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REVIEW: A Rocking Mamma Mia! Party (Ordway)

Caroline Innerbichler stars as Sophie in Mamma Mia! at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Rich Ryan.

In Mamma Mia! the Ordway Center again treats its audiences to a highly polished local production of a popular Broadway musical. Catherine Johnson wrote the show’s book, with lyrics and musical compositions by ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, plus ABBA manager Stig Anderson. Director Martha Bant and Musical Director Raymond Berg take the highly enthusiastic cast through a fun romp through the classic ABBA songs with a Greek Island setting.

For the unaware, ABBA was a Swedish superstar singing group which was at its highest point in the 1970s, when the group cranked out feel-good pop hit after feel-good pop hit.  This discography musical serves as a vehicle for singing this group’s numerous songs. The premise is that Donna (Christine Sherrill), the proprietor of a small Greek inn, has a daughter named Sophie who is getting married. The never-married Donna came to the island after college, got pregnant, and remained on the island to raise her daughter.  She never told her daughter who her father was, but Sophie surreptitiously read her mother’s diary and narrowed the likely prospects to three men that Donna had brief relationships with in a rather rapid order.  Thinking she would know her father instantly, she invites all three men to her wedding without her mother’s knowledge.  As long as you pretend that DNA testing is not an option, the story line progresses through some up and downs before everyone has a happy ending where the entire cast gets to wear sequin suits and sing and dance to more ABBA songs at the end.

Potential father Dieter Bierbrauer and Christine Sherril (Donna) with the cast of Mamma Mia! Photo by Rich Ryan.

The story, however, is definitely secondary to the music which is the main excuse for the musical.  The animated cast breezes through the dialogue to set up each of the 22 songs.  Christine Sherrill has an excellent signing voice and gives a gutsy performance as the free-spirited Donna who has struggled to run the inn and raise her daughter who now fears she is going to lose her exclusive relationship with her daughter.  Caroline Innerbichler, returning to local stages after a stint in California, plays an appealing Sophie and you can understand why she is so special to both her mother and her possible three fathers. Dieter Bierbrauer as one of Sophie’s possible fathers makes the most of his role with his unrequited love for Donna. Ann Michaels, with her lust for marrying wealthy husbands, and Erin K. Schwab, with her staunch feminist viewpoints, play former college and singing mates of Donna and set up a lot of the humor in the show.

Choreographer Mitch Sebastian provides lively athletic dance routines that keep songs moving.  The only drawback was that in dance numbers with the entire cast, the stage became quite crowded with the number of performers.  Fewer performers or a sparser set would have addressed this problem.  Rick Polenek‘s set design sets up a much more detailed and impressive setup of the inn and boat pier than was in the Broadway touring company’s performance last year at the Orpheum.

Dieter Bierbrauer and Caroline Innerbichler in Mamma Mia! Photo by Rich Ryan.

Most in the audience knew the ABBA songs and were having a grand time, especially when everyone was on their feet and dancing at the end.  But if you are new to the music of ABBA, this show is a funtastic way to hear the music for the first time.

Mamma Mia! runs through August 5, at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Bev Wolfe