By Barry Reszel
It doesn’t take much of a lawyer to make a pretty strong case against the musical Mamma Mia!
- Overacted caricatures.
- An all-“ABBA” jukebox songbook with some head-scratching lyrics shoehorned into the plotline.
- Americans on a remote Greek island unsuspectingly bursting into Swedish-inspired song.
- A relatively unsophisticated plot about a young girl seeking her identity before her wedding…cue Maury Povich…”Aaaand the father is…”
The prosecution rests.
Thankfully, musical theatre aficionados know that if the glove (especially if it’s sequined) doesn’t fit, they must acquit. And acquit they have.
The Broadway production of Mamma Mia! closed September 12, 2015, after 5,773 performances that began back in the fall of 2001 following a triumphant tryout at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace (Broadway’s eighth longest run). The musical has spawned a mediocre movie the Brits care more about than bothering to cast their Brexit votes. And it’s outlasted the decade-long run of the Stockholm pop group that spawned the show’s success.
So with the prosecution’s objections duly noted, there are a plethora of reasons to take a chance on Paramount Theatre’s sparkling production, the first in their four-show 2016-17 Broadway series and the first regional production ever for this Broadway juggernaut.
The rationale begins with Director Jim Corti‘s understanding that this is bubble gum fun in a sweet philosophical wrapper. So he doesn’t allow any of his cast to take themselves too seriously. Read a full plot summary here. The best example is new, young ingénue Kiersten Frumkin from Libertyville and Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, making her Chicagoland big stage debut. The lovely, doe-eyed bride-to-be Sophie particularly sparkled in opening night numbers like “The Name of the Game” and “Under Attack,” and she’s 100 percent believable as a 20-year-old bride that shouldn’t be.
Amy Montgomery, best known for her Shakespearean work, is a terrific Donna, Sophie’s mom whose single youthful, promiscuous summer and inexplicable living on a remote Greek island provide the show’s background and setting. Montgomery vocally handles many of the Abba hits, among them “Money, Money, Money;” “Dancing Queen;” “Super Trouper;” SOS;” and “The Winner Takes All.” If there’s a suggestion for Montgomery, it’s that perhaps a little less anger upon seeing her former beaus would let her Donna in on the fun without quite as much wedding angst.
This mother-daughter team is supported by two terrific actresses as Donna’s friends, three wonderful singers as Donna’s former lovers and a buff, youthful, energetic ensemble.
Jennifer Knox is a knockout as Tanya and Sara Sevigny‘s Rosie might be the best character (certainly she’s the funniest) in the show. Jeff Diebold as Sam, Steve O’Connell as Bill Austin and Michael Gillis as Harry are excellent 1/3 dads. But what matters most is their singing, and this quintet does not disappoint. The ladies team with Montgomery on “Dancing Queen,” “Chiquitita,” “Souper Trouper” and more. Diebold’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is a highlight as is Gillis’ and Montgomery’s “Our Last Summer.” Sevigny’s and O’Connell’s “Take a Chance on Me” is hilarious.
By Paramount’s typically high bar standards, Mamma Mia‘s unit set is somewhat spartan. But it’s extraordinarily functional, and its simplicity provides the foreground for some of the most jaw-dropping projection work seen on a Chicagoland stage. Kudos on the collaboration to Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet and Lighting Designer Greg Hofman. Similarly, William Carlos Angulo‘s choreography is less fully elaborate than seen in other productions here.
All said, what this Mamma Mia! provides is exactly what its original producers imagined: 150 minutes (plus intermission) of escape from life’s frustrations after which patrons can say with just a bit more enthusiasm: “…here I go again.”
Paramount Theatre presents “Mamma Mia!” through October 30 at 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. More information and tickets are available online here. Photos by Liz Lauren.