Charming but over-exposed ‘Mamma Mia!’ dances to that ABBA beat

SHARE Charming but over-exposed ‘Mamma Mia!’ dances to that ABBA beat

Cassie Slater (from left), Danni Smith and Meghan Murphy in “Mamma Mia!” at the Marriott Theatre. (Photo: Justin Barbin)

Like mother, like daughter? Not exactly. Sometimes a mother’s life can trigger an about-face in her daughter. Consider, for example, the story told in “Mamma Mia!,” the almost continually produced (some might say over-exposed) musical whose score —  a clever compilation of two dozen hits from the irresistible ABBA songbook — never fails to delight.

‘MAMMA MIA!’ Recommended When: Through April 16 Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire Tickets: $50 – $60 Info: Run time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, with one intermission

The latest incarnation of the show has arrived on the stage of the Marriott Theatre, where director Rachel Rockwell has gathered a cast that includes several alums from her hit show, “Ride the Cyclone” (whose Chicago production enjoyed great success in its recent  Off Broadway incarnation), as well as a number of other high-profile regulars from the city’s musical theater scene. Rockwell also has called on choreographer Ericka Mac to assure that the show gets audiences of every age ready to move. And while this might not be a definitive production of the hit show that debuted in London in 1999, moved on to Broadway, and has reportedly been seen by 60 million people in 40 countries, and been translated into 23 languages, it has its charms. (Any guesses about how you say “Super Trouper” or “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” in Mandarin or Greek?)

The story, for any newbies, goes like this: It is 1979, and Sophie Sheridan (Tiffany Tatreau), is a 20-year-old who has spent her whole life living on a beautiful Greek island where her single mother, Donna (Danni Smith), has built and run a taverna/hotel. Donna, a “nice Catholic girl,” fled a conservative life in the U.S. more than two decades earlier, traveled around Europe with an all-girl band and lived a liberated life. And she has never revealed to Sophie the name of her father because during the summer she became pregnant she was jilted by her true love, American architect Sam Carmichael (Peter Saide), and also had brief affairs with Bill Austin (Derek Hasenstab), now a travel writer, and a British guy, Harry Bright (Karl Hamilton), now a successful banker. So the identity of the father is unknown.

But now, as Sophie prepares to marry her fiance, Sky (Russell Mernagh), she is determined to discover her dad’s identity and have him walk her down the aisle. And thanks to notes found in her mother’s long-hidden diary, she sends invitations to all three men, informing none of them, or her mother, about her true goal. Not surprisingly, when the three show up there is much confusion, many raw emotions and much remembrance of things past.

The most impressive thing about “Mamma Mia!,” whose book was devised by Catherine Johnson, is just how cleverly and effectively the songs of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have been integrated into the story line, and how ideally they fit the characters of those who sing them. It could be “Money, Money, Money,” which finds Donna lamenting about how hard it has been to keep her business going over the years, or a goofy “Lay All Your Love on Me,” a romp for Sophie, Sky and the surfboarding guys who work for Donna, or the lovely mother-daughter scene set to “Slipping Through My Fingers,” or Donna’s angry take on “The Winner Takes It All.”

Tatreau, a petite girl with a big presence and just the right blend of wistfulness and drive, sings and dances with panache and makes sense of each scene with the various men in her life. Smith’s power voice and mix of toughness and vulnerability are a fine fit for Donna. And there are a couple of larger-than-life comic turns by the two pals from her wild days: The vampy, multiply married and divorced Tanya (Meghan Murphy, the redhead with the belt voice and all the right moves) who is the cougar of choice for beach boy Pepper (played by Liam Quealy, who is quite the acrobatic dancer), and the fervent feminist, Rosie (Cassie Slater), who suddenly finds herself pursuing a husband.

Saide, the Australian-born actor with wide-ranging credits who plays Sam, is a touch too handsome and young (and is all but unrecognizable from his portrayal of Jud in Paramount Theatre’s “Oklahoma” a couple of season back), but he has fire. Hasenstab has fun with his terror-of-marriage scene in which Rosie dares him with “Take a Chance on Me.” And Hamilton hits just the right notes as the banker with his own little secret.

The orchestra gets the job done but sounds somewhat muffled (unusual at Marriott). And while the theater’s in-the-round configuration creates a certain intimacy, oddly enough there is little sense of being on an island, and set designer Scott Davis’ lovely white stucco walls with Aegean blue shutters only become fully visible in one number and then get kind of lost. Theresa Ham’s character-defining costumes make the most of the many “real women” figures on stage, just as the gold and silver spandex outfits outline the perfect bodies of the terrific chorus dancers who motor the grand finale dance party and get the audience on its feet.

Derek Hasenstab (from left), Peter Saide and Karl Hamilton in the Marriott Theatre production of “Mamma Mia!” (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Derek Hasenstab (from left), Peter Saide and Karl Hamilton in the Marriott Theatre production of “Mamma Mia!” (Photo: Liz Lauren)

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