Review: "Mammia Mia" at Connecticut Repertory Theatre

(Photo by Gerry Goodstein)

(Photo by Gerry Goodstein)

  • Tim Leininger, Contributing Critic - Connecticut/New York

Storrs, CT - An exceptional leading cast of women and confident direction by Terrence Mann has made Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” a delightful show.

I doubt that there is anyone out there who will ever say that Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’ musical “Mamma Mia!” is one of the greatest musicals of all time, but it’s definitely one of the more successful musicals. It does hold the record for longest running jukebox musical of all time, having run almost 14 years before closing in 2015.

The music is fun, especially for anyone who loves the music of ABBA and there is plenty of it with songs like “Dancing Queen,” “Voulez-Vous,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself dancing in the aisles with the cast members by the end.

If you’re not familiar with the show or haven’t seen the wildly popular film version starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, “Mamma Mia!” tells the story of Sophie (Kelly McCarty) who is about to marry Sky (Mason Reeves), but wants her father to walk her down the aisle. 

The problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is, so she has invited to the wedding three men who her mother, Donna (Jessica Hendy), had romantic encounters in the right time frame to have conceived her. She hopes that by meeting them she may be able to deduce her father’s identity.

What makes this production of “Mamma Mia!” enjoyable is total commitment of the cast, particularly the women in the show, to the absurdity of ABBA’s music being part of its narrative.

From the beginning, when McCarty arrives by boat singing “I Have a Dream” and sings “Honey, Honey” with her two friends Ali (Torie D’Alessandro) and Lisa (Helen Shen), she jumps headfirst into the total cheesiness of the show.

The same goes with Hendy’s Donna and her friends Tanya (Lauren Blackman) and Rosie (Jennifer Cody). The three women all dive into their roles with a delicious glee that in almost any other musical would feel excessive. 

That level of commitment by the cast, giving that extra 10 percent to make it as big and broad as possible without making it too ridiculous, is what is necessary to have “Mamma Mia!” work. The ‘70s pop-disco movement is already campy enough that without performances to match the colorful nature of the music it becomes disjointed and incomprehensible.

Mann has done a good job of getting his cast to commit to that level of zany, musical comedy and embrace the reality and the truthfulness that exists within a world where breaking out and singing “Super “Trouper” makes sense.

The production does have a few weak points, not uncommon during summer stock shows, mostly during dance numbers where there are a couple actors who aren’t quite confident in their moves. This is no slight to choreographers Mary Ann Lamb and Jessica Walker, who have created some splendid dance numbers, particularly “Voulez-Vous,” but another couple dance rehearsals would have helped lock in some of the dancing.

The casting is a little dubious at times. Not that Jamie Colburn or Rob Barnes do a bad job as potential fathers of Sophie, Bill Austin and Harry Bright respectively, but they look much younger and closer to Sophie’s age than Donna’s. If they could have looked a little older, it would have added to the believability that Donna would have had relationships with these men instead of possibly raising them.

“Mamma Mia!” is a ridiculous show. It’s silly, light, musical comedy. But with the deft direction of Mann and some dedicated performances, particularly by the women, “Mamma Mia!” is far more delectable a show than what may could happen with a weaker creative team.

Mamma Mia!

Theater: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre

Location: 2132 Hillside Road, Storrs

Production: Music & Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and some songs by Stig Anderson; Book by Catherine Johnson; Originally Conceived by Judy Craymer; Directed by Terrence Mann; Costume Design by Fan Zhang; Music Direction by Geraldine Anello; Scenic Design by Tim Brown; Choreography by Mary Ann Lamb & Jessica Walker; Sound Design by Michael Vincent Skinner; Lighting Design by Timothy Reed; Technical Direction by John Parmelee

Show times: Evening: Tuesday through Thursday 7 p.m., Friday and Sunday 8 p.m. Matinee: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday 2 p.m.

Tickets: $15 to $60. Available online at www.crt.uconn.edu, by phone at 860-486-2113, or at the box office.