Forget the movie. Meryl Streep is entitled to one lapse of judgment in a lifetime's career. See the musical live on stage. Mamma Mia has been playing to packed audiences at Northern Stage in White River Junction VT. It's the final production of the Stage's 20th anniversary season.
It's an all-stops pulled, brilliantly directed and produced piece of musical theater. The plot is contrived, the social commentary (marriage? no marriage?) a little thin. If you like your theater in the serious vein, you might resist the silly exuberance but your battle is lost. By Dancing Queen (if not before), you will be hooked.
Clare Howes Eisentrout as the young Sophie is all blond light and effervescence, sweet in every scene but not sticky. The show's linchpin is Anne Torsiglieri, Sophie's middle-aged single mother Donna, who lost at love early on. (The Winner Takes It All, remember?) She conveys her weariness while ordering around her hapless staff at the island hotel and taverna. She is convincing--you feel you know her (or are her)-- through every number she sings from the now-famous score. Speaking of which, while I could have done without one or two of those ABBA songs (Knowing Me, Knowing You springs to mind, but maybe that one is your particular guilty pleasure), most of the pieces are quite true and moving in the context of the scene.
Is there anything that Susan Haefner cannot do? By now a Northern Stage regular, she has appeared previously as the wholesome Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins and as the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol. As Donna's old friend and bandmate Tanya, she's jaded and a little faded until she turns up the heat with a fawning boy-toy in Does Your Mother Know You're Out?
Eric Bunge as one of Donna's long-lost lovers, Bill, and Jean McCormick as Rosie, Donna's other bandmate, have supporting roles. He's the Australian adventure writer and she is the former diva, now hiding behind a bun and spectacles. Their number together in Act 2, Take A Chance on Me, is one of the best in the show. Comical, with a must-see acrobatic moment by Bunge. The audience positively whooped.
And just when you think it is over, it is not. After the final bows, there's another musical number, featuring the ensemble, and starring the extreme 1970s disco costumes of designer Allison Crutchfield.
Let the set design by David Arsenault and the lighting by Travis McHale take you to Greece. Let the live band and the voices of this cast take you back to your (maybe) misspent youth.
Mamma Mia continues through May 21. Contact the box office at 802-296-7000 or at northernstage.org
(Photographs by Robert C. Strong II and used with permission of Northern Stage.)
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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge