Take a chance on Weston’s exuberant ‘Mamma Mia’

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Take a sitcom script, a passel of Swedish disco-era tunes and some lively dancing and you have “Mamma Mia!” the long-running Broadway musical now in production at Weston Playhouse.

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From left, Joanne Lessner, Susan Haefner and Brandy Zarle. Photos by Hubert Schriebl

On the Greek island of Kalokairi, young Sophie is preparing her wedding and wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is that she does not know who her father is. With the help of her mother’s old diary, Sophie discovers information about her mother and intimate dates with three men (Sam Carmichael, Bill Austin and Harry Bright).

Since she believes that one of these men is her father, Sophie sends each an invitation to her wedding, writing in the name of her mother, Donna, without letting her unsuspecting mother know. The day of the wedding arrives and so do the three men, who throw the wedding plans and Donna’s life for a loop.

Not everyone will have a high tolerance for an evening of ABBA songs, but a good jukebox musical really depends on a talented cast to keep the proceedings from crashing. Weston Playhouse is blessed with such a cast who, it appears, are having the time of their lives.

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From left, Sam Lloyd Jr., David Bonanno and Tom Aulino as Donna’s former lovers and Sophie’s would-be fathers.

Susan Haefner is sensational as Donna, the mother of the bride. She imparts the Act I performance of “Dancing Queen” with pure joy and performs “The Winner Takes It All” with such nuanced emotion it just might break your heart. As always, Haefner is a pleasure to watch.

Clare Howes Eisentrout plays the young bride Sophie, performing her songs in a sterling soprano; one can only hope to hear her sing some legit Broadway tunes. She is ably partnered by Dan DeLuca, as her fiancé Sky. They make a charming couple and have a natural chemistry together.

Tom Aulino, David Bonanno and Sam Lloyd Jr. are a quirky trio of possible dads, adding a little spice to the proceedings. Brandy Zarle and Joanne Lessner bring their own brand of brash to the stage as Donna’s old chums and backup singers, and burst into song at the drop of a hat.

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Clare Howes Eisentrout, center, as Sophie.

Based on songs composed by former ABBA members Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with additional music by Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” has been staged by a knowing production team. Director Tim Fort finds small things for each actor to do and keeps the audience from realizing that this musical is nothing but a songbook on steroids.

Along with Choreographer Michael Raine, they are able to bring a cast of 19 players onto the tiny Weston stage without giving the impression that they’ve been shoehorned onto the set.

Scenic Designer Howard Jones has created a lovely unit set that, with some pieces sliding on and off when needed, serves as a half dozen locations. Lighting Designer Ann G. Wrightson bathes the set in Aegean blues and sunny yellows, bringing it to life.

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‘Costumer Designer Karen Ann Ledger has pulled out all the stops.’

Clothes add so much to this show and Costumer Designer Karen Ann Ledger has pulled out all the stops. Costumes are warm and rich red, yellow and orange for the most part, but can enter into the world of high camp with a dream wedding scene performed in day-glo dresses and a finale that looks like it’s raided its outrageous wardrobe from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

Music Director Larry Pressgrove assaults us with an over-amped overture which, we trust, will be tempered by Sound Designer Ed Chapman.

“Mamma Mia” plays through Aug. 20 at the Weston Playhouse, and if you have a sense of fun you’ll want to check it out before the party’s over.

“Mamma Mia!” continues through Aug. 20 at The Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St., Weston. Performances: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, call 802-824-5288 or click here.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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