East Penn Press

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Theater Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ lots of fun at Munopco

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“Mamma Mia!” is one of those fun musicals: serious, but not too serious, frivolous, but not too frivolous, and nearly all-singing and all-dancing, from beginning to end.

It’s fun in the sense that the stage musicals “Hairspray” (2003) and “Bye Bye Birdie” (1960) are fun. You can’t help but get caught up and depart with a smile on your face.

Munopco Music Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!,” in its Lehigh Valley community theater debut, through Oct. 20 at Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown, opens Munopco’s 2019-2020 season.

The musical is essentially a mother-daughter act with terrific turns by Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson as Donna, and Alessandra Fanelli as Donna’s daughter, Sophie. The casting choice is perfect.

They are backed by some memorable supporting actors, including Milaijah Torres (Ali) and Samantha Zosky (Lisa), two of Sophie’s friends; Sue Matol (Tanya) and Trish Kane Steele (Rosie), two of Donna’s friends and members of Donna and the Dynamos singing group, and Matt Redline (Harry), Robert Calder (Bill) and Mark Domyan (Sam), Donna’s three former boyfriends.

Also noteworthy are Joshua Mitchell (Sky), Andrew Stewart (Pepper), Jack Miller (Eddie) and Ted Williams (Father Alexandrios). There’s a large Ensemble, including dancers. Choreographer Jessica Mulligan gets some tremendous performances from the dancers.

Costumer Mary-Catherine Bracali has created a plethora of pastels for the large cast and some outrageously fun over-the-top, possibly Power Rangers-inspired costumes for the finale of “Mamma Mia!,” “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” by the Donna and the Dynamos trio and Donna’s three former boyfriends.

By the time the finale rolls around, you’ll be on your feet and dancing in the aisle.

Munopco “Mamma Mia!” director Rody Gilkeson keeps the dialogue flowing, the musical numbers glowing and the production moving at a rapid pace and with near-constant high energy. Music Director has found the right mix between the vocals and recorded music accompaniment. Set Designer Brett Oliveira provides movable sets that allow swift scene changes.

The musical, with a story that utilizes the hit songs of Swedish pop group, Abba, with the book for the show written by Catherine Johnson, debuted in 1999 in London’s West End and in 2001 on Broadway in New York City. The role of Sophie was played by Allentown native Amanda Seyfried in the movie versions, “Mamma Mia!” (2008) and its sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (2018).

The Munopco production is propelled by solid performances and superb singing.

Highlights of the Oct. 6 performance seen for this review include the opening song, “I Have a Dream” by Alessandra Fanelli (Sophie), which is delivered plaintively, but resoundingly. If that’s not convincing enough, Fanelli provides powerhouse vocals for “Honey, Honey,” backed by Milaijah Torres (Ali) and Samantha Zosky (Lisa). Fanelli also excels in “The Name of the Game,” with Robert Calder (Bill).

Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Donna) ups the ante, along with the show’s Company, with “Money, Money, Money.” Marsh-Gilkeson’s back for her showcase number, the title song, “Mamma Mia!,” backed by Matt Redline (Harry), Robert Calder (Bill) and Mark Domyan (Sam). Not to be outdone, Sue Matol (Tanya) and Trish Kane Steele (Rosie) join Marsh-Gilkeson for a resplendent “Dancing Queen.”

Marsh-Gilkeson has several more numbers that showcase her wonderful vocal range: “Souper Trouper,” with Matol, Kane Steele and the Girls Ensemble; “Slipping Through My Fingers,” a lovely duet with Fanelli, and “The Winner Takes It All,” in which she really opens up.

Milaijah Torres (Ali) and Samantha Zosky (Lisa) are great in “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” along with Fanelli, Redline, Calder, Domyan and the Girls Ensemble.

Kane Steele and Calder provide show-stopping hilarity with “Take A Chance On Me.”

The musical is filled with 12 Abba songs in Act I and 12 more Abba songs, plus two reprises in Act II.

“Mamma Mia!” will be enjoyed by fans of the music of Abba and of the “Mamma Mia!” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” movies.

Tickets: Scottish Rite Cathedral box office, 1533 Hamilton St. Allentown; munopco.org/tickets; 610-437-2441