Fun at Mamma Mia!
In the past four years, no show has ever sold out all five of its showings. Producer Gabriel Walker ’19 should pat himself on the back for amassing the largest possible turnout for the Undergraduate Theater Collective’s “Mamma Mia!” Hell, I even saw my econometrics professor in the audience watching Director Leah Sherin’s ’19 latest project.
For those who haven’t been exposed to “Mamma Mia!” in film or Broadway musical form, the plot revolves around a 20-year-old Sophie getting married on a Greek island. She doesn’t know who her real father is, but discovers her mother was involved with three different men around the time she was conceived. She invites all three in the hopes that she can identify her real father in time to give her away to her fiancé. The jukebox musical is pumped with memorable ABBA songs that everyone can enjoy and get excited about. Sherin managed to maintain this joy with a pretty fun production.
In collaboration with costume designer Sam Schulman ’21, Sherin brought the 70s to life with iconic bell-bottoms and clothing so shiny and glossy it dazzled the audience. The atmosphere of the musical was well-realized, in that it served as a great backdrop. Master carpenter Remmi Kagan-Garcia’s 20 sturdy veranda and the blue and white furniture rounded out this lovely rustic island aesthetic.
But now let’s talk about the people occupying the space. This production of the famed musical consisted of an open cast, in that people of all levels of experience were allowed to audition and be in the show. Honestly, it wasn’t much of an obstacle. The musical opens with Sophia Seufert ’22 as Sophie, who sang beautifully throughout. Solo, duet or ensemble, she performed every song with everything she had, and it showed. However, if I had to say, I didn’t find her engaging as an actress. Her chemistry with any of the male leads was lacking.
However, that may be because I found them without much on-stage charisma. Any time one of the three fathers or Sky (JAMR Marceaux ‘21), Sophie’s fiancé, entered on-stage, my enthusiasm for the next scene dwindled. Alex Ross’s ’22 best moments as Bill were simply by osmosis originally emanating from Talia Jacobson’s ‘22 bombastic and hilarious go-around as Rosie. A scene stealer, Jacobson left no stone unturned and chewed up the scenery whenever she could.
Sean Riordan’s ’22 portrayal of Harry was fine (though his fake guitar-playing needs some work). Also, if the UTC is using an open cast, it is an acceptable creative choice to get rid of Harry’s British accent completely rather than have your actor stumble through one on-stage. Harry’s Britishness is not the center of his identity, and if it’s somehow a way to convey his posh and cushy lifestyle, you can do away with that outdated trope and solely rely on Riordan’s fantastic and flashy three-piece suit. Bryan McNamara ’19 did the best of the three as Sam. He had more duets and lines, so he had more of a presence quantitatively. Despite good performances individually, the charisma just didn’t match the rest of the cast. Marceaux is the exception, in that his stage presence didn’t entice me at all. Expecting an iconic duet for “Lay All Your Love On Me,” I was underwhelmed and disappointed that Seufert’s musical enthusiasm was not reciprocated.
But now let’s discuss the main lead. Amber Crossman ’21, who plays the titular Mamma, stole the show. There was not a single false note, musically or otherwise. She truly was the Meryl Streep of the cast. Her solos in “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All” won me over and convinced me that she was the best singer and actress in the whole show.
The real dancing queens were local ensemble members Emil Koenig ’18 and Myles McDevitt ’18. Say what you want about the rest of the cast, but these two were having the most fun on stage. Koenig with facial expressions one could never forget and McDevitt with a passionate song in his heart, the two had a fantastic debut this weekend. Any scene — scratch that — any musical would be elevated by the entrance of these two. The choreography was simple and repetitive, but unlike the rest of the cast, these two made it their own. But that’s what “Mamma Mia!” is all about: singing without a care in the world and dancing like nobody’s watching. Sure, some set pieces were a lot better than others, but other minor players got a big kick out of just being on stage, like Max LeBlanc ’22 as hotel bartender Pepper and Hannah Novack ’22 as Sophie’s friend Lisa. They looked like they were having a blast.
And I’d have to say that I’m glad this was the UTC production to end on before I graduate. I’m familiar with the material, the production was great and the energy from the record-shattering attendance made me tap my foot to the beat. A lot of people will be glad I’m finally signing off, and that’s understandable given my reputation, but my intentions were to always be fair. Most will say good riddance, but much like “Mamma Mia,” I’d like to end by saying “Thank You For The Music.”