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Stepahnie Pope (Tanya), Mary Mattison (Sophie), Erick Patrick (Sky), Lauren Kennedy (Donna) and Lulu Picart (Rosie) in MAMMA MIA! Photo by Curtis Brown Photography.
It’s hard to believe that the 1999 jukebox musical, Mamma Mia!, based on and including many of ABBA’s hit songs, is turning 20. In fact, it’s the same age as young Sophie (Mary Mattison), one of the central characters on which this show, onstage now through NC Theatre at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and directed by Eric Woodall, revolves.
Sophie, who is introduced to the audience right away, is busy planning her wedding…and sending letters to three men she suspects might be her father. Her plan, conspired after reading her mother, Donna’s (Lauren Kennedy), old diaries, is to invite all these might-be-dads to the island where she lives and then to get the right one to walk her down the aisle.
Despite her somewhat devious plan, Sophie is instantly a likeable character, made even more so by Mattison’s bubbly, energetic portrayal. After the antics of Sophie and her diverse cast of friends/bridesmaids are revealed, the audience has a moment to take in J. Branson’s breathtaking set design.
His set is a beautiful, rustic one which perfectly encompasses that “island life” vibe. It has a natural feel and features nice touches of blue, which are further complemented by costumer LeGrande Smith’s choice to clothe the characters in tropical island colors. Turquoises, blues, and greens, onstage and on the actors, work together to effectively evoke a beachy theme, as well as a feel-good theme. And, that’s just perfect since feeling good is what this musical is all about…at least on the surface.
In line with the theme, Monica Kapoor’s great, sometimes-spastic (but in a fun way) choreography adds to the overall feel. And, while her choreography proves fun and funky throughout, some of its best moments come in the elaborate “Money, Money, Money” number. Another fun and well-choreographed number is the much-loved “Dancing Queen.”
In this number, performed by Donna and her best buddies, sexy Tanya (Stephanie Pope) and feisty, hilarious Rosie (Lulu Picart), the theme and feel of girl-power is thoroughly evident. This number proves that the show is all about girls having a great time, defying society and its standards about what it means to be a woman, and just generally having a blast.
And, speaking of defying standards, this production does a great job of that. Its cast is wonderfully diverse, in terms of both race and body type, allowing it to be more truly feel-good than lot of other productions and setting a high bar for future theatrical productions to meet.
With that said, however, the production is still sexy and is not afraid to pose men as eye candy. Erick Patrick’s Sky, Sophe’s intended, spends a lot of time flexing his abs in a tiny bathing suit. And, while this is certainly enjoyable, it obviously points to the subversiveness this production glorifies, and rightfully so.
The cast of MAMMA MIA! Photo by Curtis Brown
And, while there are some underlying themes at play here, anyone who wants to just sit back and have a good time can certainly do so. It’s just important to point out that, via a close inspection, the production can offer more than that if the viewer wishes to see it.
Seriousness aside, however, there is some major fun going on here. Kennedy and Mattison are adorable and a thousand percent believable as a mother-daughter duo. Both have powerhouse voices and what appears to be a strong and breathing emotional connection, one that is particularly well-evidenced in their performance of “Slipping Through My Fingers.” In fact, their chemistry is rivaled only by Donna’s affinity with Sam, a father-contender portrayed by Charlie Brady, Kennedy’s real-life husband.
Perfectly-acted and perfectly capable of giving every viewer exactly what he or she came looking for, NC Theatre’s Mamma Mia! is a sure smash hit, a crowd-pleaser with much going on beneath the surface.
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