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Men in flippers: maybe that’s all you need to know about Mamma Mia at Laguna Playhouse

By DIANNE RUSSELL

The music is iconic and the acting undeniably awesome, but it’s the men in flippers who almost steal the show as they dance and do flips across the stage. Wow! But that’s just a small part of the fun of Mamma Mia, which opened at Laguna Playhouse on Sunday to a capacity crowd. I’d be willing to bet “Money, Money, Money” that many members of the audience silently mouthed the words to ABBA’s songs. Although their music is from a certain era, it translates seamlessly into 2019 with its eternal motifs of romance, doubts, and dreams. The songs are instantly recognizable and impossible to get out of your head.

Mamma Mia has experienced many reincarnations, from a book to a play to a movie (and then a revisit to the movie). The musical first performed in April of 1999. Written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, conceived by Judy Craymer, and based on the songs of ABBA – composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, members of the band – Mamma Mia is considered a jukebox musical. The title is taken from the group’s 1975 chart-topper “Mamma Mia.” 

Men in dancing queen

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Photo by Ed Krieger

(L-R) Sophia Swannell, MaryAnn Carlisle, Dwan Hayes, and McKenna Wells 

“We start our 99th season with one of the all-time great feel-good musicals, Mamma Mia! Our subscribers and audiences are going to be dancing queens and kings all summer long with this irresistible and euphoric new production!” say Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham and Executive Director Ellen Richard.

With timeless themes of love and friendship, Mamma Mia has become a worldwide phenomenon. As wedding festivities commence on an idyllic Greek island, a young bride-to-be schemes to discover the identity of her father among three men from her mother’s past. With so many of ABBA’s legendary hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance,” “Money, Money, Money,” and “SOS,” it’s an unforgettable musical experience. 

It took the entire energetic company to make this magic happen, so it’s difficult to single out any one of the actors. The dancers (including the flipper guys) were incredible. The musical has been described as “infectious,” and it couldn’t be truer.

Maryann Carlisle is a perfect fit for the role of Donna, the mother. With brilliant versatility, her pure voice adapts with ease to songs that range from nostalgic to humorous. 

Men in with dads

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Photo by Ed Krieger

(L-R) Jonathan Van Dyke, MaryAnn Carlisle, Daniel Berlin, and Daryl Roth 

McKenna Wells as Sophie, who is trying to find out which one of the three men she’s invited to her wedding is her father, handles her role with confidence and her presence and voice fill the stage. 

The three potential dads – Daniel Berlin as Harry Bright, Daryl J. Roth as Bill Austin, and Jonathan Van Dyke as Sam Carmichael – are all formidable actors and singers and make each character distinct. 

Kristen Daniels as Ali and Dwan Hayes as Rosie are great as Sophie and Donna’s friends – funny and entertaining in all their scenes. 

Sophia Swannell as the thrice married Tanya Cresham-Leigh is convincingly uppity. And David Sasik (Sky) is believable as Sophie’s bewildered fiancée.

Completing the cast are: Aubrie Knapp as “Lisa,” Zain Patel as “Pepper,” Nick Nazarro as “Eddie,” and Jared Ryan Kaitz as “Father Alexandrios.”

The Ensemble features: Sam Buchanan, Tanner Frisbey, Jayden Goodman, Jared Ryan Kaitz, Eleni Kutay, Lizzie Menzies, Johann Santiago Santos, and Katherine Westrum.

Men in wedding

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Photo by Ed Krieger

The company of “Mamma Mia”

Kudos must be given to the Director/Choreographer Karen Babcock Brassea and Musical Director Ricky Pope who made this an exciting feast for the eyes and ears. 

Authentically harkening back to a particular era, the wardrobe by Keith Lambert was spot on. Alex Crocker-Lakness, lighting designer, and Hannah Alikhani, production stage manager, created a setting that evoked the cool white of the Greek Isles.

Just when you think the production is over – it’s not – the company delights the audience with performances of “Mamma Mia, “Dancing Queen,” and “Waterloo,” and the “dads” especially shine in their neon-bright disco outfits. It’s a sight to behold.

Mamma Mia is a great way to start the summer – let’s just say it’s a flippin’ wonderful show!

For showtimes and tickets, and the full biographies of all the performers, go to www.lagunaplayhouse.com.

Laguna Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Rd. For more information, call (949) 497-2787.