Fans of ABBA, rejoice: Mamma Mia! is celebrating the second stop of its nationwide tour here in sunny San Diego. The musical, which features music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson and a book by Catherine Johnson, has an enthusiastic following, which was evident in the sequins and cheers accompanying the production’s local performances.
In the play, 20-year-old Sophie is celebrating her wedding weekend in Greece, an elaborate affair, despite reservations from her fiancé Sky and her mother Donna. As Sophie’s friends and bridesmaids arrive, she discloses that she has, after reading her mother’s diary, secretly invited all three of the potential contenders who might have contributed DNA resulting in her birth 21 years prior. As the father candidates (Sam, Harry, and Bill) arrive, Sophie begins to seek out time with them in an attempt to tease out who her father is. In the meantime, Donna discovers that she isn’t really over the romance of her use. This storytelling leads up to the wedding, accompanied by a variety of beloved ABBA songs, including “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes it All.”
This is the inaugural tour for Alisa Melendez, who plays Sophie Sheridan in this production. A Carlsbad local who previously understudied Penny Lane in Almost Famous on Broadway, Melendez has a beautiful, clear voice that carries through her numbers, and a youthful demeanor that makes her pre-wedding shenanigans endearing. She has great chemistry with Grant Reynolds, who plays her fiancé, Sky. The production is co-led by Christine Sherrill, who previously played the role of Donna during a residency of Mamma Mia! in Las Vegas, and who is a force as the strong solo matriarch who has suppressed her own goals and womanhood in order to raise her daughter. Sherrill shines in the passionate “The Winner Takes it All.”
Lending some humor to the production are Jalynn Steele and Carly Sakolove as Tonya and Rosie, Patrick Park and Louis Griffin as Pepper and Eddie, and L’Oréal Roaché and Haley Wright as Lisa and Ali, as well as the three potential papas (Harry, Bill, and Sam), played by Rob Marnell, Jim, Newman, and Victor Wallace. Other cast members on the tour include Gabe Amato, Adia Olanethia Bell, Emily Croft, Madison Deadman, Jordan De Leon, Nico DiPrimio, Patrick Dunn, Stephanie Genito, Tassy Kirbas, Danny Lopez-Alicea, Makoa, Faith Northcutt, Jasmine Overbaugh, Gray Phillips, Blake Price, Dorian Quinn, Xavi Soto Burgos, and Amy Weaver.
Aside from occasional moments where pit balance was a bit too heavy against the ensemble voices and a few lighting schemes that confusedly read more evening than morning, design work by production designer Mark Thompson, lighting designer Howard Harrison, and sound designers Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken were strong, as was musical supervision, additional material, and arrangements by Martin Koch. Conductor Matthew Croft’s touring 7-piece rock band was bright and tight throughout the show, and the show’s minimalist set with two rotating rounded taverna walls were effective at creating the range of locations on the island leading up to and during the wedding.
While this show isn’t known for having the strongest or most cohesive storyline tying its many fan-favorite tunes together, it is nonetheless well handled in this touring production by director Phyllida Lloyd who manages to make the characters both likable and relatable in their characterizations. Choreographer Anthony Van Laast also has some really fun dance numbers interspersed throughout the piece, including an energetic “Voulez-Vous” and an extended full-cast curtain call featuring a number of tunes, and the cast performs them well. The performance felt fresh and fun in this iteration… a 25th anniversary tour told by a group generally too young to have appreciated (or even have been around for) the original material, but ready to commit to it with the energy of the late 70s/early 80s nevertheless.
Mamma Mia! plays at the Civic Theatre through November 12 before heading up to the Pantages for the next tour stop.