Celeste Vonderschmitt, Grace Greenwell, Katie Kiefer. Photo: Andrew McCawley

Mamma Mia!

Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus     
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Charlie Meredith

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

On a remote island, located on the Aegean Sea, at a beautifully quaint taverna, Sophie (Grace Greenwell), a lovely and precocious bride-to-be, just wants the perfect White Wedding. And like many weddings, she wants her father to walk her down the aisle and give her away. But, here’s the problem, she doesn’t know who her dad is. So she pilfers through her mother Donna’s (Julie Riehm McGuffey) diary, narrowing the possibilities to three men: Harry Bright (Jared Burton), Bill Austin (Michael J. Drury), or Sam Carmichael (Sean Donaldson). Sophie begins the quest to learn about her father by inviting them to her wedding under the pretense that the invitations are from her mother.

The wedding week has arrived and so have many of the guests, which include Sophie’s friends Ali (Celeste Vanderschmitt) and Lisa (Katie Kiefer), as well as Donna’s life-long friends and fellow dynamos Tanya (Anna Meade) and Rosie (Sydney Magers). After the guests get situated Sophie’s fiancé Sky (Alex Roby) comes calling to check on the wedding preparations with his best men in tow, including Donna’s hard-working crew: Pepper (Remy Sisk) and Eddie (Michael Detmer). The strong-willed and able Donna keeps the shenanigans in check and keeps Sky and the others occupied so as not to be in the way.

Just as things seemed to be quiet Donna’s past came to call. The next boat that came to port would include all three of Sophie’s suspected fathers. Upon their arrival, Sophie tried her best to distance them from her mother but to no avail. As Donna ran into each ghost of her past she was flooded with memories and emotions, especially with Sam. One by one Sophie shared with each man the possibility that she could be their daughter and each one was happily accepting of it and each wanting to give their daughter away. Secrets can’t be held for long, of course, and Donna soon learns of the real reason that her exes are on the island, as does Sky and the situation jeopardizes the wedding. But that would make for a short and unfulfilling Broadway musical, wouldn’t it? Do Sophie and Sky find their “happily ever after”? Is Bill, Harry or Sam really Sophie’s father? And what was Donna like in her younger years and what has kept her on the island?

Featuring some of the greatest hits of the supergroup ABBA, Mamma Mia! is a smorgasbord of memorable lyrics and danceable melodies. Songs like “Super Trouper”, Knowing Me, Knowing You”, Money, Money, Money” and “I Have a Dream” are standards that help to drive the storyline.

Acting Against Cancer and Music Director Bill McConnell was fortunate to find some actors who could sing ABBA pretty well. Ms. Greenwell’s Sophie and her songs were fitting and appropriate for her range as she added a wonderful level of youth and spontaneity. Julie Riehm McGuffey is no stranger to the stage and lit up the night as Donna. Despite rushing “The Winner Takes It All” a bit, she reeled you into the emotion that her character was experiencing in the scene. Sydney Mager’s “Take A Chance on Me” with Michael J. Drury was a ton of fun. You could see the sparkle in their eyes of the amusement they were having on stage. It took a little while but Sean Donaldson’s Sam started to emerge as the character I’ve grown accustomed to him being: remorseful and wanting his life-long love back. Also, it was nice to hear his vocal training being used in a non-classical way. There were a couple of songs, “Money, Money, Money” for instance, during which the background singers were having a very hard time with higher pitches where it would have been better to just drop an octave for comfort and delivery.

Remy Sisk did fantastic work as the show’s choreographer, even making special concessions for one of the members of the ensemble. Despite there being some moments where not everyone seemed to be in synch, the energy was always high, and, holy cow, watching the men of the ensemble dance in certain regalia of island life, well, that was a sight to behold and appreciate.

Jesse Alford’s remarkable lighting found just the right hues of light to suggest the sea or make the outside of the taverna party central. Speaking of the taverna, Corie Caudill, Nick Potter, and Michael Detmer did an admirable job of the construction and I really liked it, but other than the color of the framework and the shutters that reflect the blue of the sea, there was nothing that shouted out to me being a Greek structure. Perhaps some additions of Greek statues or Greek symbols in the trim would have helped. Costuming was perfect and reflected the island lifestyle.

The band assembled under Mr. McConnell’s direction included Jessica Bullock, Chris Harbeson, Benji Simmons, Michael Vettaino, Zach Groves, Dave Neill, and Catlyn Simmons. While the band was pretty tight throughout, the overture was very electric guitar heavy. Occasionally that would happen in other songs. I am not sure if it was a soundboard issue or not, but it was a distraction.

Honestly, despite these little bug-a-boos, Charlie Meredith’s direction was good and I was ready to become a “Dancing Queen” and join the cast on stage. I have really enjoyed watching this troupe get better and better with each show that they produce!

Bravi Tutti!!

Mamma Mia!

December 21 – January 5 @ 8:00pm
December 23 & 30 @ 2:00pm

Acting Against Cancer
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202


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.