“Mamma Mia” was born many years ago in the work of the Swedish pop group “Abba.” It took shape as a movie starring Meryl Streep and an all-star cast. Then another movie. Now, it is ubiquitous in community theater. Per Bainbridge Performing Arts’ Executive Director Dominique Cantwell, there are 27 Mamma Mias scheduled this season in this region alone! My, my! The South Sound is three of those 29, and BPA got the party started this weekend. At Drama in the Hood we know that superlatives are part of theater. “Magnificent!” “Boffo!” (Okay, that one may be a little dated.) “Superb.” But, there is nothing that can be said about BPA’s “Mamma Mia” that describes the experience except for those kinds of words. It is a bar set really high for the other “Mias!” It’s a fab-fab-fabulous night of theater.
Theater reviewers sometimes talk about the crowds at plays. We speak of crowd size and crowd engagement, but we do it at the end, because the assembled audience is an afterthought to the actors. The play’s the thing! That’s what we are told. Allow me to break that rule for one time only. The crowd at BPA’s “Mamma Mia” is an important part of the story. They showed up ready to party, shimmying and shaking their way into Bainbridge’s lovely theater. The excitement was palpable and on display. It was a little like pregame at a Seahawks’ game except with more feather boas. The gyrating and finger-snapping crowd sent its love to the actors and musicians who would make the night memorable, and from the opening moments of the play these performers rocked the night.
The storyline for “Mamma Mia” is well-known. Greece, one girl, one Mom and three potential Dads. When they all get together the girl seeks the real Dad, while Mom ruminates on a time when she could have been a little more responsible. Who is Dad? Well, that’s your task to discover. If you deconstruct the plot, you find it is pretty slight, but this plot is a framework on which to build singing, dancing, and enough nostalgia to take us back to our own nights on the beach with stars in our eyes and fire in our kisses.
Sophie is the girl in search of male parental closure, played by Hannah Knapp-Jenkins, who buries herself in the fun and whimsy of this show. Ms Knapp-Jenkins has a good singing voice, but it is her earnestness combined with her energy that sets the tone for the show. She’s first on stage and in a pensive frame of mind. After that, she’s high energy throughout. Director/choreographer Troy Wageman cast her well, which is amazing because he’s only 19! (I’m sure he isn’t, but his program head shot looks very young.) Hannah Knapp-Jenkins is one of the reasons this show is a hit. Her stage chemistry with her fiance’ Sky (played well by Garrett Dill) was palpable. Mr. Dill’s scenes as a Bachelor Partier were when he was at his best.
Mom (Donna) is played by Olivia Lee. The best singer in the cast, Ms. Lee’s character travels the furthest in this show, from an emotional standpoint. We are pleased to report that Donna Lee is up to every nuance and turn in the plot. She’s tough, sad, nostalgic, and giddy in turn and she does it while hitting every note of every song every time!
Bill, Harry, and Sam. All of them have fond memories of Greek passion, but which one planted the seed? Wayne Purves plays Bill as relationship phobic. He does a really good job in the part. Matt Eldridge plays Harry, who has given up head-banging for responsibility. Mr. Eldridge comes off as someone you might see in the local library, but that facade hides the performer within. Matt Eldridge can dance up a storm and has a better than average singing voice. Sam’s is the most dramatic of the Dad roles, played by Timothy Glynn. His interactions with Donna produce the most sparks and their singing voices blend beautifully together. Together the three Dads are wonderful in this show, and are particularly well-suited for the roles they play.
Donna’s best friends are coming to the wedding, of course. That would be Rosie and Tanya at their shimmering and sequined best, providing the best comedy in a show with a lot of funny people. Michelle Abad plays Rosie, and is one of the engines that make this baby run. Her scene where she dismantles a wedding chapel in pursuit of her man is one of the show’s best moments.Ryan McCabe’s Tanya has many fine moments, but Drama in the Hood found his boozy rendition of “Fernando” to be his finest effort. I, for one, will never hear that song the same way. Rosie and Tanya are great together, but they are also superb individually, and deserve the wild applause they received at the end of the night.
“Mamma Mia” is a celebration of many things, not the least of all is music. The BPA Mainstage Band was on its game all night long, supporting the action onstage and becoming a part of the party that embodies this show. The three keyboardists were particularly impressive. Kudos and oceanfront drinks with umbrellas for the boys and girls in the band!
A few years back we reviewed “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and lamented the small crowd for that superb show. At the time we were told that Spring shows have a hard time grabbing an audience, because there are too many things to do outside after a long, cold winter. Bainbridge Performing Arts sold out “Mamma Mia” last Saturday and they are going to sell out other performances. So get your tickets today! Don’t tarry, because the Greek Isles are calling, Chiquitita, and this show cannot wait for you to linger and delay!
“Mamma Mia,” Bainbridge Performing Arts, 200 Madison Ave, N. Fri-Sat 7:30, Sun 3 pm through May 19. Tickets: sa1.seatadvisor.com/sabo/servlets/TicketRequest?eventId=1203498&presenter=BAINBRIDGE&venue=&event= Info: bainbridgeperformingarts.org, or 206-842-8569.