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Three generations sit in front, behind and beside me as the house light darken, the announcer comes on and says the usual jargon and exclaims or warns “white platform shoes and spandex are used in this production”, and the sounds of ABBA begin to play, this is ‘Mamma Mia!’ in the OC.
Director Phyllida Lloyd brings verve to the songs of Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, with a story weaving the songs together written by Catherine Johnson.
Donna is a free independent spirit who’s daughter, Sophia, is about to get married. Sophia has a problem; she wants a white wedding which would include her dad walking her down the aisle. Okay two problems. One she doesn’t know who her dad is and two, it is one of three men she found in her mom’s diary. Answer? Invite them all and sort it out the day before the wedding. Enter the three suitors, Sam, Bill and Harry all from various walks of life. Add to the fun Donnas friends from the old days, Tanya and Rosie and you have a story of past affairs, adventures and new life to still explore.
Having grown up during the time ABBA songs were at its height of popularity, I can relate to their messages of both young at heart and eventual maturity of life. Johnson has woven masterfully the works of ABBA around these two generations of women trying to find out what to do next in life.
The true talents of the performance are those of the actors. Chloe Tucker as Sophia was jubilant and lovely voice to hear. Kaye Tuckerman playing Donna, is an exceptional vocalist. Her range is only humbled by the emotion she puts behind the words. The three dads-to-be Harry, Bill and Sam are played by Paul Deboy, Brian Ray Norris and Tony Clements respectively. All three are enjoyable to watch as the unsuspecting dads. Though Deboy and Clements singing is a little less to be desired, almost forced and out of range. Norris is the only one who looks and sounds comfortable in his vocal presentation. Allison Ewing is a joy to watch and hear as the longtime friend and upscale meticulous friend Tanya. Her physical humor and antics compliment her singing and cohort Mary Callanan playing Rosie. Another of Donna’s longtime friends who’s let the world grow on her in the more voluptuous manner. Callanan doesn’t let it show in her vibrant energy on stage. Much applause to you all and your fellow cast mates.
As for the direction of the show I have to wonder if the troupe is getting bored with the show in general or the direction of Lloyd is just bland. The lead characters are giving their best and yet the direction on stage sometimes looks stagnant. Especially with the choreography, this during the show is more reminiscent of a college production. I will give exception to the finale numbers which were more of what I would expect from a Broadway show that has been going strong for 12 years now.
This leads me into what needed some help in the show. The sound crew needs to figure out what was going on as several of the actors had feedback issues throughout the show. Lighting at times was too dark and you couldn’t see anything. The tree pieces they had flown during the show had a large hole in the middle of them and became annoying to keep seeing in the corner of your eye.
Overall you have to appreciate the joy and thought provoking the music of ABBA has been over the years. Having them interwoven into a story that can be shared by any generation is just an additional benefit of a creative writer and imaginative team. It is a joyous evening for all to come out and connect with each other through the universal medium of music.
It is a story of wanting to grow up and have what our parents may have never had. Of finding things some people just want to forget about. It is a story that plays out day in and day out in our lives. As youth we think those older than us don’t know what we are going through and the adults think the youth are growing up too fast. Unfortunately in some cases our youth are growing up to fast because our world is so unpredictable. To be able to connect on an even level is something we all should do. We are all living our lives one day at a time, dealing with issues that plague us all. To be able to connect through music and enjoy each other’s company and relate on and even higher plane should be done often. We are all teachers and we are all learning every day of our life. Get out there and live.
See ‘Mamma Mia!’ at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts June 21-June 26, 2011.
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