BATTLECREEK, Mich.–If you were invited by an ex to a wedding on a small Greek Island would you go?
This is the premise to Mamma Mia! one of the longest running jukebox musicals based on songs by ABBA composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus with book written by Catherine Johnson. It is a popular musical of theatres all over southwest Michigan this summer in community theatres and professional theatres too. The Pinckney Players and Augusta’s The Barn Theatre company have it scheduled in their summer seasons. Wayne State recently performed it. Popular for the “finding oneself” theme and 70’s disco tunes, What A Do Theatre Company in Battle Creek is the latest company to produce this family favorite hit.
So even though the musical has “Mamma” in the title, the story begins with a young 20-year-old, Sophie (Grace Van Horn) putting her wedding invitations to THREE potential fathers into a mailbox. “I have a dream” is that idealist song that all young women can see potential in their future and Sophie believes that knowing who her dad is will help her clear her future path. She reveals to her bridesmaids and best friends as they arrive to the island about finding her mom’s diary and some super-spice romances with three men during the space of time before she realized that she was pregnant.
The story flips to her mama’s, or Donna Sheridan’s (Katerina Mikhailova) friends arrival to the island and her crumbling resort. Donna sings about the struggle of trying to upkeep the Greek island resort in the song, “Money, money, money.” Then Donna’s exes show up and Sophie intercepts her potential fathers to hide them away from her mother while she figures out who exactly is her dad. Donna pops in to fix a door, and recognizes her past loves. Whoops!
This is the musical’s scene with its namesake song “Mamma Mia,” however it was a bit disappointing. Donna is seeing the three men for the first time in 20 years and the blocking has Katerina just standing and singing while the men are the same room. The interpretation seemed sad and distant, instead of a blaze of wild and confusing emotions. It didn’t look like she missed anyone at all.
Scene changes are a bit long due to huge set pieces to rotate and set props to add or subtract. Ensemble members make it entertaining with extra dance moves as they work as quickly as they can in the dark and others dance on the docks on the sides of the stage to pass the time amusingly.
Donna’s friends try to cheer her up as she is trying to ignore why these ex-lovers are all at her resort. They used to be a music group called Donna and the Dynamos. They find old costumes and props from their performing days and the ABBA classic “Dancing Queen” gets belted out by the three of them with the ensemble as well.
Switch back to Sofie and her fiancé Sky (Edward Ferran) meeting just before he goes off to his stag party and her bachelorette party. She tries to tell him about inviting her dads to the island, but just can’t do it. The male ensemble entertains the audience with everyone dancing around in swim fins and snorkel masks.
Lots happen at Sofie’s bachelorette party. Donna and the Dynamos bring back their act for one night only and dress up in old disco costumes and perform “Super Trouper.” The lighting designed by Samantha Snow is perfect in this scene right down to a disco ball. The staging is perfect as the friends react their act for Sophie and her friends. The ex-lovers enter the scene, and have little pull away scenes with Sofie as she still tries to figure out which one is her real dad, but she still can’t figure it out. She thinks that Bill just might be her father during the song, “What’s the name of the game?” and she asks him to walk her down the aisle. But as she’s asking questions, it dawns on the other two men that he just might be her father and all offer to walk her down the aisle in the morning.
Now, poor Sofie is just as confused as her mother of what to do with these men. Grace Van Horn is perfect as Sofie, she handles and displays this influx of emotions and bring the audience right into the crux of the problem with her.
Donna’s best friends are well cast in their roles: Teri Noaeill as the rich multi-married/multi-divorced Tanya, and Alexis Ballard as Rosie the cookbook writer. They are not just Donna’s back-up singers in the Dynamos, but they each get some fantastically fun solos: Teri puts a lot of spunk putting the young boys in their place in the song, “Does your mother know,” while Alexis dominates Bill (Andrew Chandler West) in “Take a Chance on me,” just before the wedding scene.
The roles of Bill (Andrew Chandler West) and Harry (Franklin D. Chenman), even though well portrayed, seemed like they should have been flip-flopped. With these stereotypical characters of Bill–a masculine adventure write– and Harry, a soft-spoken businessman, I kept getting them mixed up a bit.
The sweetest scene in the show shows the mother helping the daughter get ready for her wedding in the song, “Slipping through my fingers.” Cassidy Nofs plays a young Sofie sitting at the dressing table. Grace and Cassidy switch places a couple of times showing the passage of time and how Donna is still seeing her “Little girl.”
Donna interrupts the wedding scene wanting to finally reveal the mystery of the father, but it still stays a mystery. Sophie’s wedding circles back to “I have a dream” because now Sophie’s dream takes a completely different twist, and opens up her future for fresh discovery.
Mamma Mia! is definitely the fun summer hit that leaves the audience feeling happy with ABBA songs stuck in their heads for days to follow. Make sure to get your ticket to the Greek islands with What A Do performing at the KCC Binda Performing Arts Center through Father’s Day weekend, the perfect show for all dads and daughters.