“Mamma Mia!”: Thank you for the music, Ordway

“Mamma Mia!”: Thank you for the music, Ordway

Picture a warm summer day on a lovely island surrounded by beautiful shimmering water with a small hotel serving up hospitality. Now add in romance and a serving of intrigue. Wrap it all in upbeat musical numbers and energetic, creative choreography. If this is not a recipe for success, I am not sure what would be. This is Mamma Mia!, currently playing at the Ordway in St. Paul.

Mamma Mia! is based on the music of ABBA and tells the story of Donna who is preparing for the wedding of her only child, Sophie, on the Greek Island that is their home and where Sophie has grown up. The problem is that Sophie wants the father she has never known at the wedding. After finding and reading her mother’s diary she secretly sends off an invitation to three likely suspects: Sam, Harry and Bill. All three arrive along with Donna’s two best friends, Tanya and Rosie, and the fun begins.

Mamma Mia!, which premiered in 1999, became one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway and has played in 44 countries. In 2008 the film adaption starring Meryl Streep was released and became an instant hit. And just this past weekend the sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, opened in movie theaters. Not to be forgotten, ABBA themselves announced this spring the release of their first new music in 35 years and the launch of an avatar TV show and upcoming tour featuring the original members of the band “scanned and de-aged” to look like they did in 1979 when they last toured as a group.

This Ordway original presentation of Mamma Mia! is directed by Martha Banta. She has brought to the Ordway audiences a new production with re-designed staging and choreography but still with the same story and music seen in previous shows. The cast features Christine Sherrill, making her Minnesota debut as Donna, and Caroline Innerbichler, a local talent, as her daughter Sophie. The rest of the cast is a mix of national and local talent. Among the recognizable Minnesota performers are Ann Michels as Tanya and Erin Schwab as Rosie, playing Donna’s two long-time friends with strong comedic talent.

The only thing I did not enjoy was the use of offstage vocal accompaniment on many of the songs. I much preferred when the actors sang without what I felt was a distraction.

The new multi-leveled scenic design by Rick Polenek allows choreographer Mitch Sebastian to create entertaining dance numbers while at the same time having the main characters continue to move the story forward in the background and foreground. Polanek creates the perfect atmosphere with a video backdrop of mesmerizing scenes of shimmering waters, blue skies, and a romantic full moon. The beginning of the second act incorporates video projections to create an amazing dream sequence depicting Sophie’s feeling of unease as the wedding approaches and her father’s identity has not been revealed.

The rest of the audience clearly agreed with me that this is a feel-good show that will have you saying “Thank You For the Music” and standing on your feet like a “Dancing Queen” at the end. Mamma Mia! performances continue at the Ordway through August 5.

Jean Gabler

Photo by Rich Ryan, courtesy Ordway Center for Performing Arts