OGDEN — Growing up, my older sister loved rocking out to ABBA in the morning as we were hurrying to get ready for school. Their upbeat tempo and catchy tunes always had a special place in my heart that has grown with time. Mamma Mia is a jukebox musical which manages to jam in all the best music of ABBA into a two-act tour de force. It opened in 1999 in London and quickly made its way to Broadway, where it stayed for an amazing fourteen-year run. Just recently, the rights have been granted to local theaters to mount the production. Because of the popularity of the show, there are many local options for theater-goers to see this show. Out of all these options, I highly recommend the Ziegfeld Theatre’s rendition for an entertaining night on the town.
For anyone who has not seen this musical before (or the movie, or the movie sequel), the plot is simple. The play is set on a small Greek island where Sophie, a sweet girl of only twenty, is about to get married. Sophie was raised by her mother, Donna, and has no idea who her father is. She manages to find her mother’s old diary which reveals three possible candidates whom she promptly invites to her wedding.
The young bride Sophie was played by Kali Williams, who packed a powerful punch inside her tiny frame. Williams embodied the role and astounded with her vocal prowess. Playing across from Williams was Wyatt Welch, who played Sophie’s fiancée Sky. Welch wasn’t able to vocally match Williams as they were singing their duet, “Lay All Your Love On Me.” However, their chemistry was electric and really sold the moments of physicality between them.
While there were serious and sensual moments, overall this show was incredibly funny. An absolute standout was Holly Hartman Pivonka as Donna’s old bandmate Rosie. Pivonka was hilarious throughout the production. Her singing was good, but her grasp of physical comedy was brilliant. I have rarely seen a woman so masterful in comedic timing. Director Morgan Parry used Pivonka to her full extent in every scene she was in and lets her cut across the stage using her confidently awkward style that left me in stitches.
The set, designed by Caleb Parry, painted the scene of the quaint but slightly crumbling hotel that Donna owns as her livelihood. Caleb Parry’s design used the space well and easily moved the scenes indoors, outdoors, and to different rooms to follow the characters around on their intense weekend of romance and raucous partying.
Music director Heidi Potter Hunt also doubled as the mother of the bride, Donna. Hunt wowed me with her ability to belt out power ballads like, “The Winner Takes It All.” She also reached my heart with her soft touch on, “Slipping Through My Fingers,” but there were a few numbers when she had some trouble balancing with the band or her background singers. Perhaps some of those balance issues were more to do with the sound equipment, but it was a bit of a problem in a few spots. Hunt’s depiction of Donna was excellent, as was her interaction with her ex-lovers; however, some musical decisions were a little suspect. There seemed to be an excessive amount of reverb on a few songs such as, “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Maybe it was meant to evoke the stylings of ABBA, but it was slightly distracting on those numbers where it is used with a heavy hand.
A very strong portrayal of Tanya was given by Lindsay Gladwell Kapetanov. Tanya is Donna’s triple-divorced friend who comes to the island for the wedding. Kapetanov as Tanya embraced her inner cougar as she prowled about the young men of the cast in her sensational rendition of, “Does Your Mother Know.”
The show was incredibly physical. Choreographer Bryan Andrews offered a visual feast on every group number. The ensemble was full of excellent dancers that were totally in sync with each other and were often featured with their unique abilities. High energy disco was mixed with a touch of modern and gymnastics thrown in a for a bit of pizzazz. Classic ensemble pieces like, “Dancing Queen,” and, “Waterloo,” did not disappoint in spectacle. The energy of the entire cast was through the roof and enthralling.
This show offered a powerhouse of women with men who struggled slightly to chase after them. Donna’s ex-lovers Harry (Timothy Behunin), Bill (David Knowles), and Sam (Kevin Ireland) all seemed a little weaker than their female counterparts. Harry (Behunin) was supposed to be a British banker, but I couldn’t detect any accent, which made euphemisms like, “bloody hell,” sound awkward. While his accent was clumsy, Behunin still delivered on comedy and had a gentle and even voice on, “Our Last Summer.” Ireland’s rough and gravelly voice worked well as he belted his solos as Sam.
Any fan of ABBA knows that it’s not just the music and dancing that makes the show; it’s the outrageous costumes. Costume Designer Alicia Kondrick and her team totally delivered in rounding the audio and visual feast with loud and wild costumes for Donna and the Dynamos.
There were a few technical issues that could be improved. The live band accompaniment was superb, but there were times the mics didn’t seem balanced with the band. There was also a fog machine that I could smell far more than see. Aside from these small critiques, I am full of praise for this delightful show. Director Morgan Parry did a phenomenal job bringing together all the elements of sight and song to make a pleasurable and unforgettable night at the theatre. I recommend this show to all audiences. It is perfect for date night, girl’s night out, and all fans of ABBA.