Stage 1 Theatre’s production of ABBA’s Mamma Mia!, opened on March 2 at Newark Memorial High School. Following the 2008 Universal Pictures film adaptation of the script, this non-profit community theatre group brings the big screen to life with its well-choreographed dance numbers and humorous dialogue.
The musical follows bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan (Zoey Lytle) who lives on the Greek island, Kalokairi. In her quest to find her birth father, Sophie invites three men to her wedding, all of which are her mom’s, Donna Sheridan (Heather Watson), previous lovers. Through navigating the chaos of organizing a wedding and rekindling old loves, Mamma Mia! is ultimately a story about identity and the importance of family.
Despite the uplifting message, this Mamma Mia! production ends up biting off far more than it can chew. In its attempt to squeeze as many classic songs from the movie into the production as possible, the play sacrifices character development. Within one scene of the play, there are four musical numbers, including “Our Last Summer,” and “The Winner Takes It All,” accompanied with very little dialogue or choreography. During these scenes, the play feels more like a choral performance, with little to no relation between each musical number and a lack of character and plot development. However, because of the back-to-back dance numbers, including an adequate amount of dialogue could have quite possibly stretched the play several more hours. Despite these well-performed songs, the performances ultimately breaks the story’s flow and sacrifices audience engagement.
Nevertheless, Mamma Mia! has many merits that outshine its drawbacks. One of the most notable highlights is the production’s grand sets and costumes. The sets wonderfully capture Kalokairi, using a colorful backdrop and disco ball to portray the exotic island paradise. The detailed costume designs are remarkably similar to that of the movie. Notably, Sophie’s wedding dress is made of white tulle, which is complemented by a pair of sparkling earrings.
One of Mamma Mia!’s greatest successes lies in the dynamic between Donna’s two best friends, Tanya (Patricia Pitpitan) and Rosie (Tamarin Ythier). Tanya and Rosie’s contrasting personalities shine in their careless banter. In most cases, their conversations transform into playful back-and-forth insults, with Tanya focused on Rosie’s crude appearance and Rosie on Tanya’s unwillingness to admit her old age. Despite the crude banter, Tanya and Rosie always reconcile with each other, which was a touching yet simple reminder that despite contrasting personalities, friendship is about coming together and celebrating differences.
The vocal performances, particularly Watson’s solo, “The Winner Takes it All,” are even more impressive. Watson’s powerful vocals perfectly capture the heavy emotion of the song, driving home the overwhelming frustration and regret that her character experiences. At the play’s end, the Mamma Mia! cast pools on the stage to collectively perform the musical’s most notable songs, such as “Dancing Queen,” and encourage the audience to stand up and dance. With the finishing touch of confetti raining down on the audience, the finale is a marvelous way to conclude an overall entertaining musical.
Mamma Mia!’s humorous script combined with its actors’ powerful vocals outshines its shortcomings on character development. To those who are new to the Mamma Mia! franchise, watching the movie beforehand would help clarify the plot and leave more room to enjoy this production’s merits. Regardless, Stage 1 Theatre makes for an entertaining adaptation of the movie that is well worth the watch.
Photo by www.stage1theatre.org