In 1999 a show premiered that, on top of revitalizing the Broadway musical as an entertainment entity, was destined to become a World-wide phenomenon (–further among its numerous accomplishments: It single-handedly made Las Vegas a “Theater” town!)
The inspiration of U.K. Theater Producer Judy Craymer, “Mamma Mia!” is based on the collected songs of Swedish ‘Super group’ “ABBA”, with a book by playwright Catherine Johnson and featuring music and lyrics by “ABBA” founding members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (with additional lyrics by Stig Anderson.) Indeed, few musicals in recent memory can boast such a melodic pedigree with literally one showstopper after another–among them: “Super Trouper,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Thank You for the Music”, “Money, Money, Money (It’s A Rich Man’s World)”, “Voulez-Vous”, “The Winner Takes It All,”, “SOS,” and of course the mother of them all, “Dancing Queen”–not to mention the captivating title tune. Now 3-D Theatricals—Southern California’s stellar Award-Winning Theater Company, closes out their unforgettable 2017-2018 by breaking new ground yet again with this, the regional theater premier of this mega-hit musical, even as they bid a fond farewell to “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” with this production slated to be their final presentation at that facility. The Direction for this new version is by Broadway’s David F.M. Vaughn, with Choreography by Dana Solimando and Musical Direction by Allen Everman, (who also oversees the hard-driving “rock orchestra” who accompany and enliven this flashy, unabashed, Lamé-clad extravaganza!)
Taking its name from one of the Pop group’s most popular hit singles first heard on their 1975 album, “ABBA”, “Mamma Mia!” tells the musical story of “Sophie Sheridan”–a young woman of twenty, who, on the eve of her wedding (and completely unbeknownst to her mother,) brings all three (unsuspecting) ‘candidates’ from her mother’s past back to the Greek island paradise they last visited twenty years ago, in an attempt to discover just who among them is her real father. They are: “Sam Carmichael”, an American Architect living in Chicago, “Harry Bright”—a London-based Financier, and “Bill Austin”—an Australian World traveler and renowned ladies’ man. “What do you write to a total stranger? Come to my wedding, you might be my dad?!” Sophie explains to her Bridesmaids while brandishing her mom’s old diary from which she learned about this trio of potential papas; “No, they think Mom sent the invitations–and after reading this I’m not surprised they all said Yes!” Complicating things just a tad is her single mother, “Donna Sheridan”—the former lead-singer of a disco girl group called “Donna And The Dynamos”, who is also reuniting with her former band-mates, “Rosie” and Tanya” for one last performance in celebration of “Sophie’s” marriage to her fiancée “Sky”. At turns sunny, raucously funny, and even startlingly poignant, “Mamma Mia” became an international sensation thanks to non-stop laughs and frenetic, farcical situations, all while powered by some explosive dance numbers–each set to the entrancing music of some of “ABBA’s” uppermost chart-toppers! 3-D Theatricals’ latest re-imagining takes clear advantage of all the geniality, appeal and undoubtedly many cherished memories connected with both these songs and the show itself, with each irresistible melody coalescing to make their new rendering of the show one rollicking nuptial groove down (and in) the aisles!
A remarkable gauntlet at the box office practically from its inception, this carried over into the 2008 blockbuster film which ranks as among the highest grossing movie musicals—ever. To date, the on-screen sequel which opened last month is giving every indication it too, will follow suit…and this time around for 3-D Theatricals is no different. In fact, Producer T.J. Dawson has stated that this show has set something of a record for the company—giving them their largest pre-sale box-office figures in their already storied history. Aided by Assistant Director Jack Boyle, Director Vaughn seamlessly recreates all the fun, festive and familiar moments we’ve grown to love, but gives more than a few of them an added twist or distinction (–sometime expanding some, understating others) allowing them to appear in a thoroughly new light. Ms. Solimando’s choreography too is never quite what you expect, but always better that anything that you were (“Saturday Night Fever” should have been so electrifying!) She also makes the most of yet another way the production stands out, specifically the innovative way it integrates the music—often utilizing an unseen ‘pit chorus’ (meaning numbers can achieve a rich, full sound while keeping the action on stage more intimate as needed.) Case-In-Point: the big “Dancing Queen” interlude here, (in direct contrast to the full-blown treatment it received on the big-screen,) is pleasantly allowed to stay smaller—just between the three friends, serving as it does as kind of their re-union, as they blithely recollect their ‘glory days’ as performers. On the other hand “Lay All Your Love On Me”, which quickly ensues, is a bona-fide production extravaganza similarly starting small as an amorous beach-side duet between “Sophie” and her intended, before they’re joined by all of their friends for an all-out romp in the sand and surf. Then, right before Act One comes to a close, expert lighting effects combine with even more of Solimando’s exhilarating choreography for the climactic “Man After Midnight”, which just builds and builds giving over into one awesome moment after another until segueing into the ‘official’ act break titled, “Voulez- Vous”.
Think of this one as something akin to ‘Grand Ballet’ were it integrated into an old airing of “Soul Train” or “Dance Fever”; the net effect is unexpected, but it all blends together perfectly! (Little wonder by its conclusion opening night audiences were cheering for more!) Another prime example of her inventiveness is the Entr’acte, which actually functions as a practical lead-in back into the story, laying the foundation for a surreal dream sequence our “Bride-to be” is being subjected to before she launches into her post-intermission opener, “Under Attack”. In this instance, Solimando and company fashion a phantasmic “Night Of The Living Dead” fantasy sequence whither our “Sophie” ‘dreams” of her three potential dads–all dressed in gothic black evening clothes vying for the right to escort her down the isle—but is it for her wedding or her funeral?! Joining them at length is her two Bridesmaids who both twist and contort like denizens from “The Walking Dead”, whilst her bridal veil grows into something vaguely resembling a giant ‘spider web’. Not exactly a breezy opening for Act Two, but it is distinct and decidedly clever!
Sophina Brown stars as “Donna Sheridan”–the former “Rock-Chick Supreme-o” back in her days as the lead-singer of “The funkiest Girl-Group” in all of Europe: “The Dynamos”. Gifted with a genuinely inspiring voice (—and even better, the acumen to use it so brilliantly,) she delivers a pristine knock-out performance on every level! Whether she’s totally blowing us away with the many extended ‘money notes” written into a song’s ride-out, or to pull-back to strum our heart-strings a little for those more ‘emotional’ intervals, it’s not too strong a statement to say that Brown prevails with just about every single tune she’s handed with this part. Starting with “Money, Money, Money (It’s A Rich Man’s World)” (also the show’s first ‘big’ production number) this is a mere sampling though of even more estimable things to come—including a sexy, soulful rendition of the classic title number. After intermission too provides a plethora of Gold-Medal opportunities for this talented lady to dazzle–and dazzle she categorically does! Pulling out all the stops for her initial “second act’ offering–the pensive “One Of Us Is Lonely” (cut from the motion-picture, then ‘recycled’ into the current cinematic sequel, now in theaters) she next puts this high-octane song-styling flair into the service of her half of the duet “S.O.S.” (sung opposite “Sam”–who himself doesn’t disappoint either.) Despite all their impassioned stanzas to the contrary, it becomes staggeringly evident that strong feelings for one another continue to linger, although neither can suitably express them.
This arises just before another veritable “one-two’ punch of deeply affecting numbers for her—the first with “Harry” called “Our Last Summer”, as the pair reminisce of their by-gone Parisian romance; immediately after, when “Sophie” ask her mother’s help to get ready for the ceremony ahead, “Donna” takes the time to reflect on how her daughter has grown (and will soon have flown) in the moving “Slipping Through My Fingers”. Yet few (if any) of the songs Brown is called upon to convey however are better than “The Winner Takes It All”. Simply uttering the opening verses, she lends the song and the sentiments it verbalizes an incredible and very real pathos, while saving her vocal power for the song’s closing refrain (Sure enough, more than a few ‘First-Nighters’ in attendance were openly sobbing by the time she was done!) Flynn Hayward also does a stellar job as her daughter “Sophie”—the young lass around whom much of the action revolves (–it is her wedding they’re all preparing for after all.) Both Brown and Hayward’s more ‘swarthy’ looks refreshingly steer away from the standard “Girl with Golden Hair” tenet these two roles have become virtually renowned for (proving moreover, that “Brunettes’ can have their share of fun and adventure too!) Hayward also is blessed with enviable vocal talents, which she validates right off (while also launching the entire show) with the brief Prologue, “I Believe In Angels” wherein the young budding Bride secretly mails wedding invitations to her possible padres. Directly after, she explains her clandestine action to us and her Bridesmaid-pals, when leading “Honey, Honey”, before ‘upping’ her personal charm-quotient even more by way of a scant few verses in “Thank You For The Music”. At the other end of the musical spectrum (genre-ly speaking) she pretty much rocks the auditorium with “Name Of The Game” (still another stage hit that was omitted from the feature-film adaptation in the final edit.)
Janna Cardia likewise supplies outstanding support as the tough talking oft-married “Tanya”: “Imagine Donna’s daughter!” she scoffs early on; “Committing ‘Matrimony at 20!” Cardia also has an A-Plus voice which she largely puts to use supporting the “Dynamos” collective melodic undertakings; but she does get her chance to masterfully take ‘center stage’ on her own, “shining like the sun” with Tanya’s Act Two declaration: “Does Your Mother Know?” This itself culminates in a stunning group dance sequence, but not before Cardia fervently gives us her vocal ‘all’–even including a few aesthetic nods to legendary ladies like Janis Joplin or Aretha Franklin in the process.
Candi Milo also gives laudable back-up as her bandmate, “Rosie”. She too, gets her own chance to amaze with her ‘big’ 11th hour chanson, “Take A Chance On Me”. Staged as way more than just a resourceful scene-changing device (as it’s so often been used as,) instead the number brings with it some kind of larger, more satisfying purpose. Oh, it’s still light-hearted enough, but also underscores the potential connection between “Bill” and “Rosie” that Director Vaughn has wisely allowed ‘hints about’ all through the proceedings. In doing so, he’s given the number a solid and sincere reason to be included, (and you may rest assured that the pair reap their share of applause merely from the sheer delight they’re having with it.) As a team, Cardia and Milo bestow even more mind-blowing harmony—at the outset with a heaping side of laughs in “Chiquitita”, as they, having newly arrived for the festivities, attempt to console their former lead-singer “Donna”, ever mindful that “The wedding is tomorrow”. Joined by Brown as the reunited trio of “Donna And The Dynamos”, all three positively incandesce–and not just due to all the glitter and silky-charmeuse in their costumes–but by furnishing some of the most unforgettable, ‘knock out’ numbers the score is flat-out overflowing with, like “Super Trouper” (sung as they entertain as “Sophie’s” Bridal-Bachelorette ‘Hen Party’,) and the iconic “Dancing Queen”. (Admittedly, these songs particularly bring with them some heavy audience expectations and these ladies absolutely don’t disappoint!)
When it comes to the men in these ladies’ lives, most of the male roles are largely relegated to more ancillary duties, but now and again, they do get their time in the spotlight. Leading the way is Martin Kildare as “Donna’s” long lost (but oh, so remembered,) “Sam Carmichael”. While his major solo, “Knowing Me, Knowing You” doesn’t occur until the second half of the show, it is nonetheless very worth waiting for—re-envisioned here as well-meaning ‘Fatherly advice” to “Sophie” regarding how weddings can sometimes lead to painful divorces. Either way, it gives us a healthy understanding (albeit somewhat belatedly in the action) as to exactly how strong and talented a singer Kildare is in his own right! Corky Loupe also makes for an exciting stage-presence as ‘Harry “The Head Banger” Bright’, shrewdly giving us a more ‘proper’ Brit gentleman–in direct contrast to the supposed “Hell-raiser” he once purportedly was. Loupe also possesses a smoother, more sultry quality reminiscent of the likes of “Al Stewart” (I.E. the singer distinguished for his 1976 hit “The Year Of The Cat”) rather than anything even approaching “Heavy Metal”; this talent he puts to excellent use with his contributions to “Thank You For The Music”, then “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”, and most notably in the second act with “Our Last Summer”—a touching memory of how he first fell hard for our “Donna” while in the fabled “City of Lights”. Not in any way ‘the odd man out’ either is Michael Cavinder who loans a larger-than-life presence to the Australian ‘explorer” “Bill Austin” (–the character whose “Great Aunt”, we’re informed, “Sophie” may be named after!) This role essentially comes with a unique set of challenges, in that “Bill”, rather than singing much on his own, is not only mostly relegated to lending support to larger numbers like “Thank You For The Music” and “Mamma Mia”, he’s basically placed more in the position of being sung to—as Sophie does with “The Name Of The Game” or Rosie does as part of “Take A Chance On Me”. Gladly, Cavinder has a practiced way with a subtle gag-line, throwing it out in such a way as to garner the best reactions. Thematically, it’s also pretty funny in itself to consider that although “Bill” is the biggest and boldest of the three, he’s also the most intimidated at the idea of ever committing to anyone (like Donna, Sophie or Rosie) “Don’t tell me you have a twin sister,” He asks “Sophie” when confronted with the suggestion that he may be her father.
Meanwhile, “Sophie’s” fiancé “Sky” (whom “Donna” describes as “the Leading Man in this whole wedding shin-dig,”) is played with dashing aplomb by Clayton Jones. He too, dispenses superb support throughout, and while he only has two really notable chances to show off his lush and lustrous voice, they indubitably rank as definite crowd-pleasers. In addition to his part in the seductive and pulsating “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)” which transpires once “Sky” and his guy-pals invade the ladies-only “Hen Party”, there’s also the lively “Lay All Your Love On Me”, set on the beach with “Sophie” when the two Lovebirds are overtaken by a band of his soon-to-be groom’s-men (Oh, and for those interested in such things, Jones also has a dynamite physique which he has copious occasions to show off, given that this all fundamentally takes place on a Greek Island!) Not to be over looked either is Noah Rivera as the perpetually ‘on the make’ Bartender, “Pepper”. He may only have one primary number in which to impress—but impress he most certainly does “Does Your Mother Know”. As a dancer, Rivera also proves he not just another dime-store “Deney Terrio” either, dominating the number by demonstrating some truly eye-popping moves–the likes of which even Travolta or Swayze would envy!
The scenic designs by Stephen Gifford reveal a more expansive (let alone thrillingly colorful) set, consisting of an artificial stage-wall made up of movable ‘shutters’ that work in tandem with several mobile set pieces. Favoring a more “Casablanca”-“Casbah” feel, each infuses the goings-on with vibrant hues everywhere the eye can see while having the wonderful ‘side effect’ of giving the story a more coherent backdrop or ‘sense of place’ sometimes lacking in the more nebulous or imprecise designs used in the Broadway and touring productions. (You also have to love any configuration that utilizes no less than 21 mirrored-disco balls–but you have to wait until the curtain-call/encores to see them!) The sets couldn’t be better complimented by the equally effervescent Lighting design by Jean Yves-Tessier which add even more sparkle and visual pizzazz—especially amidst many of the dance sequences. Clothing-wise, from casual beach wear to more ‘traditional’ wedding attire, to the glitzy, gaudy, over-the-top stage getups which reflect a faded Disco musical act, you just know this has to be a fabulously ‘fun’ show to arrange costumes for, and from festive to formal, this spirit is very much apparent in the vivaciously chromatic selections by Costume Designer Alexandra Johnson! Tasteful or more trendy casual, everyday wear to way more theatrical garb (and then some,) Ms. Johnson’s designs commendably strike a fine-looking balance between the two worlds of 1970’s “Showbiz” and that of a more modern, (if modest,) Mediterranean island resort, adding a heightened sense of mirth, magic and romance—and in a production like this, there’s arguably no such thing as too, too much!
“Mamma Mia”–what a show! (–again, if you’ve seen it before; if not, now is your chance to finally understand what all the raves and ovations have been about!) After “Previewing on Friday, August 3rd, “Mamma Mia” ‘officially’ opened on Saturday evening, August 4th where it will play through Sunday August 12th, 2018 at “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center located at: 1935 E. Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Redondo Beach, California. Showtimes are Friday, August 10th at 8:00 PM; Saturday, August 11 at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM with a Sunday Matinee on August 12th at 2:00 PM. Subsequently, the Production transfers to “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” located at: 12700 Center Court Drive, in Cerritos, California. There, it will play an additional eight performances beginning Friday, August 17th through Sunday, August 26th, 2018. Showtimes for this engagement are: Fridays (August 17th and August 24th,) at 8:00 PM, Saturdays (August 18th and August 25th,) at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM on August 19th and August 26th. (There will be an added Thursday performance on August 23rd at 7:30 PM as well.) Tickets for both locations may be obtained by calling “The 3-D Theatricals Remote Box Office” at 714 589-2770, Ext. 1, Monday through Friday between the hours of 11:00 AM through 5:00 PM; Saturdays 12:00 Noon through 4:00 PM. For the Cerritos dates, tickets may also be acquired from “The Cerritos Center Box-office”, by calling (562) 916-8500, between the hours of: 10:00 AM through 6:00 PM, Tuesday through Friday; 12:00 Noon through 4:00 PM on Saturdays. On-line, tickets may be ordered directly from the 3-D Theatricals website by logging on to: http://www.3dtshows.org or, for the Cerritos engagement, from “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” website at: http://www.Cerritoscenter.com also ; The Box Office at both theaters opens two hours prior to weekday and Saturday performances; (one hour prior to Sunday performances at “The Cerritos Center”.) Group and Student discounts are also available for both locations, as are special reduced-price “Rush” tickets which can be obtained one hour prior to “select performances” for the Redondo Beach run.
Production Stills By “Caught in the Moment Photography” (www.CaughtintheMoment.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net ) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Daniel Dawson, David F.M. Vaughn, Jack Boyle, Dana Solimando, Allen Everman–And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2018 Production Of “Mamma Mia” For Making This Story Possible.