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MAMMA MIA!

MAMMA MIA!

Music and Lyrics By Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
And some songs with Stig Anderson
Book By Catherine Jones

Brick Road Theatre

Directed and Choregraphed By Katharine Quinn
Producing Artistic Director- Noelle Chesney
Musical Direction By Isaac Leaverton
Scenic Design By Caroline Gharis
Lighting Design By Jessica Drayton
Costume Design By Janelle Lutz
Sound Design By Mark Howard
Stage Management By Kim Velten
Production Consultant- Wendy Welch
Wig Design By Michael Moore
Audio Assistant- Ryan Dunham
Dance Captain- Kimberly Pine
Assistant Dance Captain- Ryan Nuss
Assistant to the Director- Mark Quach

CAST
Donna Sheridan- Patty Breckenridge
Rosie - Sara Shelby-Martin
Tanya -Cara Statham Serber
Harry Bright - Dan Servetnick
Sam Carmichael- Kris Allen
Bill Austin -Josh Hepola
Sophie Sheridan- Morgan Maxey
Sky - Matt Holmes
Pepper - Kwame Lilly
Lisa - Caitlin Jones
Ali - Bethany Lorentzen
Eddie -Mark Quach
Father Alexandrios- Forbes Woods

Ensemble- Bethany Lorentzen, Caitlin Jones, Kimberly Pine, Thi Le, Suannah Metzger, Theresa Dvorocsik, Kwame Lily, Mark Quach, Ryan Nuss, Jacob Hermsath, Dakota Davis, Taylor M. Owen, Griffin Shoemaker.

Pit Ensemble: Dana Harlow Taylor, Abby Morales, Braiden Fisher, Forbes Woods.

ORCHESTRA
Keyboard 1- Isaac Leaverton
Keyboard 2- Damonyee Neroes
Guitar 1- Ethan Ditthardt
Guitar 2- Gilbert Glenn
Bass- Sara Bollinger
Drum Kit- Michael Ptacin
Percussion- Michael Dooley


Reviewed Performance: 10/19/2018

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

This month the historic Muny theatre in St. Louis announced that they will mount the regional premieres of the mega hit Tony award winning musicals Kinky Boots and Matilda. These are gold mines for any producers. Not everyone can get to New York to see shows on the great white way, nor can they see them in a national tour. So, their first experience will be at a regional premiere. Up to then, their only connection to a musical is to have listened to the cast recording over and over, falling into a hypnotic zombie cloud of haze within the music.

Just last month Dallas’s Lyric stage produced the Dallas-Fort Worth regional premiere of Disney’s Newsies. Several theater companies also have this Disney hit on their current season. For example, Family Music Theater is currently performing their production of Newsies.

Back in June, Fort Worth’s Casa Manana was the first company to mount the DFW regional premiere of the ABBA hit, Mamma Mia. But it is Dallas’s Brick Road Theatre who gets to strap on the glitter platform boots on first to produce this huge hit for Dallas audiences.

In a déjà vu moment, Katharine Quinn, who served as choreographer for Lyric Stage’s Newsies, is not only the choreographer but also the director for this musical tale of a girl who wants to find out which of the three men in her mother’s diary is her father on her Wedding day weekend. Quinn’s choreography fits her youthful ensemble with charming results. The girls in the ensemble in one dance break shine beautifully as they spin while one leg is fully extended up to their ears. If your eyes zero in on one tall, dark raven hair beauty, that’s dance captain Kimberly Pine and her incredible stage presence. The men ensemble meanwhile do a mirthful job tapping away wearing snorkeling swim fins in another number. The energy, commitment, and pure enjoyment of doing this material was clearly evident within the ensemble as was the interaction between them and the principals. Sure, there were a couple of missed steps, but I will overlook that when they are 100% in the moment, not overplaying or exaggerating it.

Quinn’s direction has fantastic pace, no lulls or pot holes of sluggish performances, blackouts, scene changes, etc. It all ran like a well-oiled machine. Her staging and blocking really used the full spectrum of her space and set. I was impressed how she worked with her lighting designer to create special moments to be lit and staged, which added emotional weight to the musical numbers. Quinn staged the duets to have a deeper connection between the actors. It gave the musical for the first time a solid structure of emotional strength between mother/daughter, daughter/father that was incredibly touching.

The Musical Direction by Isaac Leaverton was smashing from the overture to the finale. He and his amazing orchestra of seven musicians brought ABBA’s classic disco thumping hits to sizzling life. They are actually not in the theater but placed in the spacious room next to the box office. But thanks to the magic of technology (video monitors, etc.) not a single music cue was missed. I was actually worried because this music is heavy techno, percussion, 70s disco that it might be tracked, which would have KILLED a MAJOR factor of the enjoyment of this musical. Brick Road Theatre thankfully knew that to experience this show is live, thus they brought in a superb Musical Director and seven remarkable musicians: Isaac Leaverton (Keyboard 1); Damonyee Neroes (Keyboard 2); Ethan Ditthardt (Guitar 1); Gilbert Glenn (Guitar 2); Sara Bollinger (Bass); Michael Ptacin (Drum Kit) and Michael Dooley (Percussion).

Caroline Gharis Scenic Design was an eye pleasing Greek beach cottage that occupied the entire stage. It was sturdy, with a waist level wall far upstage. The complete set was painted in coco browns to resemble sand, while the door and window panes painted in azure. Festooned across the walls were bountiful fuchsia flowers that gave the set just the right pops of color. Gharis scenic design matched up perfectly to take the audience into a Greek Isle for a wedding. Gharis also created steps and levels for the director to stage and create her concepts, ideas and moments, which clearly Ms. Quinn used to full advantage. This was Ms. Gharis’ s Dallas debut as a scenic designer, and I was quite impressed by her work.

The Lighting Designed By Jessica Drayton had a very good color palette to take the audience on the journey within the music and book. She did a terrific job of adding specials to give the director those touching or vital moments within the musical to stand out. The gobos used on the Cyc were outstanding, as were the splashes of lavish color. There were a couple of moments when the lights came up a few seconds late on the actors. I did however miss the studio 54 Disco razzle dazzle lighting that normally accompanies the ABBA-esqe megamix finale. Nonetheless Ms. Drayton’s lighting design did create magic for the majority of the evening.

One final technical note, my eye did catch in the wing what looked like a mini cannon, and I’m a sucker for those! Will it shoot confetti, mylar streamers, glitter? All the above? Alas nothing exploded at the button of the finale. Dang. But this was opening night, so these minor technical hiccups (missed light cues, etc.) can happen. It’s live theater after all! I mean on Broadway right now they are doing King Kong the musical, and they had to cancel a performance because the humongous mechanical ape would not work. Personally, I think he was ticked off because the creative team decided to cut his first act solo. So, I guarantee audiences who see Mamma Mia this coming weekend will not see these minor issues as they will be long gone by the time you see the show.

Delivering sterling work in featured performances include Mark Quach as Eddie (who continues to shine brightly in every musical that I have seen him do!); Kwame Lilly as Pepper (who achieves some solid laughs as Cara Statham Serber’s boy toy); and Caitlin Jones as Lisa. This was the first time that I have seen this character generate big laughs from the audience. Ms. Jone’s comedic timing and facial expressions were a totally fun new spin on the role that it took me by complete surprise.

Matt Holmes (Sky) also took his character in a different path than how the role is usually played, and it was actually refreshing. He made Sky wholesome, endearing, and actually more romantic. Holmes possesses a softer tenor vocal, but once it got into his comfortable register in the duet “Lay All Your Love On Me” his vocals sounded robust with a firm vibrato. His comedic pace hit in fresh spots that found new laughs where normally there wasn’t. Holmes facial expressions were genuine, be it for laughs or for honest romance with his fiancée Sophie (Morgan Maxey). What impressed me the most from Holmes performance was that it was devoid of cardboard romantic musical theater lead that many young actors get trapped into and can’t get out of. He was always focused with Ms. Maxey, and stayed on her emotional path, be it laugher, hurt, or confusion. Holmes gave a very impressive performance in a normally one note role of a juke box musical- and that is rare. Bravo Mr. Holmes.

Morgan Maxey’s performance as Sophie glittered as beautifully as the sapphire waters in the Aegean Sea that surround Greece. Sophie is the only daughter to single mother (Patty Breckenridge). It is Sophie’s wedding weekend and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle. So, she invites the three men from her mom’s diary that she thinks is her dad. This lovely young girl has a great pair of vocal pipes that can belt out those ABBA hits with effortless ease. I was worried at first because her lower register caused her vibrato to lose a little control, but once it went into her range, she belted and soared with vocal power. Her vibrato was totally in her iron clad control, her soprano notes clear and clean, and diction was immaculate. Her chemistry with Matt Holmes was the best that I have seen of any production when it comes to these two roles (Sky and Sophie). They were more concerned of being in each other’s arms, holding each other, and kissing, than making sure that they sustain the note to the very end in the duet “Lay all Your Love on Me”. That made their plot and storyline much stronger and believable, thus making the audience root for them even more. Another marvelous duet Maxey has is with Ms. Breckenridge in the duet, “Slipping Through My Fingers”. With the simplistic, but organic staging, both actresses transform into mother and daughter, ebbing wonderfully with honest emotion through the lyrics of the ballad. It will touch your heart. Maxey’s performance was indeed noteworthy.

Portraying the three men who might be Sophie’s dad and who all swooned for Donna on that Greek Isle twenty-one moons ago are Dan Servetnick as the British Banker Harry Bright, Kris Allen as the American architect Sam Carmichael, and Josh Hepola as Bill Austin, the American writer/adventurer. Sadly, they don’t have a Maury Povich on the Island to do a DNA paternity test, so the next best thing is a musical! All three awesome talented actors each turned in fine, crowd pleasing performances. Special recognition to Servetnick who kept his British accent when he sang his solo, “Our Last Summer”. Many performers drop their accents when they sing in musical numbers, he did not! Hepola was the excellent comedic partner to match up with the brilliant Sara Shelby-Martin (as Rosie) in the classic ABBA hit, “Take A Chance on Me”, which easily became one of the showstopping numbers of the evening. His facial expressions and body language were a riot from start to finish!

Kris Allen is perfectly cast as Sam, the man who clearly connected the most with Donna all those years ago. His chemistry with Patty Breckenridge is rock solid, but also had touching layers. I enjoyed that it wasn’t all anger and bitterness, but that it still had under the surface that burning ember of love that never flickered out. Allen’s tenor vocals are more classic musical theater that techno disco, but he still crafted his instrument to conform to the musicality of the music, and out came a rich, high tenor voice sitting comfortably on a sturdy vibrato. He does a stellar vocal performance with the number “Knowing me, Knowing you”. He also has a very moving scene and vocal number with Maxey (who could be his daughter). Allen ‘s work in Mamma Mia was radiant.

When you have three of Dallas’s best true theater Divas (Diva in a good way!) on the same stage, starring in a disco musical, and all three are beloved by the DFW theater tribe, especially the original tribe, there is no way that this show can be bad. Even If the sets crumbled, the lights burned out, and the musicians got stuck on 75 Central expressway, the show still would not be bad. Their talents are just that freakin good. They broke the mold when they made these three. Brick Road Theatre won the lottery of all casting in having Sara Shelby-Martin, Cara Statham Serber, and Patty Breckenridge cast as the three female leads in Mamma Mia!

The chemistry between these three was extraordinary, tight, and filled the theater with love. You saw it in their eyes and faces the bond of friendship and true sisterhood. It wasn’t the “Oh, here’s where we’re supposed to react” routine. It was honest reactions of compassion or dead on hysterical moments of non-communication. There were moments when Breckenridge’s Donna was losing her composure over her situation, and behind her was Martin (as Rosie) and Serber (as Tanya) who would give each other just a simple look, and you instantly knew what THAT look meant! “Oh, there she goes again!” Another moment was in the wedding scene. Observe the reactions of all three. THAT’S chemistry! That is subtext! Even in cheesy musicals, when actors find this-it elevates the material so MUCH more! Be it great comedy or sweet touching moments. Thank you, ladies!

Cara Statham Serber makes her entrance in high black platform heels, blonde hair coiffed up, clutching the walls as to seem to be slightly hung over, thus for a second you think she’s Edina Monsoon from Absolutely Fabulous. Serber’s dynamic comedic timing, pace, and delivery is dry, sharp, and side splitting hilarious. She knows exactly where to pause, gaze, and then go in for the kill- and the audience loses it! By far the funniest physical bit of the entire evening belongs to Serber and a blue blow up mattress. That’s all I will say. That is how physical comedy is done ladies and gentlemen! This role has always been my favorite role in the show, and every time I see Mamma Mia, I always say I hate that the role doesn’t get more solo numbers. The one number she does have, Serber does a splendid job with, which is "Does Your Mother Know". Wearing a one-piece bathing suit revealing she has more legs than a bucket of chicken, she works every inch of the stage and seduces the audience. Ladies hide your men! It’s a showstopper of a number, but then again so is Serber!

Sara Shelby-Martin earlier this season delivered a searing, compelling performance as Rose in The Firehouse Theatre’s remarkable production of Gypsy. For Mamma Mia, she gets to display her comedic chops as Rosie, and boy does she ever! Wearing a lovely full, lush, mahogany wig (designed by Michael Moore) and make-up beautifully applied, Martin commands the stage the second the lights hit her. Martin knows comedy like the back of her hand. Her timing, pace, and delivery never missed the mark all evening long. But those facial expressions! That’s comedy talent that cannot be taught. Scene after scene Martin knew where just to come in and use the right tonality for the joke, pause, or even the reaction to have the audience guffawing in their seats. Midway through the show my guest leaned over and whispered to me, “She reminds me of Karen Walker! (Of Will & Grace)”. You know, she does! Mind you, a Karen Walker without a cocktail and speaks with an alto voice, but I be damn, Martin does! I love it! Martin’s major song, “Take a Chance on Me” is a major showstopping number in Act II. Just the “bump” alone to kick off the number with those eyes Martin had the audience laughing loudly and applauding. You cannot take your eyes off of her as she and Josh Hepola go into the ABBA hit. Martin’s dance floor techniques and execution were hilarious as she shook her groove thang in the number. Martin’s portrayal of Rosie was sensational!

Patty Breckenridge returns back to the stage after a three-year absence, talk about perfect timing! She is that rare talent that connects to the material in ways that hardly no other actress has or can. She can take a score and can create original, new emotions and characterization to the lyrics that no one has done before. It’s unbelievable. All you need is the proof if you saw her work in such musicals as Next to Normal (Diana), Aida (Amneris) , Nine (Luisa), Creep (Polly) among others. Now she is back! As Donna, a single mother who raised a child on her own, Breckenridge brought into the character an entire new subtext and characterization that no other Donna that I have seen do before. She added these layers of a mother not wanting to lose her daughter, the ache of her leaving her. Is marriage the right path? This Donna was focused more on her child than on the men, which I’ve never seen before. That was so unique and heartrending. But when she realized Sam’s love, then it made it much more romantic and moving. That is the craft and talent that you come to expect from Breckenridge. One of the most poignant moments is Breckenridge’s number, "Slipping Through My Fingers". It starts off as a solo that becomes a duet with her daughter. But Breckenridge displays everything her heart is feeling about her child leaving her as she dresses her now adult daughter in the wedding dress. It was powerful as Breckenridge’s eyes welled up in tears during the number. And remember, Breckenridge still has to sing and belt to the back of the house right after that "The Winner Takes It All" -which she did a remarkable job (especially emotionally!) with that song as well! Even if you have seen Mamma Mia before, Patty Breckenridge’s return to the Dallas stage in this performance is the VERY reason why you so go see this version NOW! She delivers a powerhouse performance and will remind audiences why she is still defined as one of DFW’s best actresses…period.

One final comment on these three Divas. The best musical number of the entire production actually belongs to these three ladies (Martin, Serber, and Breckenridge), and it happens in Act I, “Dancing Queen”. No big sets, no splashy costumes, no mega lights. Just three phenomenally talented women supporting each other and having a riot with the number. The ala Dreamgirls simplistic staging and uproarious comedic bits are hilarious! The vocals by the three were sizzling with their lavish harmonies. Kudos as well to the pit vocal ensemble who provided outstanding vocal support on this number (and all other numbers all evening long!), they are Dana Harlow Taylor, Abby Morales, Braiden Fisher, and Forbes Woods. The ladies’ energy was bouncing off the walls. That’s what these three created all in one number, and the audience roared with approval.

As stated before, this is the first production of Mamma Mia produced by a Dallas company, and Brick Road Theatre mounted an overall marvelous production. This theater company is still relatively new, and they continue to make its name be known throughout the DFW metroplex. Well, with this first-rate production of Mamma Mia and with this dazzling company, they have indeed made their name known now for sure.

MAMMA MIA
Brick Road Theatre
Playing through Sunday October 28, 2018
For info: https://www.brickroadtheatre.org/
For tickets: https://www.brickroadtheatre.org/tickets
Address:
The Courtyard Theatre, Plano Texas
Address: 1509 H Ave, Plano, TX 75074