After a decade on Broadway and a prolonged national tour, Mamma Mia! has come to Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia for what promises to continue the winning streak for this feel-good and tune-filled show.
Cast to perfection, Toby’s Mamma Mia! is a show to which you can – to quote one of the songs – say “I do, I do, I do.” Director-choreographer Mark Minnick and his game performers find just the right balance of whimsey and heart needed to make the story move forward, between the tunestack of ABBA’s greatest hits.
If you didn’t catch the movie, or a Broadway, London or tour performance of Mamma Mia!, all you really need to know is 21-year old Sophie Sheridan is about to marry her beau Sky. Raised by Donna, an independent, single mother, Sophie discovers her mom’s old diary hinting at an eventful love life in 1979 that included dalliances with three different guys – one possibly being Sophie’s father. Writing the old flames as her mother, Sophie decides to invite them to their Greek taverna, hoping that upon arrival she will know which one is her dad. (Savvy movie buffs might catch the similarity to a 1968 comedy “Buena Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” starring Gina Lollabrigida. Super-savvy theatre buffs might also be aware of the unsuccessful 1979 musical Carmelina which borrowed the same plot.)
The musical takes the “my-three-possible-dads” device and weaves it together with Donna’s past as a former bohemian, rock goddess lead singer of the girl-group the Dynamos. In her heyday, she was joined by best friends Tanya and Rosie, decked out in bell-bottoms and platform shoes, rocking out with songs conveniently provided by one of the most profitable music acts in history, Sweden’s super troupers ABBA. Using more than 20 songs penned by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (with some by Stig Anderson), book writer Catherine Johnson fashioned an engaging story, even though the stakes are not that high. (Is the wedding on or off? Will Sophie determine which guy is her dad?) But the familiar ABBA songs are crafted into the story with an organic flair that works to keep the plot moving and the characters singing to beat the mirror ball.
As Sophie Sheridan, Maggie Dransfield has the voice, dance moves and charm to win over this audience member, and judging from the audience reaction I heard, everyone else, too. She delivers a simple, folksy “I Have A Dream” introducing her father quest. Later in Act One, Dransfield lights up the stage with a sexy duet with Sky (Paul Roeckell), “Lay All Your Love On Me.”
Dransfield has a strong chemistry with Heather Marie Beck, making the ideal Donna – single mom and former rocker. Dransfield and Beck’s scenes together ring with truth and might even elicit a tear or too from anyone who recalls those big moments with their parent or child about life matters. “Slipping Through My Fingers,” a lesser known ABBA tune, is perfectly placed to add poignancy to the moment, beautifully performed by Beck.
Beck is well matched with two seasoned pros as her old band mates and girlfriends, multiple-divorcee Tanya, and sassy sidekick Rosie. As Tanya, Coby Kay Callahan presents sophistication and sex appeal as easily as she breaks into apple-picking dance moves. Her highlight is a cougarish turn, vamping it up to the delight of one of Donna’s young staff members singing “Does Your Mother Know?” The quick-quipping and independent Rosie fits Tess Rohan’s talents like a glove. She breaks out near the end of the second act with a playful rendition of “Take a Chance on Me,” dueting with Russell Sunday’s Bill. The three ladies also get to relive their glory days as rock goddesses with the obvious inclusion of the ABBA mega-hits “Chiquitita” and “Super Trouper.” The Beck, Rohan, Callahan trio handles the harmonies and disco-inspired moves with
closes September 9, 2018
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Sunday, a longtime Toby’s veteran, uses his comic timing and stage presence to great advantage as Bill, the travel writer among Donna’s old conquests. As the very British banker Harry – known as Head-Banger Harry back in the day – Darren McDonnell is both charming and endearing as another of Sophie’s dad candidates. (Side-note: McDonnell is a doppelganger for Broadway and film star John Glover.) Rounding out the old beaus who arrive on the Greek island, Jeffrey Shankle is Sam Carmichael, who is written to be the “man that got away.” We learn he and Donna’s relationship back in 1979 is the one that soured to the point of driving her to fierce independence and single-motherhood. Shankle and Beck make their scenes seem like real, old lovers with a lot of water under the bridge between them. “S.O.S.” sums up the crossroads at which they find themselves, performed with truth and determination by the pair.
Director Minnick did not waste his excellent casting choices on the leads; the ensemble of strong singers and dancers brings to life the score and ably backs up the main characters from opening to closing. Jamie Pasquinelli and Cassie Saunders are delightful as Sophie’s best pals, Ali and Lisa. As Donna’s hotel and activity staff, Pepper and Eddie, Joey Ellingham and Shiloh Orr add comic relief.
A jukebox musical is nothing without the songs, needless to say, and the Andersson/Ulvaeus score is in great hands under the musical direction of Ross Scott Rawlings and a superb six piece band. These players may be hidden away in the bowels of the theatre, but their excellent work is vital.
The Mamma Mia! phenomenon is alive and well in Columbia. So whether you are a dancing queen or a super trouper, this show will have you saying “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.”
Mamma Mia! . Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus . Additional songs by Stig Anderson . Book by Catherine Johnson . Directed and choreographed by Mark Minnick . Featuring: Heather Marie Beck, Maggie Dransfield, Cassie Saunders, Tess Rohan, Darren McDonnell, Russell Sunday, Jeffrey Shankle, Jamie Pasquinelli, Coby Kay Callahan, Paul Roeckell, Joey Ellinghaus, Shiloh Orr, David James . Music direction and orchestrations by Ros Scott Rawlings . Scenic and lighting design by David A. Hopkins . Sound Design by Mark Smedley . Costume design by A.T. Jones and Sons, Inc. . Stage manager: Kate Wacherle . Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.