The theater department of Dominican University is currently presenting the long-running hit Broadway musical Mamma Mia. Three performances remain this weekend. It is Dominican theater’s first live show since the beginning of the pandemic, so this production is truly cause for celebration.
There are some folks who deride this “jukebox musical” as being improbable and contrived. But the reality is that this two-act, two-hour production is thrilling and tightly directed; the large, talented cast is highly energized; the inventive choreography is top-notch; and the 20-some ABBA songs are fluffy and fun. You may recall that ABBA, a Swedish group, was most popular during the disco era, but they’re born again with this entertaining show.
Krista Hansen, director and chairman of the Theater Arts and Music Department, says, “After 18 months of separation from live theater, what better way to reunite artists and audiences than through a show that celebrates human connection?”
Upon arrival at Lund Auditorium in River Forest, audience members must present both their ID and their “vaccination card” in order to be admitted. Non-performers kept their masks on during the entire production but the actors are not masked. I was glad. I saw a show a few weeks ago in which the entire cast was masked. Not only did some of the dialogue in that production seem garbled, but it was usually impossible to see any of the cast members’ facial expressions.
I am ashamed to admit I was somewhat dreading seeing undergraduate performers playing the variety of ages called for in this cast. But the ensemble is definitely multi-aged, so casting was undoubtedly opened beyond the confines of the Dominican campus. It’s a perfectly cast show.
This 1999 musical is a celebration of love, motherhood, friendship and forgiveness. But there is no attempt to establish the period. We learn the leading character was born in 1978. Surely this young lady is not 43. She is said to be 20, so I assume the period is the late ’90s, when this show first opened.
The music and lyrics of Mamma Mia are by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson. Catherine Johnson wrote the book.
The rather simplistic plot begins with 20-year-old bride-to-be Sophie (Lilli Adam), who has been raised by her single mom and has never learned the identity of her father. She snoops into her mother’s past, learning the names of three men she dated 20 years earlier, then secretly invites the guys to the wedding to see if she can uncover which one is actually her dad. She is desperate to learn the truth.
Instead of Mamma Mia, this show should be called “My Three Dads”. One of them is Sophie’s actual father, but which one? The men are played by Tyler Sonkin, Matt Whalen, and Dan Collins. They are each funny and charming.
Adam has strong stage presence. In this production her character, Sophie, is about to marry another woman, played by Hershey Suri.
We realize almost immediately the plot is merely a clothesline on which the many ABBA songs are hung. Yet none of it feels forced or awkward. Since these songs were never created for a stage musical, however, they don’t really move the plot along. But each fits rather naturally into the storyline.
Sophie lives with Donna, her single mom (Kelli Clevenger), who runs a small hotel on the Greek Isles. The actress plays the complex but entertaining character with fierce independence.
Two of Donna’s best buddies show up to help with the wedding.
Leslie Rodriguez, who has comedic ease in her delivery, has some great moments as Rosie, especially during her performance of “Take a Chance on Me.”
Melissa Crabtree is spectacular as Tanya. A highlight is “Does Your Mother Know” with Luke Nowakowski. Crabtree also has great comic timing.
The characters are forever dancing and smiling and bursting into catchy songs. It’s infectious and enjoyable. Ben Paynic, who also serves as the dance captain, is especially spirited. The stage really comes alive with the big ensemble dance numbers. Dyanna Daniels created the ingenious choreography. The cast is more than up to the demands of this high-energy show.
Musical director is David Fiorello. Scenic designer is Shane Cinal. The Greek island setting consists of a two-level performance space.
Performances remain for this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 19 and 20. at 7:30. There is a matinee at 3 p.m. on Sunday the 21st. Tickets are $18. Admission is free to Dominican students.