By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
For this year’s peak summer season, Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has put all its eggs in one basket – the musical “Mamma Mia!” – and they seem destined to turn to solid gold.
Even for someone like me who is not a big ABBA fan, “Mamma Mia!” is a pleasure-packed, briskly-paced romp, with scintillating singing and dancing, crisp acting, foot-stomping show tunes, a creative set and some outlandishly-beautiful lighting design. If you happen to be a lover of ABBA’s music, well, you’ll be over the moon.
Theatre Workshop artistic director Justin Cerne, who directed and choreographed the show, writes in the “Director’s Note” of his special love for ABBA, and his affinity for the Swedish pop group’s songs permeates every corner of the show.The production is coherent, joyful and highly entertaining.
The book, by Catherine Johnson, is essentially a vehicle for stringing together some 25 ABBA songs. But she has also cleverly crafted a winning story about Sophie Sheridan, a 20-year-old bride-to-be, and her single mother, Donna.
Like her daughter, she has two supporting ladies, Tanya (played by Nantucketer Sarah Fraunfelder) and Rosie (played by Roxy York). The duo add huge helpings of humor and spunk to the production, with Fraunfelder playing the sardonic, thrice divorced Tanya and York the bubbly, earthy Rosie.
Then there is the trio of possible fathers, each charming in his own way and each with a secret or two of his own. Chad W. Fornwalt plays Sam, an architect and a rather relentless man with a hidden tender side. Joshua Clifton Powell is Harry Bright, a refined British banker who was once a rocker with the nickname “Head-Banger.” On the night I saw the show, Timothy Booth played a swashbuckling Bill Austin, an Aussie journalist who seems to spend his days trekking and writing in the Outback. Charles Stoop shares the role. These accomplished actors add humor and bittersweet notes to the show, as each in turn remembers his younger days with Donna and comes to terms with the reality of Sophie. Like all the leads in this show, each of them can really sing.
More humor sparkles in the comic performances of Sophie’s fiancé Sky (Jon Rose) and the supporting cast of workers at the Taverna, Pepper (Jack Plozay) and Eddie (David Glenwright). They take part in a hilarious staging with Sophie of “Lay All Your Love on Me,” with the guys – somehow – prancing and dancing in wetsuits and flippers. In Act II, the wetsuits and flippers return, to great effect.
Jack Bulger convincingly plays Father Alexandrios (sharing the role with Pete Sendelbach), and Andrew Flynn, Johanna Johnson, John Michael Rezes, and Paige Winn round out the energetic ensemble, which on some nights also features Jennifer Gifford and Pam Murphy. The set and the lighting for the show are both worthy of special note. Peter Waldron’s Taverna set is versatile and attractive, with a retractable center section that allows the projection of different scenic backgrounds.
Stephen Petrilli’s lighting is beautiful and lush, from the very opening of Act I, when shades of iridescent purple spill through the shutters at center stage. Throughout the show the colors reflect and enhance the action on stage: green, for instance, takes over center stage during the song, “Money, Money, Money.” The chromatic richness of the lighting fits the aesthetic of the show.
Music director Jesse Beulke has done an excellent job in the production, taking all the fine voices and bringing them together in some stirring moments of close harmony. Music supervisor Andrew Graham also deserves mention for the well-rehearsed performances. The drummer is Adam Hradisky and the keyboard II is Joe Sferra, adding definition to a recorded soundtrack.
TWN’s use of micing the actors for this show works well. The singers’ voices are audible above the band and sound natural and clear. Kudos to sound designer Sean McGinley for making this happen.
The costumes by Austin Woodward are effectively of the period, whether daily wear or the over-the-top singer outfits that mirror the look that ABBA made famous.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an ABBA fan, you’ll find much to enjoy in this production. It’s so infectious and fun, you’ll leave the show whistling a number of the tunes. These actors really do seem to be having the time of their life.