“Mamma mia, here I go again/My my, how can I resist you?” So goes the infectious loop that’s been playing nonstop in my brain since the North American tour of Mamma Mia! — that frisky jukebox musical by British playwright Catherine Johnson and ABBA alumni Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus — opened on Tuesday night at the new 2,800-seat Durham Performing Arts Center. Like the overwhelming majority of DPAC patrons, who feverishly applauded individual numbers and saluted production and its high-octane encores with a lengthy standing ovation, I found this imaginative and exuberant staging of Mamma Mia! as fresh as a bright summer day on the tiny Greek island, where the show is set, and funnier than I remember. This may be Mamma Mia’s fourth visit to the Triangle, but the latest tune-up by director Phyllida Lloyd and choreographer Anthony Van Laast refreshes and reinvigorates this 1999 West End and 2001 Broadway hit, which is still the toast of London and New York City.
Understudy Jennifer Noth, ably subbing for star Michelle Dawson, gave a passionate performance as indomitable single mom Donna Sheridan, one-time feminist front-woman for Donna and the Dynamos and currently struggling proprietor of the island taverna where she lives with her daughter Sophie (the utterly charming Liana Hunt). When 20-year-old Sophie impulsively decides that she wants to tie the knot with her boyfriend Sky (dashing Adam Jacobs), she invites three of her mother’s former boyfriends to her nuptials, hoping that she will instinctively know which one of them is her dad.
The terrific trio of John-Michael Zuerlein (substituting for Martin Kildare) as plucky Australian outdoors writer Bill Austin, Michael Aaron Lindner as stuffy British banker Harry “Head Banger” Bright, and John Hemphill as soulful American architect Sam Carmichael give Sophie three intriguing possibilities. The actors also prove to be perfect foils for Noth and Kittra Wynn Coomer as the zaftig Rosie and Rachel Tyler as the sultry much-married Tanya, Donna’s best friends and former band-mates. This splendid sextet puts a fine polish on every comic gem in their portion of the script.
Other standouts include Adam Michael Kaokept as Pepper, Michael Roberts McKee as Eddie, Leah Joseph (subbing for Monette McKay) as Ali, and Nicole Laurenzi as Lisa.
Outstanding comic actors and vocalists — who can bust a move when they have to — combine with the vivacity of the show’s musical staging and its exceptional production values — by production designer Mark Thompson, lighting designer Howard Harrison, and sound designers Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken — to make the current edition of Mamma Mia! irresistible — as in “Mamma mia, here I go again/My my, how can I resist you?” Whether you are seeing Mamma Mia! for the first time or the fourth time, the catchy tunes and saucy lyrics from this crowd-pleasing potpourri of ABBA’s greatest hits will be hard to forget.
Mamma Mia! runs through Jan. 31st at the Durham Performing Arts Center. See our theatre calendar for details.