Theater Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ lights up Bucks Playhouse stage
To turn a phrase from the title song: “Here we go again ... “
And furthermore, “Mamma Mia!”: what a fizzy, fun, sunny musical, through Aug. 3, Bucks County Playhouse, New Hope. The June 30 opening night performance was reviewed.
In Broadway parlance, “Mamma Mia!” is a jukebox musical, whereby hit songs are packaged into a revue, strung together by an often biographical story about the group or singer of the hits.
“Mamma Mia!” is the title of a 1975 hit song by Swedish pop band, ABBA (the name an acronynm of the first letters of the first names of its group members, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad). ABBA frequently topped pop music record sales charts worldwide 1974-1982.
“Mamma Mia!,” while it is composed of some 22 hit ABBA songs written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, takes a different, more challenging and more original approach than many jukebox musicals. The fictional storyline has nothing to do with ABBA.
Instead, the songs work well with the story about a young female, Sophie Sheridan, on the eve of her wedding to Sky. Sophie has invited three former flames of her mother, Donna, who runs a hotel on a fictional Greek island.
The ABBA songs emphasize the emotions of the lead characters near-perfectly and amplify the plot in the book written by Catherine Johnson for the original production, which opened in London in 1999 and on Broadway in 2001. A film version of “Mamma Mia!” (2008) and the “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (2018) sequel starred Allentown’s Amanda Seyfried as Sophie Sheridan.
In the all-dancing, all-singing, all high-energy Bucks Playhouse production, Sara Masterson plays the ingenue lead, Sophie Sheridan.
Masterson plays the would-be bride with a wide-eyed innocence, exemplified by her lovely rendition of “I Have a Dream.”
Masterson duets confidentally on “Lay All Your Love on Me” with Sky (Devin Lewis) and the Male Ensemble.
Bucks Playhouse Artistic Associate Anna Louizos is Scenic Designer of the pleasing off-white and pastels hotel, restaurant area and bedroom, which are revealed on the turntable stage. Lighting Designer is Gina Scherr.
The first act has several high-powered production numbers, including “Money, Money, Money” and “Chiquitita” by Donna (Michelle Dawson), Tanya (Terra C. MacLeod), Rosie (Danielle Lee Greaves) and “Voulez-Vous” by the Company.
The energy builds and builds, especially with “Mamma Mia” by Dawson and Company and “Dancing Queen” by Dawson, MacLeod and Greaves.
The “Mamma Mia” number is especially clever as directed by John Tartaglia and choreographed by Shannon Lewis. Actors pop out of doors on the set, synchronized with the singing of the song’s chorus.
Tartaglia and Lewis have Dawson, MacLeod and Greaves vamp it up for “Dancing Queen,” with over-the-top turns that are hilarious.
Tartaglia strikes the right tone with the strong ensemble of Ryan Ballard, Taylor Broadard, Ian Campayno, Sy Chounchaisit, Alec Cohen, Jillian Hope Ferguson, Julia Joy, Kathleen Laituri, Francesca Mancuso, McKenzie Sherman, Greg Sim, Caden Thomas and Julius Williams. The dancers are exceptionally athletic.
During one number, the men, in swim trunks and yellow flippers, strut across the stage in a scene reminscent of Warner Bros. “Merrie Melodies” cartoon character Michigan J. Frog, who sang “Hello My Baby” in “One Froggy Evening” (1955).
Tartaglia doesn’t take the plot, the characters or the songs too seriously. He’s having fun with the show, and so will you.
At the same time, Dawson evokes empathy as Donna with vulnerabiity offset by powerful vocals, especially in the second act, which she owns, with the numbers, “One of Us,” a solo spotlight; “SOS,” with Sam (Michael Hunsaker, in powerful voice throughout); “Our Last Summer,” with Harry (Michael Dean Morgan, so silly in full-nerd mode); “Slipping Through My Fingers,” with Masterson, and the penultimate, “The Winner Takes It All,” a chill-bumps solo.
“Mamma Mia!” concludes with a built-in concert-like encore of “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo,” with the leads in Liberace-meets-Elton John meets Parliament-Funkadelic 1970s space-age, platform shoes, glam-rock outfits by Costume Designer Ashley Rose Horton. Hair and Wig Designer is Ashley Rae Callahan.
If you’re a fan of the music of ABBA or of “Mamma Mia!” the movie and its sequel, the Bucks County Playhouse production is, to reference another ABBA hit, “The Name of the Game.”
Tickets: Bucks County Playhouse box office, 70 S. Main St., New Hope; buckscountyplayhouse.org; 215-862-2121