Alison J. Palmer as Tanya in Does Your Mother Know is a show-stopper in Neptune Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia! to June 17 before a run at the Savoy in Glace Bay. (Stoo Metz photo)
Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb brings new energy and vitality to the 54-year-old Halifax stage in a sexy, exciting and fully satisfying production of Mamma Mia!
This popular hit musical, seen by over 60 billion people since its 1999 premiere, according to the program, is the first show Webb has directed since he took over in January.
Apart from the thrill of hearing favourite ABBA songs cast out into the world again by great voices and a six-piece band, this show is an emotional journey balancing hot, blast-it-out, group numbers with touching scenes plunged in the emotional grit of life.
No one expects to cry at Mamma Mia! but Julie Martell’s Donna gives a soul-searing performance of The Winner Takes It All and pulls at a mother’s heartstrings during Slipping Through My Fingers.
Webb has a dynamic, super-energized cast of 22 who drive Ray Hogg’s aggressive, athletic, modern choreography as if it were a Lamborghini.
Mamma Mia! is a loosely-plotted, romantic comedy about a young girl who’s getting married and decides to invite her three possible dads to the wedding without telling her overworked, harassed mother, Donna, operator of a run-down hotel on an enchanted Greek island.
Instead of the blonds in the 2008 movie version (Meryl Streep as Donna and Amanda Seyfried as Sophie), Webb has cast brunettes with liquid, soaring voices: Toronto’s Cynthia Smithers, a Neptune newcomer, as the charming, conflicted Sophie, and Sydney native Julie Martell, who played Sophie in Toronto for two years and Belle in Neptune’s 2007 Beauty and the Beast, as Donna, a role she paints with emotional depth.
Karen Burthright as Rosie, Julie Martell as Donna, Alison J. Palmer as Tanya. (Stoo Metz)
Webb goes for quicksilver comedy with sight gags and lively character interactions like that between the surprisingly forward Rosie (Karen Burthwright) and the loner possible-dad Bill (Clint Butler) in Take a Chance on Me.
Alison J. Palmer as Tanya is a standout for comedy. Her performance of Does Your Mother Know with the lustful, young stud Pepper (David Light) is as hot as the Greek sun.
Jay Davis as the true romantic interest Sam has a much better singing voice than the movie’s Pierce Brosnan but the same good looks. Tim Funnell is comical as the stuffy, British possible-dad.
Just as Mamma Mia! ends on its bittersweet, moonlit note, Webb supercharges it with a full costume change, a new backdrop and a rising colourful checkerboard deck for Donna, Tanya and Rosie to belt out more ABBA songs to the faithful.
The design is all about colour and light with Geofrey Dinwiddie’s enchanting movable set pieces and Leigh Ann Vardy’s lighting design of beautiful backdrops in baths of pure blue, green or sunrise light. Bonnie Deakin’s costumes range from Donna’s down-to-earth navy T-shirt to the wildest glam for her, Tanya and Rosie reprising their girl band days. Musical director is Paul De Gurse.
Webb makes good on his ongoing mission for more diverse casting with Mamma Mia!, which runs to June 17 in Halifax, then goes to the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay June 26 to July 1. Tickets go from $30 to $90 depending on day and seat location at Neptune and are $79.50 in Glace Bay but no ABBA fan will be disappointed.