by Gregory Morell
For those of us that have loved and lost and reflect back nostalgically on the possibilities of what could have been, Mamma Mia has a special relevance. The rest of us can just sit back and revel in the color and exuberance of musical pop puffery.
Mamma Mia is the ideal beach musical, a fact well played by the Ogunquit Playhouse in the kick-off of their 85th season, which opened on May 19th and continues through the first of July. Though the setting is a remote Greek Isle on the Aegean coast, the steamy swim suited cast could easily be imagined on the scenic sands of Ogunquit beach.
The music of ABBA propels the romance and disappoints of young love and the matrimonial hope and despair of sustained fidelity.
The costume department and the lighting designer were on overdrive for this production and no excess was spared. This included a blinding array of gold and silver spandex lame and a profusion of costume accoutrements that would even make Carmen Miranda jealous.
Richard Latta, Ogunquit’s resident lighting designer, kept the stage pulsing with a constant barrage of animated illumination throbbing to the music. Moving light patterns from all matter of disco and party lights, strobes, and the latest LED light dynamics were employed. These percolating images included flower power graphics, projected moving swarms of insects, shafts of light from mirror balls, and color changing strands of light bulbs that descended from the rafters and moved in and out of stage view.
A zealous ensemble of dancers heat up the stage throughout. Two standout out scenes beg to be mentioned. The highlight of stage magic occurs during the nightmare of the young bride the night before her planned wedding. This is a memorable piece of theatrical imagination that ignites the fuel of combustible choreography with very creative costuming, props and dynamic lighting.
Athletic choreography and a panoply of outrageous costumes hallmark the show. At one point the men’s dance ensemble high-steps-it in oversize, banana yellow scuba diving fins that they somehow manage to manipulate into a wacky kick line.
The production’s finale is another instance of exuberant spectacle. The art of the razzle-dazzle finale has become a signature stamp of the Ogunquit Playhouse production team. This Mamma Mia finale is a testament to the maxim, “You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough.” It’s a full cast, pull-all-the-stops-out extravaganza, that ends with a storm of ribbons and confetti.
Despite the fact that the four person musical ensemble ABBA, one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, ruled the airwaves from 1974 to 1982, I never much noticed their music untilI I saw Meryl Streep in the Mamma Mia movie. I instantly became a fan of their Europop disco sound.
A climatic song, beautifully voiced and the most dramatic moment in the show, occurs during Donna’s (Jodie Langel’s) heartfelt rendition of the saga of love and loss “The Winner Takes It All.” It was a reverent homily to the vagaries, foibles and regrets of lovers. Donna’s trio of ex-lovers are played by actors Patrick Cassidy as Sam, Fred Inkley as Bill and most successfully by David Engel as Harry the Headbanger.
Donna’s daughter, the bride to be, was sweetly intoned by Briana Rapa. She is a triumph as a young Juliet that is spared the dagger.
The 85th season of The Ogunquit Playhouse presents some interesting challenges. Two brand new musicals are being developed and tested. A bio tribute to the early career of Elvis Presley will premiere in September. This production follows in the footsteps of the great success of Million Dollar Quartet which has run at the Playhouse for the past two seasons with record-breaking ticket sales. But the real challenge of the season will be the development of a new musical based on the 1953 film From Here to Eternity that starred Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift . The Playhouse is collaborating with lyricist Tim Rice who partnered with Andrew Lloyd Wright on Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Rice actually worked with ABBA composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus on the musical Chess.
From Here to Eternity is a military saga of romance, deception, boxing and betrayal, set on the beaches of Hawaii. The plot convolutions are on an operatic scale that is further complicated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Quite a departure from the light-hearted frivolity of Mamma Mia.
Mamma Mia will continue its run through July 1st. But just in case you can’t get enough of Mamma Mia and the music of ABBA, news was recently announced that a motion picture sequel to the original is due out in the summer of 2018. The new film picks up where the first film ends and rumor has it that we will see the return of the original cast.
A typical single ticket ranges from $52 to $92, depending on the night of performance and the seating section. A three show subscription starts at $149. For more information call the Box Office at 646-5511 or visit the web at OgunquitPlayhouse.org. Mamma Mia will be followed by Bullets Over Broadway running July 5-29, Ragtime running Aug. 2-26, Heartbreak Hotel Aug 30-September 30 and From Here to Eternity Oct 4-29.
Greg Morell is the Director of the Antic Arts Center and columnist at Artscope Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]