REVIEW: SLT Strikes ABBA Gold with Mamma Mia!

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Spartanburg Little Theatre opens its 74th season with a modern classic that is bound to have everyone bumping down the aisles to the bouncy, chipper sounds of Sweden’s greatest export, the 1970s super group ABBA.

Whether your favorite ABBA song (and who doesn’t have a favorite?) is “Dancing Queen,” “Chiquitita,” or “Super Trouper,” this vibrant production of Mamma Mia! is high-octane and chock full of sparkling costumes, Greek paradise scenery and incredible musical numbers.

To recap if you’ve never seen the much aligned film version starring Meryl Streep or a live production of this jukebox musical, 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (played by the fabulously effervescent Kit Lindsey) is about to get married and wants to invite her father to the wedding. The problem: she doesn’t know who her father is. Thus, she steals her mother’s diary and discovers Donna (SLT’s longtime blonde sensation Kelli Wolfe), had a brief slutty period and three affairs during the summer of her conception. To cover her bases, she invites all three men to the wedding.

Along with Donna’s besties and former singers in Donna and the Dynamos, the millionairess sexpot

Tanya (a perfectly saucy Susie Kocher in the beach scene “Does Your Mother Know”)), and nerdy Rosie (Jenn Januchowski who is delightful in her hilarious seduction attempt in “Take A Chance on Me”), all three middle-aged men arrive on the island: Sam Carmichael, the handsome architect who designed the villa resort on a cocktail napkin some 21 years ago (yes, that’s Greenville’s John Brigham who reprises this role from his turn at Centre Stage two seasons ago and is even better here); financier Harry Bright played with gusto by Tryon actor and director Chris Tinkler; and travel writer and adventurer Bill Austin played by John Garner.

The adult leads lend maturity, comic timing and resonance to Mamma Mia! And are all exceptional of course, but the young ensemble brings the frills and energy to many of the numbers with standouts Cooper Wolfe as Sophie’s fiance Skye; Charlie Hyatt (in a ponytail no less) and Ryan Holub as hotel workers and best men Pepper and Eddie; and Natalie Ritz and Mariana Bracciale as Sophie’s bridesmaids Ali and Lisa.

Adam Sanders, Spartanburg Youth Theatre Director, makes his first SLT directorial debut with Mamma Mia!. And it’s a valiant, vibrant display of feel-good euphoria. Clint Walker’s set is beautiful and practical without a lot of cumbersome scene changes and Elizabeth Gray (one of my favorite designers in the Upstate) rises to the occasion with a plethora of 1970s colors, fabrics and textures that explode on stage and look and feel (yes, I had to touch some of them after the show) just as wonderful up close.

Haley Hayes Bolton did the choreography (the dream sequence at the top of Act Two is divine and of course, the flipper ballet), and Peter Lamson’s lighting is festive and colorful.

Ben Chumley returns as music director for this show and every song is a masterclass in synthpop with four (yes, four) keyboards playing all those ABBA synthesizer riffs with Joy Finch, Karen Hampton, and Pam McNeil, and Shawn Allen and Devin Campbell on guitars, Josh Tennant on bass, Kevin Heuer on drums and Kip Brock on percussion. When the cast sings “feel the beat from the tambourine” in “Dancing Queen,” Brock has you covered.

I must say though, the most consistent performer, vocally and as an actor, is Ms. Lindsey, the breakout star in Mamma Mia! Brava, Kit for “I Have a Dream” and “The Name of the Game.”

Tickets to Mamma Mia! Are selling faster than baklava at the Greek Festival, so make haste and get your tickets now at www.spartanburglittletheatre.com or call the box office at (864) 542-ARTS. Mamma Mia! Continues through September 29 at Chapman Cultural Center, 200 E. St. John Street n Spartanburg.

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