REVIEW: Come Have the Time of Your Life at Avon Players’ ‘Mamma Mia!’

There is good news and bad news regarding Avon Players Theatre’s 2019-20 season-opening production of Mamma Mia! the smash-hit musical. First the good news: if you have tickets to see this show, you’re in for a fun time. The bad news? The entire run is completely sold out.*

Last season I was extremely impressed with Avon Players musical production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And I’ll be honest when I saw Mamma Mia! was on this season’s schedule, I wondered how it would compare. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry because there are quite a few actors from The Hunchback production in Mamma Mia!, along with actors who have flexed their impressive vocals in other Avon Players musicals.

Mamma Mia! is a “jukebox musical” (a show created from existing songs). With book by Catherine Johnson and music and lyrics by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson, you’ll be treated to over 20 of ABBA’s recognizable mega-hits as they are woven into the story of mother-daughter duo Donna and Sophie Sheridan (played by Tracy Murray and Mackenzie McIlory, respectively). To date, over 54 million people have seen the musical in 40 different countries and it is widely believed that on any given day, there are at least seven performances of the musical being performed around the world.

L-R: “Bill” (Bill Davenport), “Sam” (Dan Romzek, and “Harry” (Adam Wager) all ponder which one could be “Sophie’s” (Mackenzie McIlroy) dad.
Photo credit: Avon Players Theatre Facebook

Set on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, 20-year-old Sophie is preparing for her upcoming marriage to Sky (Salvatore Sbrocca). She’s just missing one detail that would make her wedding perfect: her dad. But the problem is, according to her mom Donna’s diary, there are three possible options as to who that could be. So, behind her mother’s back she sends wedding invitations to British banker, Harry Bright (Adam Wager); nomad and playboy Bill Austin (Bill Davenport); and the suave American architect Sam Carmichael (Dan Romzek) — all in the hopes she can discover which man is her dad before she takes her walk down the aisle. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Donna to get the surprise of her life when she discovers the three men, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years, are all unexpectedly at her taverna (“Mamma Mia”).

For me, the standout numbers from the first act were of course “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trooper” where the Donna and the Dynamos really shined, and the audience couldn’t get enough! I’d wager most people have probably watched the movie version of Mamma Mia!, so it can be hard not to compare this stage performance when you have visions of Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Julie Walters in your head. But make no mistake, Tracy Murray (Donna), and the Dynamos — Johannah Steinbrecher-Booker (as cougar divorcée Tanya), and Pamela Plewa (as sassy cookbook author Rosie) — hold their own in these roles. Not only are they fantastic singers, but the comedic timing they bring to their respective roles will have your cheeks hurting from laughing so hard.

From L to R: Pam Plewa as “Rosie,” Tracy Murray as “Donna,” and Johannah Steinbrecher-Booker as “Tanya.”

Photo Credit: Bryan Clifford.

Another standout song from the first act is “Lay All Your Love on Me.” The audience was howling with laughter and I guarantee you will never look at wetsuits and flippers the same way again. Choreographer Maritoni Harte deserves a bow for pulling off such a feat. Honestly, out of the entire cast, I’m not sure there is anyone having more fun onstage than Sky. Sbrocca makes the most of every moment he’s in a scene while keeping the audience in stitches the entire time. I take that back. There is another actor who is equally a joy to watch and who you can tell is having a blast on stage – Pepper (played by Noah Canales). Sources tell me that Canales had to step into the role of Pepper late in the game, and he’s a perfect fit. His interaction with Steinbrecher-Booker during the song “Does Your Mother Know?” in the second act is comedy gold. While this is Canales’ first show with Avon Players, he is also a musical theatre major at Oakland University, where I actually had the opportunity to see him in The Who’s Tommy earlier this year. Speaking of the second act, it opens with Sophie in full panic mode. She got her wish when all three men showed up, but sometimes reality is much stranger than fiction. Her song “Under Attack” can best be described as a stress dream that looks like it’s on a bad acid trip, but much funnier. At least for the audience.

Regular Avon Players patrons are sure to spot how well Murray and Romzek interact with each other. Their onstage chemistry was also on display when they last shared the stage in The Bridges of Madison County. This time around, the vibes between them are felt the strongest during Donna’s declaration about her life (“The Winner Takes All”). This is a watershed moment for the characters; a chance not to undo their past mistakes, but rather to redeem and reclaim their story. But the audience isn’t given time to reflect long on the exchange because just after that powerful moment, in the next scene we are treated to a hysterical game of cat-and-mouse between Rose and Bill (“Take a Chance On Me”). And all of this madcap mayhem leads up to a wedding and a departure. But for which characters? I like the symmetry of how the play begins and ends with Sophie singing the song “I Have a Dream.” Dreams are good to have, but they can also change for the better when we least expect it as Sophie and Donna learn.

While there were a few wobbles here and there, overall the technical aspects of the show were on point. Anne Curtis and Michelle Kaiser did a dynamite job with the costumes with the final wedding scene being my favorite of the show. And since you can’t have a musical without music, Matt Kush and the orchestra should be given kudos for bringing such familiar music to life and treating the audience a mini-concert. Director JD Deierlein also did a fantastic job of pulling the best out of every person on stage and behind-the-scenes. ABBA’s music has always exuded fun and joy. And what better way to say goodbye to summer than with the sounds of these catchy tunes? You’re bound to get caught up in the play’s infectious spirit of love and hope. Don’t be shy. Clap along and enjoy – especially during the show-stopping, technicolor curtain call.

The performance runs approximately two-and-a-half hours with a 15-minute intermission.

*If you’d like to try and catch one of the remaining in-demand performances, Box Officer Manager Susan Alexander, strongly suggests you stop by 1185 Washington in Rochester Hills, MI one hour before the performance time. You will have to stick close by, but there is a chance unclaimed tickets will become available. Tickets for all shows are $22. Seniors and Student tickets are $20 on Sundays. Visa and MasterCard are accepted. All seats are reserved. Show dates and times follow:

  • Thursday, September 12        8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, September 13             8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 14        8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, September 15          2:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, September 19        8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, September 20             8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 21        8:00 p.m.
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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