If you haven’t been living on Mars for the past two decades, then you know that Mama Mia! is a juke box musical featuring the eclectic music of the Swedish pop group ABBA.
The ongoing production of Mama Mia! by the Lyric Repertory Company is pure mindless fluff – exactly as this musical was meant to be – and rollicking good fun. Best of all, the Lyric cast is obviously having a ball and you will too.
In his inaugural season as the Lyric’s associate artistic director, Jason Spelbring leads a dream-team production staff on Mama Mia! Spelbring’s direction of the high-energy show is flawless, showcasing both the talents and the exuberance of his mostly young cast. The crowd-pleasing choreography by Eric Shorey looks and feels natural onstage. The costume designs by Sara Shouse produce a delightful riot of color. Spencer Potter’s minimalist set design suggests a breezy, seaside atmosphere and facilitates rapid-fire scene changes.
Despite its feminine title, Mama Mia! is actually the grand-daddy of the juke box musicals. The successful run of this show, premiering in 1999, lent critical and financial legitimacy to this hybrid theatre genre and spawned a string of similar musicals including Moving Out (2002); All Shook Up and Jersey Boys (2005); Rock of Ages (2006) and, most recently, The Cher Show (2018). Avid fans of Mama Mia! still insist, however, that this show is the best of that bunch and this Lyric production certainly supports that argument.
To say that the casting of Mama Mia! is ideal would be a huge understatement.
Lyric newcomer Adriana Alvarez is perfect as Sophie, a bride-to-be who is determined to uncover the identity of her long-lost father. She has a crystal clear voice that can shift effortlessly from ABBA’s delicate ballads to really belting out the show’s more raucous songs. Ms. Alvarez also has remarkable stage presence for her age and a nice sense of comic timing.
Megan Lynn Heaps is another fresh face in this Lyric cast. She is simply superb as Donna, the former lead singer of an all-girl disco trio who is now a single mother with a well-kept secret. Ms. Heaps’ portrayal is touchingly heartfelt, especially in the mother-daughter scenes with Ms. Alvarez and in the power-ballad The Winner Takes It All.
The luscious Madison Kisst returns to the Lyric stage, having graduated from being a disturbingly sexy witch in Macbeth last year to a Category-5 heartbreaker as Tanya, a cougar with a roving eye and discerning tastes. Ms. Kisst is sensational in the second act production number Does Your Mother Know?
Lyric veteran Sydnee Fullmer rounds out the female leads as Rosie, one of Donna’s former back-up singers. She stages what must be one of the funniest seduction scenes in theater history while singing Take A Chance on Me.
Three bewildered fellows unwittingly competing to be Sophie’s father provide the male eye-candy in Mama Mia! They are newcomer Paul Michael Sandberg and two Lyric veterans -- Kenny Bordieri and Eric Van Tielen. All three are convincingly romantic leads and great performers.
Other individual cast stand-outs include Cailen Fu and Rachael Johnson Hodge as Sophie’s besties and Tre’mon K Mills as the groom-to-be Sky and Eric Shorey as the amorous Pepper. Kudos also to the show’s ensemble performers, who sing and dance up a storm throughout Mama Mia!
In a departure from tradition, the repertory company has expanded its venues this year from the Caine Lyric Theatre in downtown Logan to include the state-of-the-art Morgan and the intimate Black Box theaters on the Utah State University campus. That change works well for this production of Mama Mia!, because the musical’s cast and chorus desperately needed the space provided by the Morgan’s thrust stage, especially for the show’s disco finale.
Additional performances of Mama Mia! are slated at the USU Morgan Theatre through July 31. For ticket information, visit lyricrep.org.