ABBA. Whether you loved the 1970s Swedish pop group for their tunes or fashion, there’s no denying their lasting impact on pop culture and the global landscape of pop music. Mamma Mia!, the 1999 musical blockbuster currently receiving its entertaining local community theater premiere at the Dayton Playhouse under the direction of Richard Lee Waldeck, enjoyably continues the group’s iconic legacy by featuring over 20 popular earworms written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.
At its core, Mamma Mia!, like all jukebox musicals, is primarily about the music, but this isn’t one of those poorly conceived jukebox musicals constantly stalling until the next song arrives due to a weak or scattershot plot. Here, a sweet, relatable, witty, and fun story of connection, female empowerment and friendship arises on a tiny Greek island centered on single mother Donna Sheridan, who delicately balances the upcoming nuptials of her only daughter Sophie with the surprise of being reunited with her three former lovers. As Donna and Sophie attempt to make sense of the past, in addition to Sophie’s desire to discover the identity of her father, both learn important lessons in forgiveness and acceptance.
Despite vocal strain at the performance attended, Playhouse newcomer Denise A. Schnieders is an admirable, believably conflicted Donna, holding firm to her strong ideals of independence while showcasing genuine, heartfelt concern for Sophie’s future, beautifully realized in the poignant ballad Slipping Through My Fingers (greatly heightened by Derek Dunavent’s lovely lighting design). Lillian Robillard, in her Playhouse debut, warmly navigates Sophie’s journey with winning vocals (most significantly The Name of the Game and I Have a Dream) and charming investigatory impulses. As Donna’s friends and former bandmates Rosie and Tanya, Lindsey Cardoza and Amy Askins are a delightful pair of comedic opposites. The nerdy, flirty Cardoza and sassy, sophisticated Askins bring kooky glee to Chiquitita and Dancing Queen while separately and respectively shining in energetic Take a Chance on Me (opposite humorous Brad Bishop as Bill Austin) and Does Your Mother Know (opposite Treonté King as ladies man Pepper).
Pleasant featured performances extend to Naman Clark as Sophie’s fiancée Sky, Ron Mauer (providing a comical, wistful Our Last Summer) as Harry Bright, Ted Elzroth (filling Knowing Me, Knowing You with clear intention) as Sam Carmichael, Ryan Petrie as Eddie, Kailey Yeakley as Lisa, Shana Fishbein as Ali, and Matt Wirtz as Father Alexandrios. Spirited ensemble members include Juangabriel Encarnacion, Casey Dillon, Nate Strawser, Bryan Schuck, Shanna Camacho, Anna Ryan Kolb, Kaylee Maple, Rachael Kindred, and Amber Pfeifer.
Waldeck’s artistic team includes choreographer Kara Castle (the oddly nonchalant Money, Money, Money notably lacks attack but Under Attack is a standout), set designer Red Newman, costumer Theresa Kahle, technical director Bob Kovach, prop mistresses Cathy Finn-Long and Ann Pelsor-Jones, and dialect coaches Fran Pesch and Annie Pesch. Interestingly, Waldeck places the orchestra above the audience in a booth in the rear of the auditorium. As the performance transpired, his decision led me to wonder at times if the orchestra was too loud or whether the cast wasn’t loud enough. Nonetheless, musical director/keyboardist Andrew Hackworth assembles an excellent group of seven musicians, particularly drummer Tyler Ohlemacher who wonderfully drives the beat in Knowing Me, Knowing You.
If you’re in the mood for a good dose of nostalgic escapism, don’t miss Mamma Mia! ABBA, thank you for the music.
Mamma Mia! continues through Sunday, May 19 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Act One: 60 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors, students and military. For more information, visit daytonplayhouse.org.