bygone disco days with an impressive depth of feeling. Her Donna is somehow fiercely independent, yet vulnerable to her former beaus, especially Sam.
Carrie Manolakos is cute as a bug as Sophie, the vivacious bride-to-be whose bright idea to invite Donna’s boyfriends from the summer of love during which she was conceived — without telling Donna—sends the mother of the bride’s blood pressure soaring, even as her heart beats just a little faster in memory of those long-ago romantic trysts.
Sean Allan Krill is absolutely charming as Sam, a divorced father of two who has never put down the torch that he once carried for Donna. Krill creates a warm and winning and fully three-dimensional character, whereas Milo Shandel and Ian Simpson, who play Australian outdoors writer Bill Austin and British banker Harry Bright, the other two men who might have fathered Sophie, milk every laugh from roles written to provide comic relief. Bill, who is a balding version of Crocodile Dundee, and especially Harry, whose youthful nickname was “Headbanger,” get guaranteed guffaws every time they strike their poses.
Lisa Mandel and Laura Ware, who portray Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s best friends and long-ago band mates in Donna and the Dynamos, likewise have roles written to tickle the audience’s funny bone. Mandel is a tall, leggy blonde bombshell who proves that sexy middle-aged women can still rock the world of boys half their age; and Ware is a pudgy, glasses-wearing parody of all those middle-aged women who have let themselves go, but have not lost their killer sense of humor.
Corey Greenan is delightful as Sophie’s fiancé Sky; Robert Pendilla and Chauncey Jenkins are amusing as Sky’s buddies Pepper and Eddie, who work for Donna at her taverna on a magical Greek island while not ogling Tanya; Cathryn Basile (subbing for Tiffani Barbour) and Karla L. Beard are cute as Sophie’s friends and bridesmaids Ali and Lisa; and Brad Wills adds a nice comic cameo as Father Alexandrios, who arrives to officiate at Sky and Sophie’s wedding, only to find the taverna in turmoil.
The terrific tour orchestra, led by music director Susan Draus and associate music director Bill Congdon, makes beautiful (and very loud) music with four keyboard players (Draus, Congdon, Emily Witt, and Chris Sargent), two guitarists (Tim Morey and Steve Roberts), an electric bassist (Paul Pasmore), a drummer (Jeff MacPherson), and a percussionist (Mark Mule) pounding out a contagious rhythm. With Mamma Mia! not only is the music gonna get you; but this charming story of love lost and found again, 20 years later, will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling and, just maybe, reaching for your handkerchief. Don’t miss it!
Broadway Series South presents Mamma Mia! Thursday-Friday, April 20-21, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 22, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 23, at 2 and 7 p.m. Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $24-$76. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=10610. Mamma Mia! (Official Web Site): http://www.mamma-mia.com/index.html [inactive 8/06]. Mamma Mia! (U.S. Tour): http://www.mamma-mia.com/ustour/ustour.asp [inactive 8/06].