It’s been too long since I’ve been to Theatre Memphis, suffering as I do from acute Midtowner’s laziness and living most of my life within the Parkways. I should stop that. It’s good to get out, and that goes double for something as fun as the Theatre’s current production of Mamma Mia!
My introduction to the music of Abba actually came through covers of their songs—Erasure’s Abba-esque album—and I loved those so much, I wanted to hear the originals. Mamma Mia! weaves together many of those hits that I fell in love with and about a dozen more to round out the funny, sweet story about young love, lost love, and a reminder that family can be chosen.
The show opens with low lights on the Taverna owned by Donna Sheridan, the Mamma of the story, and it’s here that we meet Donna’s daughter Sophie as she tells us about the hijinks she’s gotten up to in preparing for her upcoming wedding to Sky. She’s read her mother’s diary and discovered that there are three men who could be her father, and she’s got a plan to solve the mystery. The whole musical takes place here, in front of the Taverna, and the set designer did a smart job creating atmosphere and flexibility in the set pieces while the choreographer and cast make the movement of a few tables, chairs, and bits of bedroom furniture seamless and natural and often, part of the party.
Every member of the talented cast brings humor, warmth, and an incredible voice to this production, but there’s no denying that Donna (played by Emily Chateau) and her friends, known in their younger years as Donna and the Dynamos, bring some of the best scenes of friendship, hilarity, and harmony. Their first song together, ”Chiquitita,” had the audience in stitches, but their voices were just as compelling as the performances were amusing. There are dozens of moments like this as the three dad candidates, together with the three Dynamos and the younger cast members, dance through the story and the songs. Everyone will hear a favorite, but “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper” really pack a vocal punch and live up to all your best memories of these songs. And only the lightest of spoilers here, but let me just say that if you’ve never seen anyone dance in flippers—yes, the kind you swim in—there is a scene in this production that is worth the price of admission.
The second act brings a bit more drama as Sam pursues Donna, and there are poignant moments as they express sorrow over the things that have gotten them to where they are. Songs like “S.O.S.” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” highlight Sam’s voice and dramatic ability and balance the synth-pop sentiments of the story. The laughter picks back up again, thanks to Pepper, brilliantly played by University of Memphis student-actor Kylan Owens, who is also an incredible dancer. And of course, Donna’s best friends Rosie and Tanya, played with great humor and heart by Jenny Madden and Lindsey Roberts, keep the laughs coming with their respective goofball and cougar-esque characters. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the costumes in this production, which definitely rise to bar set by Abba and bring another element of over-the-top hilarity to the show.
I’ll close where the show began, with the always-charming Debbie Litch, Executive Producer of Theatre Memphis, welcoming us and getting us ready for the fun of the show, while also casting a vision for the renovations that are soon to come to the East Memphis theatre. They’ll close operations after their annual production of The Christmas Carol for the extensive changes (a new bar! new bathrooms!). So get excited about what’s to come, but get out there now and let those “Super Trouper” lights find you laughing along with this fabulous cast.