Reviewed by Jade Goodes
Here I go again! What better way to celebrate the return of live theater than with a trip to Trafford Performing Arts Center for their opening night performance of Mamma Mia! This show marks the official debut of the newly found partnership between the Apple Hills Players & The Theatre Factory after announcing their merger earlier this year. This jukebox musical was the perfect choice for their first joint production and is a wonderful grand reintroduction to the Pittsburgh theater scene. Directed by Matt Mlynarski, this production can be counted on to provide endless amounts of fun and an overall great night of theater.
Erin Seaberg, Katie Aiello, and Liz Brendlinger star as Donna and the Dynamos – Photo by The Theatre Factory
Mamma Mia! follows Sophie Sheridan as she prepares for her wedding day. She has grown up without knowing the identity of her biological father. After finding some of her mother’s scandalous diary entries, she invites three men to her wedding that she believes could be her father. So, is it Sam the architect? Harry the “Headbanger?” Or Bill, the rogue travel writer? Featuring the songs of ABBA, Mamma Mia! is a story about family, self-discovery, taking chances, and reconciling with the past.
Mamma Mia! runs at the Trafford Performing Arts Center in the heart of Warrior territory. The space itself is small, so they have scaled the show back slightly to fit the limits of the space. So while you miss out on full-scale sets and dance numbers, you gain an intimate viewing experience. That allows you to appreciate the simplicity and versatility of the set, the ‘far out’ costumes, and the individual performances of the cast members.
The performances in Mamma Mia! range from cheeky to charming. Regardless of role, each actor brings a uniqueness to their character that is hard to overlook. Leading the cast is Katie Aiello, who delivers a dynamo performance as the independent and headstrong Donna. Her rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” shows her range as a vocalist and proves she can handle the emotional scenes along with the comedic ones. Erin Seaberg was the audience favorite with her portrayal of the free-spirited Rosie. Seaberg stole every scene she was in with her quick comedic timing and hilarious physicality. The audience absolutely adored her, and so did I.
Sam Brooks is endearing as Harry Bright and provides a truly heartwarming moment with his “Our Last Summer” performance alongside Aiello in act two.
The cast of Mamma Mia! in rehearsals – Photo by The Theatre Factory
While the production has a talented cast, there were moments where I felt they were being underutilized. The show has a “Greek Chorus” who function as unseen spectators/influencers to the action playing out on stage. In numbers like “Money, Money, Money” and “Mamma Mia,” the chorus is cleverly used, and I appreciated their incorporation into these songs. However, other numbers lacked an ensemble, and I questioned why members of the Greek chorus didn’t double as ensemble members. The added strength would have not only helped the weaker numbers of the show, but it would have also made certain scenes and songs feel less sparse. I would have like to have seen them take advantage of the immense talent they have in the cast to help lift the production up to new heights.
I found the show to be truly successful in its resourceful stage direction and clever choreography. I appreciate Mlynarski’s use of the entire theater space and felt that bringing the action off stage and into the audience made the experience more immersive. I also appreciated the way none of the direction felt too forced or rigid. The cast seemed very natural and comfortable in what they were doing. My favorite bits of the show were the two musical numbers, “Money, Money, Money” and “Under Attack,” for the creative ways the cast and chorus were used throughout the songs. I loved how fun the choreography was and appreciated the imaginative and inventive ways choreographer Laura Wurzell brought these songs to life. I found the choreography added to the show’s fun and made you want to get up on stage and dance right alongside the cast.
Mamma Mia! is a fun, campy romp starring a lovable cast who bring unique charm to this ABBA-inspired jukebox musical. I believe the first joint production of Apple Hills Players & The Theatre Factory was a success. They have the beginnings of an exceptional partnership. I cannot wait to see the theater and art that will come out of this joint adventure.
So dust off your favorite pair of platform boots and have the time of your life at Apple Hill Players & The Theatre Factory’s production of Mamma Mia! running through August 21 at the Trafford Performing Arts Center.
Tickets can be purchased at: https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/apple-hill-players-and-the-theatre-factory/mamma-mia-94538/tickets