- New Jersey Contributing Critic
It is hard to argue that Mamma Mia at Plays in the Park in Edison, NJ, directed by Moggie Davis, is not incredibly cheesy but that is exactly what makes this show so much fun. Plays in the Park is an annual occurrence every summer in Middlesex County where over 500 patrons each night come to see theatre under the stars at an affordable price. As I looked around the open-air theatre, at the rows that stretched back past what I could see, I thought of how theatre has the remarkable ability to bring so many different people together on a Wednesday night to enjoy something that is joyful. Mamma Mia doesn’t have much substance to its script but shows such as this one are important to the scope of musical theatre and are needed in this bleak world that we inhabit.
The best part of Plays in the Park is the ten-member orchestra, conducted by Warren Helms, providing live music. The set was simple yet effective with docks extending the stage on both sides and a painted backdrop and awning. Sophie, played by Shannen Doyle, had impeccable comedic timing as she delivered multiple one-liners. Her singing on some songs was better than others, as some songs were slightly out of her range. Doyle sounded absolutely beautiful on “Lay All Your Love On Me.” Donna, played by Wanda Toro Turini embodied the character in every way which made it very clear why she was cast in this role. Her singing was strong on every song as she showed both her tough and sensitive side. She had excellent chemistry with the actors playing Tanya and Rosie (Cindy Chait and Katie Riley respectively). The three of them shone during their big number, “Super Trouper,” as Donna and the Supremes. Another standout included Joe Riley’s strong acting, guitar playing and fantastic British accent as Harry Bright.
It is also worth noting that the best numbers were the full company numbers. This was due to the excellent supporting ensemble cast who backed up many of the well-known ABBA songs. The choreography, by Christy Rak, fits the show well- it was campy, fun, and clean.
Mamma Mia is an excellent choice for outdoor theatre and is well worth the drive to Plays in the Park. The show runs until July 21th. Enjoy your night under the stars as you listen to, “Dancing Queen,” and other classics!