Mamma Mia: Here I go again!

Mamma Mia set Nushi Mazumdar/THE REVIEW
The set of Mamma Mia on the stage at Pearson Hall.

BY
Column Editor

“Mamma Mia! Here I go again. My, my how can I resist you?”

That is the question on everyone’s lips when the Harrington Theater Arts Company (HTAC) decided to perform “Mamma Mia,” a musical full of energy and catchy songs that will keep your feet tapping the entire time. It’s truly hard to resist, and honestly, you’d be insane to resist the temptation of “Mamma Mia.” “Mamma Mia” is one of those shows that is best experienced live, so why not take a chance on this fabulous musical?

For those unfortunate souls who are unfamiliar with “Mamma Mia,” it is a musical featuring phenomenal songs from ABBA, a Swedish pop group. The musical has a plethora of groovy disco numbers and soulful ballads. Sophie, one of the show’s protagonists, is about to get married, but wants her dad to walk her down the aisle. Unsure as to who her father is, Sophie sends three invitations to her three possible fathers. Hijinks ensue as Donna, Sophie’s mother, discovers that her former flames have arrived in her life once again.

Almost everyone has seen or at least knows about “Mamma Mia,” so as I arrived to Pearson Hall, the line to enter into the theater itself was to the door with anxious viewers eagerly awaiting the show. As a musical lover, I was squealing along as I entered into the theater, hurriedly flipping through the playbill. I have never seen an HTAC show, although I have always meant to. I had high expectations for the show after only hearing praise about HTAC. It’s also freaking “Mamma Mia,” so how can you go wrong?

As the lights dim, and the music from the title song plays, we are introduced to Sophie, played by Gabby Wuensch, who immediately steals our hearts with her strong and stunning voice. Wuensch acts as the heart and soul for Act I, in particular, effortlessly dominating much of the scenes and songs she is in. That is not to say that the rest of the cast is any less amazing.

We meet Sophie’s mamma, Donna, through the catchy beats of “Money, Money.” Although Donna, played by Jessie Gray, is extraordinary in this number, her performance is just a preview of the real thing later to come in the show. The song is given a dramatic flair with dimmed lighting and exaggerated dance moves.

HTAC's Mamma Mia! Courtesy of Emily Taylor/THE REVIEW
Donna and her Dynamos looking fierce in their shimmering jumpsuits.

As Sophie’s possible baby daddies arrive to the wedding venue, we soon discover how funny and sweet they are as they attempt to connect with Sophie and Donna in this rather awkward situation. Sam, played by Griffen Frantz, is charming and charismatic, making it difficult to not fall in love with this truly endearing character. Bill, played by Seance Scanlon, is hilarious in almost every one of his scenes, especially when paired with his love interest. Lastly, Harry, played by Hunter Browning, may not have the perfect British accent, but compensates with fierce dance moves and plenty of ass-shaking.

In Act I, we luckily meet Donna’s Dynamos, Tanya and Rosie, who are truly hilarious and ensure there is never a dull moment when on stage. Tanya, played by Becca DiCondina, is sassy and chic, as she unwillingly draws the attention of younger men. Similarly, Rosie, played by Maddie Breskie, is absolutely adorable and is always prepared with quippy comments and retorts. Their playful banter makes for some of the funniest moments in the musical, proving the Dynamos are nothing less than their leader, Donna.

“Dancing Queen” is the stand out song in the first act and with good reason, as it’s freaking amazing. It’s hard to keep still in your seat when “Dancing Queen” plays, although I somehow managed to pull it off. The dance number is filled to the brim with disco moves, as well as a disco ball to top it all off. As the disco lights scatter across the ceiling, dance members leap through the aisles, joining the others onstage for this exhilarating number.

The first act ends on a high note with “Voulez Vous,” which is fraught with tension and anxiety, as Sophie is still unaware of who her father is. The choreography is certainly representative of the tense nature of the scene as couples perform quick and precise moves to the beat of this striking song. The actors surprisingly keep up with this fast pace, refusing to let the energy die down in this rollercoaster of a musical.

Act II serves to highlight Donna’s struggle and reaction to the situation, as we witness her inner turmoil. In “One of Us,” Gray gives an outstanding performance, showing off her impressive singing chops. Gray seamlessly blends into the character of Donna, conveying a sense of wisdom and maturity beyond the actress’s years.

The emotions continue to run high in “SOS,” during which Sam and Donna sing together about their past together. The two actors give off all the feels with soulful performance worthy of this heart-breaking song. You just hope for a happy ending, even though you know the outcome, unable to stop crying, but it’s not like I cried or anything (sniffle.)

“Does Your Mother Know” serves as a well-deserved break from all tension and drama as we turn to Tanya who fends off the advances of a younger man. Ignoring the unfortunate Oedipus reference that made me and most of the audience cringe and groan, this number was adorable and hilarious as the pair dance and flirt.

HTAC's Mamma Mia! Courtesy of Emily Taylor/THE REVIEW
Sophie’s baby daddies who kill it on stage and in front of a camera.

The water works make a reappearance as we experience Donna’s intense emotions in “Slipping Through my Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All.” As Sophie prepares for he wedding, Donna reminisces about her relationship with her now grown daughter. Gray and Weunsch have an undeniable chemistry onstage that translates well as mother and daughter. However, the real gut-wrenching song has to be “The Winner Takes It All,” in no small part due to Gray’s outstanding performance as Donna who struggles to reconcile with her past. Gray’s soaring vocals are on full display as she refuses to relent in this truly tasking number. The audience’s uproarious applause is a testament to Gray’s pitch perfect performance in the lead role.

Break time. After Gray’s extraordinarily emotional take on “The Winner Takes It All,” we are blessed with one of the funniest songs in the musical, “Take a Chance on Me.” As Rosie practically throws herself at Bill, showing no shame in the process, the pair eventually passionately and rather awkwardly lock lips, despite Bill’s initial objections. The two take things a step further with pants about to fly off and the couple sprawled on the ground, ready to … However, before the merriment can continue, they are interrupted by the wedding party.

As the wedding ends, the musical goes full-circle, ending with Sophie who began the show. Wuensch continues to amaze the audience with her beautiful vocals in the iconic “I Have a Dream,” not to be confused with the Martin Luther King Jr. speech. The song is the perfect end to this phenomenal show and a favorite in the audience, considering that the lady behind me wouldn’t stop singing along to it.

As the curtain call ended, I was prepared to scurry away from Pearson, but the music came back on. The cast refused to leave the stage even after the curtain call, dancing along to “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia” and “Waterloo.” This surprise move was completely worth the extra time glued to our seats, as the three baby daddies donned matching jumpsuits as Donna and the Dynamos. The cast strutted their best moves and ended the night with a bang.

“Mamma Mia” is a ton of energy and excitement that deserves to be experienced live. Although I’m a huge Meryl Streep fan, paying five dollars to experience “Mamma Mia” up close is totally worth the measly sum of money. “Mamma Mia” will continue its run on November 14, 15 and 16 at Pearson Hall for anyone willing to watch some exceptional singing and dancing. Take a chance on “Mamma Mia”. That’s all I ask of you.

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