Most theatre goers are familiar with the story of Mamma Mia!, the 1999 jukebox musical with music and lyrics by ABBA (Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus) and book by Catherine Johnson. But for the uninitiated, it is an over-the-top; lovable; and highly improbable story of a young woman, Sophie Sheridan (played by Varinique Davis), desperate for a father secretly inviting her mother’s, Donna Sheridan (played by Lisa Estridge), exes to her wedding and trying to solve the lifelong mystery of her paternal line in twenty four hours. Of course, though Mamma Mia! is about so much more than romance and fathers. In a lighthearted and often cheesy way it touches upon themes of sisterhood, feminism, and identity. What makes this musical an international hit is that it’s fun. When done right it makes it hard for people in the audience not to get swept up in the drama happening on the Grecian Island and sing along.
That’s exactly what director, Faith Bennett Russell, achieved in her rendition of Mamma Mia! at the award-winning Village Theatre (Francis J. Gaudette Theatre). She aspired to make it more relatable and made the artistic choice of taking a historically white story and making it one told by black and brown people. Her vision for the musical was grounded in “Sankofa,” the West African saying that can mean “it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” And that is exactly what the Sheridan women do in their two and a half hours on stage
For a full-fledged professional theatre, adult tickets being anywhere from $34-$82, the production value is on par with any upscale theatre where the tickets are two to three times that price. There are also several shows that have ticket specials in order to make the theatre more financially feasible.
With generous sponsors and donors such as Microsoft and Boeing the set was immaculate. With a gorgeous backdrop reminiscent of a beach horizon, a moving trellis draped with lovely purple flowers, and regular scene changes the audience was able to experience all angles of the Greek island and Donna Sheridan’s taverna.
But the talent was nothing to sneeze at either, particularly that of the leading woman. For a show that at its core is about sisterhood it truly needs captivating women to be successful. Estridge’s powerful voice put Meryl Streep’s to shame as she tearfully belted, “the Winner Takes it All” and brought collective “oohs and ahhs” from the audience. Davis’s youth helped her pull off a passionate and naive Sophie. Donna Sheridan’s two best friends, Tanya and Rosie (played by Trina Mills and Be Russell), brought laughs and sultry voices to the stage.
The show ended with all the characters dressing up and coming back out to give an encore of some of the musical’s more popular songs and everyone in the audience was singing and dancing along. Mamma Mia! goes to show that discovering one’s self doesn’t need to be as complex or serious as we make it out to be. Faith Bennett Russell’s Mamma Mia! proves that by changing the cover of a story you can open the doors for it to reach more people.
Whether you are looking to revel in the songs or “mistakes” of your youth you should definitely go see Mamma Mia! at the Village Theatre.
Mamma Mia!, music & lyrics by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson. The Village Theatre, Francis J. Gaudette Theatre 303 Front Street North Issaquah, WA 98027. JUN 8 – JUL 10, 2022. Tickets: https://villagetheatre.org/shows/mamma-mia/?tribe-bar-date=2022-07&tribe-bar-search=%3Ci%3EMamma%20Mia!%3C/i%3E info: (425) 392-2202