reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Mrs K and I attended the opening weekend Sunday matinee of Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s Mamma Mia!, which marks the company’s 105th season. This well-known “jukebox musical” is by ABBA musicians Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with book by Catherine Johnson. It has been an international favorite since its original 1999 production on London’s West End followed by its eventual Broadway appearance in 2001.

BTCT’s offering is especially notable for what I felt was a great deal of originality provided by director/choreographer Anne Beck’s vision, supported by the work of musical director Brent Marty. Presented with a wonderfully versatile set and lighting design by Ryan Koharchik, and blessed with a cast of superior singers and dancers, Ms. Beck does a remarkable job in forming this unlikely story of a girl’s search for her father among three very likely candidates, much to her mother’s chagrin.

Sophie Sheridan – center (Becky Larson) and her pals Ali – left (Jessie Linxwiler), and Lisa (Julia Ammons) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Mamma Mia”.

Kara Snyder stars as single mother, Donna Sheridan – whose trio of trysts 20 years ago sets up her daughter’s dilemma. Returning to the Civic stage after a extended period of family duties, Ms. Snyder is strong voiced and well-focused in her portrayal, highlighted by her powerful rendition of “The Winner Takes It All”. Becky Larson gives her all in the part of Donna’s daughter, Sophie, rendering song after song with an array of emotions, from hopeful ballads to high energy pop numbers. Ms. Snyder and Ms. Larson are well matched and very believable for the mother/daughter duo.

from left: Rosie (Marni Lemons), Donna Sheridan (Kara Snyder) and Tanya (Laura Lockwood) performing as “Donna and the Dynamos” in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Mamma Mia”.

Donna’s friends and former stage partners, Tanya and Rosie, are solidly delivered by Laura Lockwood and Marni Lemon, respectively. Ms. Lockwood provides great fun with the provocative Tanya, while Ms. Lemon is a joy to watch as she cavorts through Rosie’s snappy lines and self-effacing humor. Their trios with Ms. Snyder provide some of the shows highlights.

from left: Bill Austin (Parrish Williams), Sam Carmichael (Clay Mabbitt) and Harry Bright (Ethan Mathias) in a scene from Civic Theatre’s “Mamma Mia”.

The three dad candidates are honestly offered by Parrish Williams as travel writer Bill Austin, Clay Mabbitt as architect Sam Carmichael, and Ethan Mathias as Harry Bright. All three characters have a past romantic connection with Mamma Donna, and thus all three have their highlighted scenes with her. While the three gents all are impressive, I must note that Mabbitt’s vocal prowess came as a total surprise to this writer, having known him for more than a few years as a unique character actor, but never having known him to perform as a singing talent. He makes the most of his chances here, and carries his stage duties out as a true triple threat: singing, acting and dancing.

In featured supporting roles, Joseph David Massingale holds his own as Sophie’s fiance Sky, while Cameron A. Hicks shows impressive talents as Pepper. The entire dance ensemble is invested with sharp performers, who carry out Ms. Beck’s combinations with the necessary polish and pizzazz.

The cast appears in the conclusive wedding scene from Civic Theatre’s “Mamma Mia”.

Mr. Marty’s orchestra sounded very professional, and with the exception of what I would regard as an unexpected and unnecessary jolt of sound to begin the second act (be aware of the possibly health-damaging explosion of ‘music’ when you attend), it is a true asset to the production. Marty and Ms. Beck also employ a sextet of “Offstage Voices” that enhances the many familiar ABBA production numbers with richness and depth.

Adrienne Conces’ costumes provide the exactly right tone for this Greek island adventure – along with some great flourishes for the “Donna and the Dynamos” scene. Wig designer Andrew Elliot’s fine creative work could be seen in nearly every scene.

Bottomline: Truth be told, as the show began to unfurl, I started to think I was in for a very vanilla and pedestrian version of this dynamic musical. (Mrs K, it should be noted, had the same feeling.) However, with “Super Trouper” at Sophie’s bachelorette gathering, the show’s attitude took a sharp turn upward and really started cooking – hot stuff and plenty of it. Inventive numbers like Sophie’s act two opening nightmare, “Under Attack”, provided the audience with a memorable theatre experience.

Mamma Mia! continues at the Booth Tarkington Theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through October 19th. For ticket information and reservations call 317.843.3800 or go online at http://www.civictheatre.org .

  • – Photos by Zach Rosing

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