Citadel Theatre’s opening night audience gives Mamma Mia! a loud standing ovation

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PREVIEW
Mamma Mia!
Runs until March 18
Citadel Theatre
9828 – 101 A Ave.
Tickets start at $30. Call 780-425-1820 or online at http://citadeltheatre.com

As a reviewer I often attend pop-culture nostalgia shows such as Mamma Mia!, now playing at Citadel Theatre, with a cynical mindset. But by the first song, I was helplessly grinning from ear to ear.

This flamboyant romantic comedy is packed with endless vocal and physical energy and enthusiasm. The mix of ABBA songs, campy dance routines, platform boots and fringed costumes woven around a sappy romance create a dynamic night of fun and memorable pleasure.

Granted, the plot is wafer thin, but the music makes viewers want to get up and dance. Best of all, this is ’70s and ’80s pop culture at its best. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is completely unapologetic in its delivery.

British playwright Catherine Johnson took all the songs and cobbled together a fairly cohesive story. It is hokey, far-fetched and silly – but not a big deal. After all, the book is merely a lynch-pin that ties ABBA’s songs together.

Set on an idyllic Greek island, 21-year-old Sophie is planning her wedding. She wants to invite her father, a man she’s never met. From Donna’s (her mother) diary, Sophie discovers the sperm donor could be any one of three men. On a misleading pretext, she invites all three to the wedding without telling Donna.

Crammed on the small Maclab Theatre, set and costume designer Cory Sincennes has done wonders creating a Greek taverna complete with faux limestone stairs and flowering vines. In the background is the striking turquoise-blue Mediterranean Sea that changes colour with different song moods.

Don Horsburgh leads the seven-piece live band’s driving disco grooves even as Laura Krewski’s expressive dance choreography busts out snappy, sexy moves.

Some of the opening night’s big applause numbers included Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, and the flashy Voulez Vous.

The undisputed star is Patricia Zentilli as Donna, the icon of female independence who betrays her loneliness, broken heart and fears in the softer, slow-tempo One of Us.

Zentilli’s Donna is a woman at the crossroads of life, facing big changes. Despite a gung-ho, self-reliant attitude, Donna remains super-protective of her heart.

Complementing her is Tess Benger as Sophie, a charming young actress who has created the role of an adventurous spirit that combines the innocence of a child with the worldliness of a woman.

Thank God for John Ullyatt as Sam Malone, one of Donna’s old lovers. Unlike Pierce Brosnan’s tuneless timbre in the Mamma Mia! film, Ullyatt has a powerful, enticing voice.

In the song Knowing Me, Knowing You, Sam gives Sophie some marital advice based on his failures. Ullyatt delivers a tender, emotional and very touching performance as a father-to-daughter gift.

Donna’s two best friends, once known as The Dynamos, fly in for the wedding and deliver some of musical’s best comedy.

Christy Adamson, as Tanya, the svelte, sexy cougar brings the house down in Does Your Mother Know. And Jenni Burke as Rosie, a hippie-type, Whoopi Goldberg look-alike steals the limelight in Take a Chance On Me.

Director Ashlie Corcoran keeps Mamma Mia! moving at a fast pace. As an experienced director, her work shows and she successfully brings a genuine emotional climax to the finale.

This is one show where a reviewer’s opinion shouldn’t matter. This is ABBA, theatre’s equivalent to comfort food. So park your cynicism at the door. Take your family out for a night of classic songs, live music and top-notch performances. Mostly, join a room full of fans that love the music as much as you do.

Mamma Mia! runs until March 18.

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.