The Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia is now presenting a totally new production of the Broadway classic Mamma Mia! until July 15. Opening night on May 23 was a wild affair, with an audience so responsive as to be like, totally mind-blowing, man. Every movement on the stage provoked applause from the eager, mostly young, audience, and they had every reason to applaud. This reimagined Mamma Mia! is a winner.
The plot begins with Sophie (played by the engaging and beautiful Laura Giknis) mailing three letters to three men who may or may not be her father. She’s inviting them to her wedding on a small Greek island, and … well, if you know the story, you need not be told again, and if you’ve never seen this 1999 musical classic, running for fifteen years on Broadway (as my companion stated before the musical began), you’re in for an entertaining several hours of music mostly by Abba featuring their greatest hits.
The set by Peter Barbieri was evocative, as was the fine lighting design by Jack Mehler. John Daniels (with sound design by David Temby) provided thrilling musical direction from the pit. Costume designer Gail Baldoni is a wiz who brought so much to this musical. Thankfully, she had the large, young, and handsome cast wear as little as possible much of the time (this is Greece, after all), which is a definite plus when such beauties are about. Besides the already mentioned Laura Giknis, there is the outstandingly beautiful Sky, her fiancé, played by the breathtaking Schyler Conaway. Adonis would have paled in comparison. Thankfully, the Grecian zephyrs kept Sky’s shirt open almost always, revealing top-notch abdominals. Except for his sizzling duet with Sophie on the beach where Sky was shirtless, that is to say. Amazing, but wait, dear readers, there is more. Just when you thought that Mamma Mia! couldn’t get any gayer, there was a prolonged ballet sequence of young men in scuba costume (and half out of scuba costume) all while wearing flippers. Every gay will be in Heaven, guaranteed, after this showstopper. An LGBTQ+ salute must be awarded to director and choreographer Richard Stafford. A special tiara of esteem should be worn by Riverside Theatre, co-producers of Mamma Mia!
Among the fine work by the talented cast many stood out in their pivotal roles. The three potential dads are Jonas Cohen as Harry Bright, Eric Kunze as Sam Carmichael, and Christopher Sutton as Bill Austin. Anne Brummel is Donna Sheridan, the woman who men seemingly found irresistible in 1979. As Donna’s cohorts in youthful exuberance, Lyn Philistine and Charis Leos elicited bravos from the audience for their performances. All the cast appeared to relish their roles in Mamma Mia!, and you will be thrilled and excited as a member of the audience.
Mamma Mia! is onstage at the historic Walnut Street Theatre until July 15. There are open captioned and ASL performances on select dates. For information, call 215-574-3550 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org
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