“Mamma Mia! Here we go again!” will be the quote heard round the world as every theatre near and far is producing this megahit since the rights were released by Music Theatre International. Fortunately, Bucks County Playhouse delivers the goods for a worthwhile trip to beautiful New Hope.
With most jukebox musicals, you aren’t going to the show for deep plotlines, rather you re going for the adored music. Mamma Mia is no exception. Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus features the hits of ABBA with a lackluster book by Catherine Johnson. Having seen the Broadway and the 1st National Tour among other regional offerings, I have to say that Director John Tartaglia, of Avenue Q fame, embraced some of the original concepts while generating some real heart from otherwise cartoonish characters.
Mamma Mia follows the story of 20-year-old Sophie on a quest to determine who her father is by inviting her mother Donna’s three paramours (Sam, Harry, and Bill) from 20 years go to her Greek Island wedding. In Donna’s hay-day she had a girl group, Donna and the Dynamos, with her friends Lisa and Tanya who also return to the island for the wedding.
Sara Masterson as Sophie and Devin Lewis as her fiancé Sky are adorably matched. They were able to strip the cardboard script and really make their characters 3-dimensional. This was the first time seeing this story that Sophie and Sky’s story stood out. Meeting Sophie’s three “dads” was a hoot. Each actor delivered their own musical theatre charm as Sam (Michael Hunsaker), Bill (Peter Saide), and Harry (Michael Dean Morgan.) Donna hasn’t seen or spoken to any of these men since their liaisons twenty years ago and hasn’t since moved on to any new relationships with men.
Michelle Dawson’s portrayal of Donna came off a bit jaded and mostly angry, especially during her interactions with Sam. She also lacked onstage chemistry with Masterson in the mother/daughter scenes. Although vocally wonderful, her musicality dragged between phrases often not keeping time with the orchestra. Bringing joyous comic relief were “The Dynamos” Tanya and Rosie, Terra C. MacLeod and Danielle Lee Greaves respectively. Both actors have scene stealing moments, particularly during solo musical numbers. I thoroughly enjoyed how human and playful MacLeod’s Tanya was instead of snooty and uptight as portrayed on screen. Greaves and Saide’s “Take a Chance of Me” was a showstopper! Saide’s moves are reminiscent of Joe Manganiello in “Magic Mike” with the bonus of an Australian accent.
The scenic design by Anna Louizos was versatile keeping most scenes in one place but changing locations using a turntable creating new views and perceptions of time and space. The stage design was complimented superbly by Gina Scherr’s lighting design and effective use of lanterns, string lights, and LEDs. Ashley Rose Horton’s costumes were a tad disjointed in concept. I struggled to understand the year as indicated being late 90s. However, I enjoyed the differences from the last three versions I’ve seen that I won’t spoil here. Although the same time-period issue can be said of the hair styles, I applaud Wig, Hair & Makeup Designer Ashley Rae Callahan for minimal use of wigs and using most actor’s real hair. A bad wig can be so distracting, and a good wig is not even noticeable. There were a couple bumps along the way regarding sound as designed by Bart Fasbender pertaining to balance and volume. However, let’s note and commend BCP for employing so WOMEN in such pivotal technical roles.
Overall, Mamma Mia at Bucks County Playhouse fills your taste buds with just enough kitsch to satisfy your 90s palate as most all of us were bopping in our seats through every number. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones listening to the ABBA Gold album on the drive home. Mamma Mia runs until August 3rd at Bucks County Playhouse. Be sure to make a pre-show dinner reservation at The Deck which is now open next to the theatre. A delightful farm-to-table experience that doesn’t break the bank.