REVIEW: Memorial Opera House’s ‘Mamma Mia!’ a sliver of paradise in NWI
By Jack Gardner
The hit jukebox musical sensation “Mamma Mia!” opened at Valparaiso’s Memorial Opera House as the show’s Northwest Indiana Premiere.
The musical, which is now possibly better known than the band, ABBA, whose music fuels the show, is Broadway’s ninth longest-running show. Luckily, Memorial Opera House captures the charm and lighthearted style that has elevated this show to its timeless status.
“Mamma Mia!,” now enjoying a sold-out run through July 28, features Kelly Collins as Sophie, the soon-to-be bride of Sky (played by Steven Mayersky) and daughter of Donna (portrayed by Heather Clark) the former “Dancing Queen,” front runner of “The Dynamos” and the current owner of a taverna on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi. Sophie invites three of her mother’s former lovers to her wedding, believing one of them to be her biological father, much to the chagrin of Donna. The ensuing drama and hilarity sees Sophie connecting with each of her would-be fathers, Harry played by Mark Williams, Adam Woolever as Bill, and Jordan Chaddok as Sam, and eventually deciding that three is better than one.
“Mamma Mia!” has the advantage and disadvantage of being a jukebox musical.
The advantage is that a story set to the soundtrack of one of the most influential pop groups makes for a great premise (as everyone imagines their lives set to the soundtrack of their favorite artists) and for great marketability. However, the disadvantage is having to contend with the already recorded versions of said songs and making these stage versions just as good. The Opera House definitely does not disappoint in this department, thanks to their talented cast, including the ensemble which supported every song with their wonderful backing vocals. Additionally, the eight piece orchestra, conducted by Chris Stalbaum, delivered all of ABBA’s classics with a flare that does justice to the original hits and perfectly compliments the stage.
While the story of “Mamma Mia!” is not the strongest element of this spectacle, Memorial Opera House delivers a cheesy, yet sweet tone that will leave you grinning from ear to ear more than once during the run time of about two hours. The set, which is a very stylized and colorful representation of a Greek oceanside terrace, creates an environment that feels like an ideal, picturesque paradise vacation. Vicki Zimmerman-Gleason, who not only designed the set, but also directed this production, has built Donna’s taverna to be more dreamlike, but not without small accents to keep the world grounded, such as the clay roofing tiles typical of any small, Greek town.
The standout performances come from Clark and Chaddock as Donna and Sam. Their well-rounded talent holds the momentum from each song and scene of dialogue to the next. However, the show sags under the weight of the sheer amount of songs featured. At times, song after song begins to wear down the pacing, especially when the show dips into some of the lesser known ABBA tracks. Although, the aspect that kept pulling my attention back to the stage was the excellent choreography courtesy of Molly Vass. Additionally, every new number saw a tweak to the costuming of the ensemble, designed by Scot PJ MacDonald, in some amusing ways to fit the theme of the song. Whether it be the featured dancers or the goofy exploits of Garet Paul as Eddie and Nate Hendricks as Pepper, there was always something to latch onto during any given number.
Ultimately, Memorial Opera House’s “Mamma Mia!” is the perfect feel-good experience to enjoy on a relaxing summer evening. As far as community theatre goes, the Opera House delivers a show that, while corny, is entirely charming and entertaining beginning to end. While “Mamma Mia!” is being produced frequently and will most likely continue to be produced or the foreseeable eternity, Memorial Opera House proves itself as an iteration of this timeless story worth revisiting.
FYI: Tickets start at $20 at www.memorialoperahouse.com or at 219-548-9137