Seeing the Wonder in Stage 62’s Mamma Mia!

By Eva Phillips

There is an embarrassing truth that should be addressed before I embark on a review of Stage 62’s Mamma Mia! I could write about Mamma Mia! in my sleep—not just because of the sheer number of times I’ve seen the show (and it is perhaps a record-breaking number of times). I feel as if most of my life has been a version of Mamma Mia!, whether playing the ABBA Gold CD to death in the car with my parents as a backdrop for delirious holiday squabbles and melancholy over lost sport games or lost friends. I knew every word of nearly every ABBA song before I memorized every state capital and Presidents (and I have infinitely more confidence in my knowledge of the former). I won’t say that my mother said I could sing long before I could talk, but, you know, I could.

So, I didn’t embark on Stage 62’s take on the tried-and-true, exquisitely flamboyant Mamma Mia! expecting to be surprised at all—even if you aren’t as obsessively familiar with ABBA’s oeuvre as I or some others are, the show has a comforting rhythm and expertly-orchestrated predictability that makes the show a piece of pop-art that can be easily and enthusiastically consumed. That being said, Stage 62’s Mamma Mia!, is an absolute delight that, dare I say, surprised me at times and delighted me throughout.

It isn’t particularly crucial to delve into the story of Mamma Mia!, as many are already quite familiar; and those who are not should get to enjoy the silly, campy joy of it in person. The nuts and bolts of Stage 62’s adaptation are as simple and they are effective. The minimalist set, designed with aplomb by Rob James, is a visual feast without overpowering—it manages to capture the palisade of the remote Greece where the story unfolds, while still being subdued enough to allow the players their full, outlandish reign of the stage. Similarly, Costume Designer Jessica Kavanagh masters dazzling simplicity, outfitting the characters in wardrobes that enliven and enrich the fantasy and camp of the musical.

One chink in the proverbial armor of the cast of Mamma Mia! can completely ruin the experience. While the musical certainly has a collection of  “lead characters,” Mamma Mia! is truly an ensemble effort, and the enthusiasm, ability, and timing must be possessed equally by every member of the cast. The exuberant and skillful cast that has brought Stage 62’s Mamma Mia! to life transcends the baseline necessity of superb performances. It feels unjust to point out any one or two standouts in a cast so exceptional across the board, but to enumerate every cast member’s respective strengths and unique contributions to the show would turn a review into a dissertation. To save time, I’ll restrict myself to singing the praises of a select few. Missy Moreno and Sara Barbisch are indomitably irresistible as Rosie and Tanya (respectively), the bawdy yet golden-hearted best friends of Donna Sheridan, who also were the Michelle and Kelly to Donna’s Beyonce back in their girl group glory days. Moreno and Barbisch manage the feat of making their characters their own, giving nuance and infectious humor to the women who can be played as caricatured more often than not. And speaking of the Beyonce of the trio, Stephanie Ottey is incomparable as the matriarch contending with the fraught emotions of being confronted by three former lovers, one of whom may be her child’s father. Finally Alysia Vastardis—playing Sophie Sheridan, the plucky, doggedly idealistic daughter of Donna, is resplendent: her vocal prowess is breathtaking, and her ability to capture both youthful charm and bittersweet melancholy makes her take on Sophie a joy to watch.

Additional glowing recognition should be given to Co-Directors Stephen Santa and Drew Praskovich, who succeed in preserving and highlighting the original camp and goofy splendor that typify both ABBA’s music and the legacy of Mamma Mia!, While creating their own version of Mamma Mia! that is distinctive and peppered with new flourishes that give the show a new life. Choreographer Emily Christ and Dance Captain Ivan Bracy Jr. are instrumental in executing this vision, as their subtle yet captivating arrangements do not distract from the show (a downfall I’ve encountered in several takes on Mamma Mia!), but act as characters unto themselves—spirited, purposefully, and fastidiously orchestrated (wait for the utter delight of the “Lay All Your Love On Me” number).

Mamma Mia! is indomitably fun and a refreshing staging of a divinely enjoyable musical. If you don’t go, I’ll send the Super Trouper with his beams to find you (I won’t apologize for this).

For tickets and more information, visit Stage 62’s homepage.

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