Studio East and Kirkland Performance Center’s production of Catherine Johnson’s Mamma Mia! follows 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Rachel Kuenzi) as she unfolds a secret plan to find her father—or rather fathers, as she has narrowed the search to 3 potential candidates. Her ultimate goal: to have him walk her down the aisle at her wedding, which is merely days away. An island off Greece, a stuccoed hotel, unrequited love haunting the young and the old—it’s not a shock when things don’t go exactly as planned. But, it’s largely amusing to watch, even as a relative outsider to the franchise.
The stage opens to a fair, blonde Sophie standing next to a yellow mailbox, letters in hand. Recipients: Sam (Samuel Jarius Pettit), Bill (Hakan Olsson), and Harry (Ryan Lile). Sam Carmicheal is an architect and divorcee. Bill Anderson is an adventure-seeking writer. Harry Bright is an English banker. All under the impression of being invited by Sophie’s mother Donna (Shoshauna Mohlman), the three men fly to the island.
Despite the conflicts that arise in the course of wedding preparations and father-finding, the characters have an understanding nature that makes things run rather smoothly. When Donna confronts Sophie about the “coincidental” presence of her former lovers, she is surprisingly candid. She reveals to her mother that she invited them in hopes of identifying her father, to which Donna admits that she doesn’t know which one it is either. Then the two share a laugh.
This accepting approach can sometimes feel repetitive, and one could assume it removes tension. But, it’s not received in that manner. Actually, it’s quite sweet how in the face of conflict, the characters of Mamma Mia! acknowledge and either resolve or move on.
The show’s lighthearted nature is aided by its steady progression, maintained through the plethora of iconic songs by ABBA. The ensemble does a fine job bringing these songs to life, and every accompanying dance move never lacks a full-faced smile. The fun energy makes everyday life feel far too serious.
What makes the characters of the show compelling is their honesty and readiness to take risks. Sophie starts out dead set on marrying her fiancé Sky (Caleb Ryden), yet matures enough by the end to speak her mind and postpone the wedding. Donna is best described as unafraid. Though she frets at the details of her only daughter’s wedding, working to make the guests comfortable, she knows how to let go and embrace the singer within her. Donna and the Dynamos make a notable appearance in the piece. Clad in sparkles and flared pants, Donna and her longtime friends, Tanya (Stephanie Holser) and Rosie (Kate Young), perform a concert for the hotel guests.
Importantly, Donna’s versatility shines through when she performs with the Dynamos. For the first time, we can truly visualize her multifaceted character. Yes, Donna is a mother and business owner—even a hotel repairwoman at times. But, she is also a creator and performer. It only helps that the casting is done well with actors that fit their roles and have solid voices.
This production is a well-done version of an entertaining classic, maybe more so through the eyes of a first-timer like me. The show is littered with cute characters just trying their hardest to live a life true to themselves. It wraps with Sam proposing to Donna, and her accepting. Sophie and Sky call off their wedding to travel instead. Bill is a free spirit living outside the tradition of marriage and settling, all the while it is revealed that Donna was Harry’s first and last female love. The characters are charming and honest, finding more importance in being truthful to their needs than dwelling on past conflicts. All in all, Mamma Mia! is an exciting classic with simple, blissful characters.
Mamma Mia! ran at Kirkland Performance Center February 1 - 16, 2020. For event information see here.