By Martie Thompson
If you’re looking for a joyous trip down pop music memory lane, Alhambra’s production of “Mamma Mia” is for you. But a friendly warning: You will find yourself singing along (with everyone else in the audience) to this clever comedy that finds a way to utilize the ABBA songbook to tell a charming story of a young girl about to be married who has never known her father.
With music and lyrics by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the ‘70s Swedish pop group ABBA and book by Catherine Johnson, “Mamma Mia” was first conceived by Judy Craymer after she considered the theatrical potential of ABBA’s songs, particularly “The Winner Takes It All.” Indeed, the performance of this song midway through the second act is the highlight of the stage musical.
The show opens somewhat quietly with Sophie, portrayed by Grace Gibbons, mailing invitations to her upcoming wedding to three men whose names she found in her mother’s 20-year-old diary. She made it appear that the letters were from her mother, Donna, portrayed by Kelly Atkins, and so all three men were curious enough to show up.
Australian adventurer Bill (portrayed by Jim Ballard) shines in a duet “The Name of the Game” with Sophie, while architect Sam (portrayed by Jim Sorensen) has his best moment in a heartfelt rendition of “SOS” which he sings with Donna, his former love. British businessman Harry (portrayed by Billy Clark Taylor) connects with Donna in the touching song, “Our Last Summer.” But who is actually Sophie’s father?
The entire cast handles the ABBA songs with panache and the comfortable familiarity with this music is central to the show’s feel good vibe. Comedic touches are numerous, from the energetic dancing of the ensemble in snorkeling gear in “Lay All Your Love on Me” to the flirtatious hilarity of “Take a Chance on Me,” performed by Donna’s friend Rosie (portrayed by the tour de force that is Lisa Valdini) and Sophie’s possible father Bill. Valdini never disappoints in her Alhambra appearances and she pretty much steals each scene she appears in.
Energetic choreography by Shain Stroff throughout the show, but especially on entire cast numbers like “Voulez-Vous” and “Under Attack,” keeps everything moving along at a brisk pace. Inventive, moveable sets featuring shuttered windows and evoking a fictional Greek taverna, as well as unique lighting arrangements, are employed to great effect.
Chef DeJuan Roy has once again created a menu to complement the show. This time, since “Mamma Mia” is set in Greece, Mediterranean food is featured. The best of the bunch was the traditional Greek salad to start, followed by Mediterranean cod with shrimp and mussels in garlic tomato broth with rice, artichoke, sun-dried tomatoes and an asiago crostini, with the Baklava cupcake for dessert.
“Mamma Mia” will be performed through Sept. 15. Visit www.alhambrajax.com to reserve tickets.
Photo courtesy Alhambra Dinner Theatre.