Live musical theater is back, baby!
Mom Mia! – musical theater works
A multi-talented actor, singer and member of the Faculty of Musical Theater at Columbia College, Justin Brill has directed a faithful new production of the 1999 hit musical, a show that has become a cult classic for baby boomers. over twenty years ago. This is one of the original jukebox musicals from Broadway. Taking nearly two dozen hit songs from the ABBA songbook, this Musical Theater Works production is one of the first live stage performances since the pandemic. In her joy and optimism, “Mamma Mia! Almost makes the Chicagoland audience forget the nearly two-year long theatrical hiatus. But finally, we finally have the opportunity to revel in professional live music production once again. Decked out in shiny spandex, wedge heels and lots of sequins and sequins, this production is a feast for the eyes and ears.
For the few theatergoers unfamiliar with the show, the slim plot revolves around Sophie, a young bride-to-be, who wants to know her father’s identity so he can give it away at his next wedding. Sophie found her mother’s old diary, and after reading Donna’s romantic exploits as a rebellious young woman, narrowed the search down to three possible men. Secretly, Sophie invited each of her three future dads to the small Greek island, where she and her mother live. The rest of the shaky tale, which is just a clever gadget to weave some of ABBA’s biggest hits into a story, revolves around the mystery of who the real father is. However, to be fair, audiences don’t flock to this musical for its history, but to relive the glitzy glory of the disco era evoked by ABBA’s memorable music.
Alexis Armstrong, one of Music Theater Works’ favorite talented grandees, and fondly remembered for her performance as Baker’s Wife in their production of “Into the Woods”, is charming in the lead role of Donna Sheridan. Ms. Armstrong has a charming and solidly believable stage presence. Her vocal ability, although at its best in its high range, is enjoyable and meets the challenge of singing many familiar numbers from the series. Like a good mother, trying to orchestrate her daughter’s marriage, she is formidable. Whether it’s singing a rhythmic dance hit or singing one of ABBA’s lush ballads, Alexis Armstrong is natural and effortless in her acting, song and dance. Her touching duet with her daughter, “Slipping Through My Fingers”, as well as her brave performance of “The Winner Takes It All”, are particularly moving, as the actress guides us on her character’s emotional and musical journey.
Teaming up with the incomparably likable and hilarious Veronica Garza, as Rosie, and the alluring Casiena Raether, as the sexy Tanya, these two divas tear up the stage playing Donna’s old friends and former singing partners. . They soar through pop hits like “Money, Money, Money”, “Chiquitita”, “Super Trooper”, “Waterloo”, the contagious “Dancing Queen” and, of course, the title track, “Mamma Mia” . Ms. Garza goes all out with her suggestive and hysterical “Take a Chance on Me”, sung with the very funny Dan Gold, as Bill. Mrs Raether warms the stage with young Oliver Schilling, as Pepper, performing a sultry “Does Your Mother Know?” The three ladies get the audience to stand up, heads hopping, hands clapping, and bodies swaying, in every song they sing.
This production has a lovely young actress in the young Heather Banks, as Sophie Sheridan, Donna’s 20-year-old daughter. Seen at Music Theater Works in “Anything Goes”, Sophie is about to marry her handsome young boyfriend, Sky, played with charisma and chivalry by Ahmad Simmons. Ms. Banks brings an honest sincerity and freshness to the role that really makes us care about her. Hopefully we will see a lot more of this Millikin University theater student in the future.
She is joined by an incredibly talented and diverse song and dance ensemble that never holds back an iota, especially as they perform the vivacious, wacky and wonderfully creative choreography of Shanna Vanderwerker. As Sophie’s three future fathers, the aforementioned triple threat Dan Gold returns to Music Theater Works, as Australian adventurer Bill Austin. Two handsome newcomers to Music Theater Works, the sweet North Rory Homewood, as the goofy and lovable Briton, Harry; and dashing Andrew Fortman, as determined American Sam, all provide solid foils for the three women. Each actor has the opportunity to showcase their vocal and acting talents throughout the play.
Stage designer Kristen Martino did a great job putting the sun and the bright blue Mediterranean sky on stage. She surrounded the cast in a primitive multi-level Greek taverna that easily transforms into several other locations. Andrew Meyers’ bright lighting design mixes bright sunshine with floral-colored lighting scallops and dramatic lighting. This multi-talented Chicago Renaissance Man, the incomparable Rueben D. Echoles, has designed a colorful, festive summer wardrobe for his company that pays homage to the glitz of the disco era.
Reliving fond memories of the 1970s and 80s in mirror ball, while bringing audiences over two dozen contagious ABBA hits, Justin Brill has created a fresh and vibrant take on a musical whose strength lies in its bouncy jukebox score. Linda Madonia expertly guides her cast through the catchy pop tunes, beautifully accompanied by her spirited nine-member pits group. With hits like “The Name of the Game”, “Under Attack”, “SOS”, “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and the obsessive “I Have a Dream” opening and closing the show, it is guaranteed that the audience leave the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts saying, “Thanks for the music.” Live musical theater is finally back, baby!
Commented by Colin Douglas
Performed August 19-29 by Music Theater Works in their new home, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 847.673.6300 or by going to www.MusicTheaterWorks.com/Mamma-Mia.
Additional information on this and other productions from the region can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.