Arts and Culture Editor
The Fulton’s bright production of Mama Mia tells the story of a young twenty-year old named Sophie Sheridan (Katie Bates) who is about to get married to her love, Sky (Eric Schell). They live on an island in Greece with Sophie’s mother, Donna (Christine Sherrill) who owns the local hotel. When Sophie sends letters to Donna’s three past lovers in hopes of finding who her father is, trouble breaks loose as Donna has to revisit the men of her past. Along for the fun are Donna’s best friends, the classy Tanya (Megan Nicole Arnoldy) and the wisecracking Rosie (Charis Leos). They are a part of a girl group called Donna and the Dynamos that make a grand appearance in the show. The plot may sound complicated, but it is all really just an excuse for the toe tapping musical numbers that feature the songs of the band ABBA.
Bates is a delight as Sophie Sheridan. Although the pitch the actress uses for the character is very nasally, it ultimately works for the character as it highlights Sophie’s naivety. Her character throughout doesn’t always make the best decisions, yet it is the innocence the actress brings to the role that makes the character endearing. Bates is also in fine voice, giving a clear and youthful sound to numbers like “Honey, Honey” and “The Name of The Game”.
Sherrill puts in an incredibly strong performance as Sophie’s mother, Donna. Having to take care of the island and Sophie herself, has made the character of Donna incredibly strong willed. When the three men from her past, Harry Bright (Chuck Ragsdale), Bill Austin (Fran Prisco) and Sam Carmichael (Jeffrey Coon) see her on the island, she suddenly has to reexamine her past and how she has treated those around her. Sherrill captures Donna’s vulnerability in an honest and moving performance that deepens as the show goes on. Coming in strong with the show-stopping number, “Money, Money, Money” Sherrill quickly establishes her Donna as an independent woman with guts and humor. As she deals with the anxiety of Sophie’s wedding and revisiting her past loves, Donna suddenly breaks down in the form of the power ballad, “The Winner Takes It All”. In Sherrill’s fine hands, this iconic song is turned into a stirring torch ballad as Donna laments her past love and feelings with Sam. Sherrill’s Donna anchors this silly musical in a place of dramatic weight that is incredibly satisfying.
Supporting Sherrill as hysterical forms of comedic reliefs are Arnoldy’s Tanya and Leos’s Rosie. The character of Tanya is a fun loving diva who enjoys being around young men after many marriages and plastic surgeries and she seems to attract a crowd anywhere she goes. Arnoldy has great fun with the role as she sells her one liners all the way up to the mezzanine, she also proves herself as a true triple threat and a dynamite dancer in her standout song, “Does Your Mother Know”. Backed up by a chorus of scantily clad dancers, Arnoldy brings a welcome sense of camp to this blast of a song that is simply delicious. Leos is an utter scene stealer as Rosie. A veteran of The Fulton stage, Leos has established herself as one of The Fulton’s best comedic actresses, and her hysterical turn as Rosie is no exception. In some scenes, her facial expressions get a welcome laugh from the audience. Her warm presence is always a joy as Rosie is hamming up the stage with bawdy one liners. She shares an excellent comedic moment with Prisco’s Bill Austin in their very funny comedic duet, “Take A Chance On Me”.
Ragsdale, Prisco and Coons each put in very fine performances as Sophie’s three dads. Ragsdale brings a geeky goofy energy to the past rock and roller, Harry Bright. Now, a kind and humorous British man, Ragsdale is a joy as the spontaneous Harry. Prisco’s Bill is fun loving and a little more rugged in personality, yet Prisco manages to make the most of his role. All three actors playing the dads are strong, but it is Coons who is the standout out of the three as Sam Carmichael. Much as in the case of Sherrill’s Donna, Coons brings a heart and earnestness to his role that makes his character immediately likable. The character of Sam has always loved Donna, and has feelings for her even as Donna is pushing him away. The character is also the most fleshed out of the three dads, as throughout, the audience also hears of the characters’ past with Donna. He sings the classic ABBA ballads, “S.O.S” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” with a palpable heart and honesty. All three dads are excellent, but it is Coons who really grabs the sympathy of the audience.
Other standouts in the cast include Eric Schell as Sophie’s devoted fiancée Sky and Alex Hayden Miller as the fun loving Pepper. Schell does the best he can with a role that is a bit underwritten, yet his commitment in the campy love song, “Lay All Your Love On Me” is admirable even when dancing scuba dancers are campily prancing around him. Alex Hayden Miller brings laughs and a playfulness to Pepper that is consistently entertaining to watch. His sly sexiness and sheer athleticism as he attempts to woo Arnoldy’s Tanya is particularly memorable. The ensemble is also particularly strong as they dance through Marc Robins’ elaborate choreography with a sense of joy. They also serve as excellent backup vocalists for the upbeat musical numbers. The entire cast is a joy throughout.
Robin does an incredible job directing this energetic jukebox musical. With three disco balls in the finale and enough sequins to fill an Elton John concert, he certainly brings the camp and flash the audience comes to expect from a jukebox musical, yet he also brings surprising quiet moments with Sherrill’s Donna that add an unexpected yet refreshing poignancy and heart throughout. His athletic choreography is also a blast particularly in the standout Act One crowd-pleaser, “Money, Money, Money” which has the ensemble leaping across the stage with briefcases. He also gets excellent performances from the entire cast. Credit must also be given to Buddy Redder for his assistance in directing and choreography.
The other creative elements are also incredibly strong and eye popping. William James Mohney’s sprawling Greek Taverna unit set makes jaws drop in sheer detail as it instantly brings the audience into the Mediterranean setting with a bar set piece that even extends past the proscenium. Paul Black’s lights for this production are vibrantly colorful for the production numbers such as “Super Trouper” but they also manage to focus the audience’s attention in the quieter character driven songs like “Thank You For The Music”. Anthony Lascoskie Jr.’s costumes wigs and makeup design are also full of very lively bright colors that suit the laid back island setting perfectly.
All creative elements are well done, yet they all reach their high point in the show stopping mega mix finale that is complete with jaw dropping sequin jumpsuits, rainbow colored lights and a fabulous onstage band as led by Rat Fellman with excellent crystal clear sound design by Patrick Lachance. This joyful medley of ABBA’s classics is a party that leaves the audience on their feet as they let out their inner dancing queens. With strong and humorous performances, bright and detailed creative designs and a fabulous sense of liveliness and atmosphere, The Fulton’s Mama Mia, is a summer celebration that is a commendable crowd-pleaser of fabulous proportions.