The jukebox musical Mamma Mia! has been around for almost 20 years, but it seems much longer. Perhaps that's because some of the music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, performed by their Swedish pop group ABBA, was playing on radios for 25 years before this musical was even considered.
As a result, our bodies now involuntarily thrum to infectious tunes such as "Dancing Queen," "S.O.S," "Super Trouper," and the title song. This makes the show a sure-fire box office draw and explains one reason why Great Lakes Theater is beginning its 57th season with it.
Okay, sure, the other reasons escape me at the moment, but that's not to say there aren't other fine motivations behind why "Cleveland's Classic Company," formerly dubbed the "Shakespeare Festival," mounts productions such as Mamma Mia! and last year's Beehive – The 60s Musical.
Indeed, in his remarks on opening night, producing artistic director Charles Fee seemed to lament the fact that many of those in attendance to hear songs repetitively titled "Honey, Honey;" "Money, Money, Money;" "Gimme, Gimme, Gimmee;" and "I Do, I Do, I Do" were not likely to return a week later to see the opening of Pride and Prejudice. Such are the realities, apparently, of keeping a company such as GLT alive and kicking.
As always when it comes to musicals, GLT is unofficially partnering with Baldwin Wallace University for MM, since director Victoria Bussert and a large part of the cast spend their daylight hours at BWU's nearby campus. That university is a hotbed for producing Broadway talent, so it makes sense to involve these young folks.
ABBA's familiar songs are wrapped around the book by Catherine Johnson that begins with Sophie and her friends Ali (Shayla Brielle G.) and Lisa (Amy Keum). This trio is hanging out on a Greek island where Sophie and her mom run a taverna. Sophie appears to have everything she wants except for the truth about her father's identity, since she was a result of the "free love" generation.
So Sophie, who is about to be married to her heartthrob Sky, has secretly invited three middle-aged fellows to attend her wedding. They all dated Donna years ago, when she was the lead singer of a group called Donna and the Dynamos. Sophie suspects one of them is her father since she peeked into her mom's diary and those steamy entries revealed some secrets. It seems that Bill, an Australian writer and adventurer; Sam, an American architect who designed the taverna; and Harry, a British banker are all ripe suspects for that paternal designation.
On one hand, it sounds like an episode of I Love Lucy with lots of Greek-isle hard bodies added to spice up the dance numbers. And spice it up they do, as choreographer Jaclyn Miller stages some raucous, free-spirited dances-cum-calisthenics which the talented college student/performers enthusiastically perform.
The cast is strong, with a couple notable exceptions. As Donna, Jillian Kates starts slow, vocally and otherwise, but gradually becomes believable (as possible as that is in this cotton candy confection) as a single mom with some regrets. Kailey Boyle sings well as Sophie, although the book doesn't allow her to explore emotions much beyond hope and amazement.
The putative dads are a mixed bag. Alex Syiek as outdoorsy Bill is amusing as he awkwardly jerks his way through various dances, and Eric Damon Smith is smooth as the ambiguously fey Harry. But in the role of Sam, Donna's one true love, Nick Steen is stiffly off-key as a singer and similarly wooden as an actor.
In competition with Steen for the Best Sculpture Pretending to be a Person award is Jake Slater as Sophie's fiance, Sky. Indeed, it's hard to imaging what bouncy, bubbly Sophie sees in Slater's impassive and mostly overcast Sky.
Donna's reconstituted group of Dynamos fares better, with Laura Welsh Berg as Rosie and Jodi Dominick as hot-to-trot Tanya lend the gal-pal vibe to the proceedings. Berg offers some tasty asides and executes a hilarious dance with the terpsichore-challenged Bill. And Dominick handles her volley of double entendres with panache. But it might help the rest of us relate if it appeared that their bodies had a few more miles on them, as most 40-something folks do. Just sayin'.
In the smaller roles, Warren Egypt Franklin as the taverna bartender Pepper and Mack Shirilla as towel boy and puppy wrangler Eddie stand out. Franklin is tall and possesses some dance moves that defy easy description. And Shirilla proudly displays his cut physique while adding some quick flashes of humor.
Of course, this isn't a show where reality and subtle characterizations rule the day. It's all about energy, and this production delivers plenty of sizzle with the eye-candy costumes designed by Tracy Christensen, songs that render resistance futile, and young bods in frenzied motion.