Theater Review: "Mamma Mia!" is the perfect remedy for whatever ails you

On Theater: ‘Mamma Mia!’ is the perfect remedy for whatever ails you

By Tom Titus


If there’s a Broadway-born musical offering pure pleasure, with just a taste of the required conflict, it’s got to be “Mamma Mia!”

This joyous revival, conceived by members of the pop group ABBA, has checked in for the summer at the Laguna Playhouse, and ticket demand already has prompted an extension. It’s the perfect remedy for whatever ails you.

With both spirited direction and choreography by Karen Babcock Brassea, “Mamma Mia!” retells the fanciful story of a showgirl turned taverna operator on a tiny Greek island who’s planning the wedding of her daughter, unaware that the bride-to-be has invited three extra guests — one of whom might be her father.

All show up, of course, as do the other two members of the mother’s old rock trio, and they kick up a storm in this handsome production boasting ensemble excellence. Be sure to stick around after the curtain calls for a trio of splendid encores.

Top marks in the Laguna production go to McKenna Wells as the daughter, Sophie, who’s a peppy picture of youthful radiance. Her energy goes a long way toward propelling the plot, and her singing voice is glorious.

As her mother Donna, MaryAnn Carlisle shows flashes of her character’s former star power at the outset, then cashes in with two terrific back-to-back numbers, “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All” late in the show.

The three suitors, all apparently eligible, present their contrasting cases for fatherhood. Jonathan Van Dyke stirs up the most friction as he attempts to rekindle an old flame which Donna is determined to douse.

The other two, seemingly along for the ride, are quite capable. The low-key Daryl J. Roth bursts to life when ignited by one of Donna’s ex-rockers while Daniel Berlin is clearly out of the running since he’s now playing for the other team.

Donna’s onetime band Dynamos are both musically and dramatically charming. Sophia Swannell excels as a pampered Brit repelling the advances of a much-younger islander, while the more flamboyant Dwan Hayes shakes things up by vigorously pursuing one of the suitors.

The ABBA musical score is a treat in itself. Under the baton of Ricky Pope, the performers strut out songs such as “Super Trouper,” “Dancing Queen” and the title track with style and flair. Wells is particularly moving with her poignant rendering of “I Have a Dream.”

“Mamma Mia!” may be quite familiar by now, but it’s still one of the happiest of musical theater experiences. It’s a celebratory reunion at the Laguna Playhouse.