Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Jillian Prefach, & Elizabeth Loos in Mamma Mia! Photo courtesy Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
We know the songs: “Money, Money, Money”, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “Take a Chance on Me”. Or, how about “Chiquitita” or “Voulez Vous”? “Dancing Queen”?
I kid, I kid. Many of us know the pop group ABBA, whose heyday was during the disco/pop era of the 1970’s to early 80’s. The group, comprised by Swedish couples Anni-Fred Lyngstad/Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus /Agnetha Fältskog, ABBA produced hit after hit, with their music playing in some of the best discotheques and their concerts selling out the world over. But as with so many marriages, the couples split up and ABBA was no more. Fortunately for us, by incorporating the premise of a book by Catherine Johnson and some of ABBA’s best-known songs, the Broadway smash Mamma Mia! was born and a subsequent movie, too. I hear there is actually a Mamma Mia 2 movie about to be released as well.
On a remote Greek island, as Sophie Sheridan (Kayla Eilers) prepares to marry her love, Sky (Nate Willey), she dreams (“I Have a Dream”) of a perfect wedding that would include being walked down the aisle by her father. But who is it? When her best friends Ali (Embry Theilmeier) and Lisa (Cami Glauser Bibelhauser) show up for the wedding, Sophie admits that she read through her mother’s diary and discovered that there are three men who COULD be her father: Bill (Matthew Brennan), Harry (Bobby Conte), or Sam (Stuart May), and that she sent each of them an invitation to the wedding, not as her guest but as her mother Donna’s (Jillian Prefach). As they all arrive Sophie quickly learns that the mystery of which man is her father is going to be a little harder to solve than she thought.
As Donna’s best friends Tanya (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) and Rosie (Elizabeth Moos) arrive on the island to celebrate the wedding, it does not take long before the ex-lovers are spotted, which causes Donna to panic while trying to remain calm for her young daughter’s big day. As Sophie meets with her “dads” she finds herself asking each of them to walk her down the aisle and all gladly accept. But the question still remains, who is Sophie’s father? When the special hour arrives, things get turned upside down when revelations and life-changing admissions are shared among the guests.
As with many musicals, there needs to be a high level of energy and Derby Dinner Playhouse did a great job of assembling a very talented group of entertainers that had the audience ready to jump onto the stage at any time to join in on the fun. Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography was pretty darn close to what I remember seeing on Broadway and the ensemble did a remarkable job of using every inch of the stage with impressive gymnastics and hilarious tableaus.
Part of that troupe would be Adam Raque as Eddie and Brian Cedric Jones as Pepper. While these two didn’t have a lot of lines and were on stage for a short amount of time, they showed great exuberance and abilities. The same can be said for Mr. Willey’s Sky. He shares some lovely moments that with Ms. Eilers and sophomoric frivolity with his mates that suit the celebration well.
Matthew Brennan’s take on “Dad Bill” was charming, with a pretty good Aussie accent and a solid Land Down Under look. While Bobby Conte’s “Dad Harry” struggled a little with his accent (Harry is from Britain, but Mr. Conte’s dialect was something like New England meets Britannia), he was absolutely delightful as he reminisced about his time as a Headbanger and did well to hide his truth. Stuart May’s “Dad Sam” took a little while to get revved up vocally, but when he did, he was full throttle to the end.
Part of the storyline of Mamma Mia! is that best friends Donna, Tanya, and Rosie used to perform as Donna and The Dynamos. I can tell you that this trio gave the audience a great insight to how good they were, back in the day. Despite Ms. Hutchins looking and sounding like Cher sometimes, she certainly showed style, talent, and attitude. While she doesn’t have what I would consider a classical voice, Elizabeth Loos continues to impress me, taking ownership of “Take A Chance On Me” and diving headlong into all of the other ensemble pieces. Also, she doesn’t seem afraid to take a risk on stage when it comes to physical comedy. Jillian Prefach certainly released her inner ABBA with her take on Donna, belting out these hits like they were her own.
Kayla Eilers’ Sophie was delightful. Her style of singing was perfect for this role and had an air of dreaminess and the lilt of love. While she may seem to be naïve because of her age, make no mistake, this girl knows what she wants and Ms. Eilers’ did well in representing that side of the character.
Musical Director Scott Bradley did a great job with the limited instrumentation, although there were times that I wondered if the accompaniment was being played on an 88-keyboard or an old Casio 64. Part of that very well could have been a snag in the sound system. Also, another bugaboo that I had about the performance was the pre-recorded vocal layering. There were a handful of instances that I heard the layering more than the live performers.
Lee Buckholz and his stage design team did well in creating a makeshift boat dock of the Derby Dinner Playhouse stage. Sharon Murray Harrah’s costumes had an island feel to be sure and the clothing at the big final dance was far out.
Mamma Mia! is certainly one of those musicals that, as Cary Wiger pointed out in his stage announcements, will have you want to join in and sing and dance along. He’s right; I couldn’t help myself to not lip-synch along with a few songs during the finale.
You will want to be a “Dancing Queen” at Derby Dinner Playhouse and Mamma Mia!
February 21 – April 8, 2018
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.