This year seems to be the year of Momma Mia in Philadelphia Theater. In addition to the fine mounting at the Players Club, at least three other local groups are performing it. To me that’s a good thing because it merges fun and familiar tunes for a delightfully entertaining evening/afternoon of theater. Mamma Mia is a story delineated through the music of the popular Swedish group ABBA. The two male members, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus not only wrote the hits for the group, but also teamed up with Tim Rice to write the underappreciated musical, Chess. Mamma Mia was the brainchild of Judy Craymer who met the duo while working on Chess. She teamed them up with BBC screenwriter Catherine Johnson and created a “jukebox” musical that ran for 14 years on Broadway. I believe that is empirical evidence enough of the play’s popularity.
Director Ryan Goulden’s production does a wonderful job of wringing every ounce of charm and levity in the musical. His female leads are extremely strong and energize the stage. As the intrepid Donna, Deirdre Henry knows how to sell a song. Her talent and experience show at every turn and she credibly represents an independent single mother whose daughter has found her soul mate. As her lovely daughter Sophie, Carlee Ingelido is beautiful and talented. We immediately fall in love with her.
Both mother and daughter have two friends who have shown up for Sophie’s wedding. For mom it her best friends and musical cohorts from her singing group Donna and the Dynamos. They are played creatively by Connie Clay Pelesh (Tanya) and Shelli Haynes Ezold (Rosie). Each has several individual moments when the stage is hers and they each take great vocal and comic advantage of it. Their younger counterparts are Devon Duffy (Lisa) and Amanda Pasquini (Ali) who are appropriately talented and energetic backing up their friend Sophie.
Sophie who has grown up without a father discovers from her mother’s diary that three different men might be her father. She invites them each to attend her wedding in hopes that she will discover her true father. The fathers played by John Paul Cappiello (Sam), Jason S. Tokarski (Bill) and Tim Whelan (Harry) do not have the voices on par with the women, but they each do a great job making his character unique and concerned.
Sophie’s fiancé Sky (Willem Guenther) is sweet and loving and plays off his own cronies Pepper (Jeremy Parmet) and Eddie (P.J. Williams). They provide many fun and warm moments in the play.
There are thirteen principals in the play and those in the ensemble number seventeen. Director Goulden constantly floods the stage with the ensemble gang providing good energy, but at times upstaging the principals. It also handcuffed choreographer Joanne McBride by limiting the moves on an overcrowded stage. At times they looked like a scene from Hulaballoo. Her work with the principals was lovely. Tim Oskin’s set design was a bold statement as the audience came in. It totally captured the flavor of Director Goulden’s vision. Music Director Nora McDonnell allows the richness of the women’s voices to ring through although their harmonies sometimes got lost. This may have been due to mic problems. To the actors’ credit they adapted well to the problem.
Lighting design by Chris Barbier and Anne Marie Scalies does a nice job of setting the mood while Karen Cook’s sound choices worked well, but again may have been affected by the mic problem. I know they will have it fixed.
The bottom line is that Momma Mia at PCS is a wonderfully entertaining experience. The near sold out audience on Saturday night were enthusiastic in their applause and appreciation of the production. The show runs until September 28th. For tickets and information go to www.PCSTheater.org.
Photos by Bob Colameco