You may fondly remember "Mamma Mia" as being the last musical performed in South Florida before the pandemic shut down theater for 19 months. The musical was last on stage in South Florida at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables on Feb. 23, 2020.
Fast forward 19 months and two weeks later and Jodie Langel, who starred in that production, leads the ensemble again in a new production of “Mamma Mia” with a large cast of performers (20 on stage) at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton. The musical runs through Nov. 14.
"Welcome back to the Wick and have fun again as we open our large stage with full seating with ‘Mamma Mia’ one of the most popular musicals and isn't 'Mamma Mia' the perfect musical to celebrate joy, freedom and independence?” Kimberly Wick, vice president and associate producer of Wick Theatre told the audience as she was onstage prior to a Wednesday matinee performance of the musical. There was loud applause from the audience in agreement, no doubt that "Mamma Mia" was, indeed, the antidote for an audience deprived of watching a full cast, large scale musical for most of 2020 and 2021.
The musical is based on a superficial story by Catherine Johnson whereby a single mother Donna (Langel) and her daughter Sophie (Meg Frost) have no idea at all who Sophie’s biological father is.
Despite the weak storyline, the feelgood story reels you in. It begins with Sophie, living on a Greek island with her mother, deciding to plan for her upcoming wedding to Sky (Jeremy Beloate). But, she wants her father to be at the wedding. Trouble is, she doesn't know who that might be. But she has a few to choose from.
She's read Mom's diary and it's given her a clue about Mom's three lovers who all were in Greece over the summer of 1979. Sophie tracks down the trio: Bill (Robert Koutras), Harry (Doug Chitel) and Sam (Sean McDermott) to invite all three to her wedding. Chaos and comedy ensues when they all show up on the island unbeknowst that the others will be there, too.
What unfolds are anecdotes of Donna’s journey of love with her three suitors as well as her adventures with her two best friends Tanya (Aaron Bower) and Rosie (Britte Steele), who in their long ago heyday were a trio of singers who called themselves “Donna And The Dynamos.”
The anecdotes and revelations by Donna, her best friends, and the three lovers (who each thinks at one point that he is the biological father of Sophie) are mostly humorous.
But the story isn't what is original here. It's the fact that it's wrapped around pop music by composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of the Swedish chart toppers ABBA.
The musical scenes in “Mamma Mia” are over the top with costumes by designer Jim Buff, particularly the loud disco era costumes worn by “Donna And The Dynamos” singing “Dancing Queen.” Buff is now in his eighth season designing costumes for the Wick Theatre.
The cast is strong and each of the lead actors take advantage of the comedy at the heart of "Mamma Mia." Langel's shining moment as Donna is when she confronts Sam’s romantic pursuits in her emotional interpretation of "The Winner Takes It All." McDermott is at his best in his confrontation with Donna singing “Knowing Me, Knowing You."
Chitel shows deep emotion in his rendition of the ballad "Our Last Summer" performed with Langel.
Frost shines in her witty dialogues with Donna and her three “fathers” and her solo song “I Have A Dream.” is beautifully rendered.
Bower and Steele play Tanya and Rosie as broad comical stereotypes. Tanya is humorous in her playful dialogue with young Pepper (Samuel Colina) as she sings “Does Your Mother Know.” In her skimpy costume, Bower slinks and slithers as an older, sexy woman on the prowl.
Koutras and Steele have their best moments in exploring their romance as Bill and Rosie in "Take A Chance On Me."
Not to be overlooked is the large ensemble cast of dancers and singers, led by dance captain Elijah Wood, whose work with the lead characters with fast paced dances and acrobatics, adds yet another layer to the effective staging.
The one thing lacking, and understandably with COVID and tight budgets, the Wick Theatre's "Mamma Mia" was sung with a pre-recorded soundtrack.
Ensemble singers Vickie Joleen Anderson, Aaron Atkinson, BB Stone and Alexandra Van Hasselt (who played officiator at Sophie's wedding) all added their vocals for a choral sound in the church scene that rang through the rafters of the Wick.
Director Larry Raben, making his debut at the Wick Theatre, keeps things at a clip having ensemble members move props between scenes, but never letting it slow the action.
Raben, choreographer Stephen Casey and projection designer Josieu T. Jean teamed to create scenes featuring a very blue, calm sea with flowing waves (via a visual projector) that gave an immersive feel of being transported to a Greek isle.
Raven noted in the playbill that directing “Mamma Mia” following the absence of live theater for over 18 months after a global pandemic was especially cathartic and joyous.
Indeed it was.
There were COVID protocols in place. Both the onstage cast and production staff were fully vaccinated. Although the cast performed without wearing masks, audience members were instructed to remain masked throughout the 2 hour, 20 minute two act performance.
“Mamma Mia” is running now through Nov. 14 at the Wick Theatre,7901 North Federal Hwy in Boca Raton with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm. Tickets range from $75-$115. For tickets and more information, call 561-995-2333 or go to thewick.org