I look forward to every production I am privileged to see at Dundalk Community Theatre (DCT). Even the ones that are not my musical cup of tea are so well done that they usually change my mind – at least a little. So how cool is it that I got to see “Mama Mia”? I have never been a fan of ABBA, the 70s and 80s rock band that penned the music and lyrics (though it is Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, two of the four members who actually take the credit.) Having lived in Iceland for a year, where that band has the status of a deity and is played relentlessly, I was kinda soured on most of their songs through sheer repetition, so I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that musical absence does make the heart grow fonder. I really enjoyed this music – for the first time in decades.
The paper-thin plot by English playwright Catherine Johnson is tucked around some (most) of ABBA’s most popular songs, no mean feat. It’s as hokey as can be and yet, no one cares. Ms. Johnson managed to weave at least 24 songs into the action, and audiences have been lapping them up since the show debuted in London’s West End in 1999.
If you want plain, old-fashioned, toe-tapping, beautifully executed, melodically pleasing fun, go see this show!
Sophie is getting married at her mother’s taverna and inn on a little Greek island. Her mother is the former lead singer of a pop group called Donna and the Dynamos. She’s never revealed to Sophie exactly who her father is. When Sophie finds her mom’s diary from about the time Sophie was conceived, she hatches a hair-brained scheme to get the three most likely candidates for fatherhood to come to her wedding – without telling her mother. Mom’s two best friends, the three potential dads, Sophie’s two besties, her gorgeous fiancé and the two good-looking guys who work for Donna round out the principal cast. Spoiler – it has a happy ending.
My only complaint about John Desmone’s directing is that he doesn’t do nearly enough of it. I’ve been doing theatre for more than 50 years and I can honestly say Mr. Desmone is as good as it gets in Baltimore in an elite field of professional level local directors. He has done his usual superb job of casting, coordinating and creating magic on the DCT stage. Musical Director Nathan Scavila leads the orchestra with skill and panache. The group numbers all sound well rehearsed and there was nary a false note that I noticed – and I’m picky about those things. All things tech fall under the eagle-eye of Marc W. Smith, one of the most creative technical directors I’ve ever seen. I just wonder what he could come up with the multi-million-dollar budgets for set design they get on Broadway. Lights, scenic and sound design were all outstanding. Tracy Bird’s costumes were a welcome revelation that yes, you CAN coordinate colors on a large cast that actually all compliment rather than clash and do it with excellence. And Gary Marshall Dieter’s choreography is as clever, clean, bright, refreshing, innovative (tap-dancing swim fins?? Brilliant!) as anything I’ve seen on local stages.
Everyone on stage seems to be a triple threat, which, considering the size of the cast is impressive. If I start listing the attributes of everyone who stood out, this piece would be five pages long. The ensemble is one of the best of I’ve seen in a long time, singing and dancing like pros in every scene. I especially enjoyed “Does Your Mother Know” and “Lay All Your Love on Me” with the male ensemble and “Super Trouper” with all the girls. And the entire company does a knock ’em dead finale.
Connor Kiss and Alex DeVito are more than just eye candy, they’re funny and move well to boot. Lizzie Detar and Hunter Lubawski are just fine as besties and bridesmaids, both cute as buttons. Shane Lowry is perfect as fiancé Sky, but I wish the script had given him more to do. He sang and danced as well as everyone else, but it would have been nice to see more of him.
All three dads were well-cast for their roles. Greg Dohmeier’s tenor voice rang true in his duet with Donna on “Our Last Summer.” Edward J. Peters is perfection when he sings “Knowing Me Knowing You.” And Roger Shulman is fun and endearing when he teams with Andrea Wildason on “Take a Chance On Me.”
Rachel Weir plays a sophisticated cougar beauty who knows better than to get involved with the young’ uns. She reminded me of Broadway divas of yesterday, especially on her big number “Does Your Mother Know.” Pay attention, kids, cause this is how you sell a song. Lesson two comes from Andrea Wildason, who is as funny as she is talented. Her comedic timing is spot on. I giggled all the way through “Take A Chance on Me.”
Elisabeth Johnson as Sophie is lovely and connects well with her character. She is totally believable given the implausible script, has the vocal expertise to sing with control and never lets the music get ahead of her. But Ms. Tatiana Dalton’s character of Donna is the force that drives the show. Without a strong actor in the part, the whole thing would fall apart. DCT strikes gold with Tatiana. She can sing, dance, act, looks gorgeous, holds the audience in the palm of her hand from her opening number of “Money, Money, Money” to her show-stopping curtain song, “The Winner Takes it All” and makes it all look so effortless.
You want high drama, go see some other famous Swede’s work, like Ibsen or Strindberg. If you want plain, old-fashioned, toe-tapping, beautifully executed, melodically pleasing fun, go see this show!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
“Mama Mia” runs through May 19, 2019, at CCBC Dundalk, College Community Center, John E. Ravekes Theatre, 7200 Sollers Point Road, Baltimore, MD 21222. For tickets, call (443) 840-ARTS or click here to order online.