Home Made Theater Makes “Mamma Mia!” Mammoth
Home Made Theater fills the stage with dancing queens in their super-size “Mamma Mia!” The 9th longest running musical in Broadway history is making its community theater debut in the Capital Region and director Dawn Oesch and HMT have recruited a huge cast to tell this shaggy story (by Catherine Johnson) of love lost and found on the Greek Isles set to a 70’s soundtrack of ABBA hits. The feel-good musical originally buoyed Broadway spirits opening the month after 9/11 and is continuing to work its magic at the Spa Little Theatre in Saratoga Spa State Park.
20-year old Sophie (radiant and poised Virginia May) is getting married but she has grown up without a father and after some snooping in her mother’s diary discovers that her mother had three lovers in quick succession who are possible candidates to walk her down the aisle and give her away. She invites them in her mother’s name, figuring she will discover who her father is and all will be well. Instead, the three men create confusion for Donna (the terrific Melissa Mason Lacijan) and complicate the wedding plans. All works out in the end though not as you may expect with a wedding, good times and a rousing audience sing-along of “Waterloo” at the curtain call if you’re so inclined, as many were Friday night.
This show is hugely popular as the audience is familiar with many of the 20 songs by Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus and the book gets us from one radio hit to the next pretty fleetly. Director Oesch and her cast and company are mostly successful with this. Virginia May as the prospective bride Sophie and her friends Ali (Katie McLain) and Lisa (Grace Glastetter) start the evening off strong with a fun. flighty “Honey, Honey” but things really get going with the arrival of Donna’s friends Rosie (Leslie Eliashuk) and Tanya (Kelly Sienkiewicz).
These two elevate the evening’s proceedings considerably and we are awfully lucky to have them in our presence. I can’t remember the last show I saw Leslie in but, like a lost friend you bump into, I was immediately comforted by her warm presence as if no time had passed at all. It was good catching up. Kelly is a frequent and welcome performer on area stages (superb in SLOC’s “Wild Party” this past winter) and has the audience enrapt from her first gesture. That these two also have the evening’s best voices is wonderfully lucky too. You’re assured of a good time when they’re on stage. “Chiquitita” was a highlight for the evening for me, I’m surprised to say.
Melisssa Mason Lacijan has a suite of songs in her bedroom in the second act with “Our Last Summer,” “Slipping Through My Fingers” and finally “The Winner Takes It All” that she owned and you could feel all her maternal love, strength and wisdom she had accrued in her years of single motherhood. The audience roared their affirmation of her final notes of “Winner…” and Lacijan grasped it triumphantly in the air with her fist.
The men are Richard Jones, John Sutliff and Eric Rudy (HMT’s new Managing Director) as the prospective fathers and Keenon McCollum (HMT’s “Joseph…”) as the prospective groom. They do the job and carry much of the book’s heavy lifting. They are all solid presences with big voices and are game for the proceedings. Standouts in the chorus are Adrian J. Appleman’s macho poses with Tanya in “Does Your Mother Know?,” Sharon Piegaro’s solo lines and the hip-shaking Yaya of Cindy Boyka.
The choreographer Diane Lachtrupp Martinez has a lot to work with and does it well with a chorus of 20, occasionally staging dancers in the aisles of the house. There are huge chorus lines that are always coming together and breaking apart with fun accents throughout. I especially like the circle in “Voules-Vous.” Musical Director Richard Cherry does a great job with the band placed upstage of the set. The band and cast sounded great and the occasional unseen chorus on some numbers was delightful.
Mary Fran Hughes has designed an interesting and attractive Taverna with blue doors and sun-bleached stone lit by designer Stephanie Van Sandt. Sherry Recinella does well with the leisurewear and has a fun surprise with the super-size encore. Costumes and sets were well above the community theater norm. A big production deserves kudos to Stage Manager Emma Fuhrmeister.
Director Oesch has said that she wanted to audition for this show but was talked into directing it due to her stellar track record at the theater with past capacity crowd successes. She has cast 30 people and integrated this story into her scenes of village life pretty successfully. Everyone onstage is alive in the moment, has a believable personality and are contributing to the audience’s pleasure watching this show. The nearly sold-out house responded enthusiastically to her efforts and I especially enjoy her colorful grace notes which I won’t spoil here. She has an original and playful imagination in her direction. Dawn and HMT have marshaled a big crowd- pleasing evening of infectious pop songs which can get hundreds of us singing and clapping along. “My, my, how can I resist you?”