LCP’s ‘Mamma mia!’ a big, happy dance party

Sophe (Courtney Denzer) meets with three men — Harry, Bill and Sam (from left, Jim Halverson, Marty Graffenius and Joe Nolan) — one of whom she thinks is her dad in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse’s “Mama Mia!”

Sophe (Courtney Denzer) meets with three men — Harry, Bill and Sam (from left, Jim Halverson, Marty Graffenius and Joe Nolan) — one of whom she thinks is her dad in a scene from Lake Country Playhouse’s “Mama Mia!”



Published May 6, 2018

If you go see “Mamma Mia!” at Lake Country Playhouse, be sure to wear your dancing shoes.

You will not only see a stage full of dancing denizens of the Greek island Kalokairi, but there may be some audience members dancing at their seats or in the aisles as the ultimate ABBA dance music plays throughout the show. So, start practicing your dance moves! This feels more like a big dance party than a play.

But there’s a lot more to LCP’s “Mamma Mia!” directed by Jeff Anderson than choreographer Cristan Parker’s nicely executed moves.  The stage contains a fabulous set thanks to scenic designer Terri Field and the construction talents of Robert Hurd and James Skiba. Patrons are seated in front of the thick, stucco façade with trailing vines at Donna’s taverna on the Greek isle. It has the appearance of sturdiness and permanence, so it is quite surprising when the show starts and the thick walls easily fold back to reveal the turquoise Aegean Sea, typical Greek structures and mountains in the background, and the dock of the inn sitting on stage. 

Transported to that idyllic sunny slice of Greece, the performers had a perfect palette on which to romp.

And romp they did! The story – which is sort of jerry-rigged around a bunch of the Swedish pop group ABBA’s hits of the 70s – features a young woman named Sophie (Courtney Denzer), who is about to be married at the quaint inn of her single mother Donna (Amanda Satchell) on a remote Greek island.  Sophie has gotten ahold of a diary of her mother’s with entries from around the time of her birth. From her mother’s descriptions, it looks like any one of three men could have been Sophie’s father. Hoping to have her father at her wedding, Sophie invites all t three – unbeknownst to each or her mother.

The three men create all sorts of complications for Donna, who herself has invited the two other members of her ’70s rock band, Tanya (Rebecca Schilling) and Rosie (Beth Blanck).

The quintet of guests brings back memories for Donna and the arrival of the three men from her mother’s past throws Sophie into a state of flux as she prepares for her marriage to Sky (Eric Bergendahl).

“Mamma Mia!” might be the singularly most joyous musical ever. There are moments of introspection like the beautifully sung “Our Last Summer,” as Donna reminisces with Harry, followed by “Slipping Through My Fingers,” in which Donna and her daughter prepare for the wedding.  Satchell’s Donna ends this trio of tunes as she belts out “The Winner Takes It All,” and the audience went wild for the umpteenth time in the show. Satchell is totally up for the challenge of the feisty Donna who has worked to create her successful business on her own only to find her life complicated by three former flames on the eve of her daughter’s wedding. Satchell can carry and run with all the ABBA tunes she’s tasked with (employing some professional quality pipes in the process), creating the big personality that Donna is.

But it is Denzer’s Sophie that really gives the show its heart, making the mother-daughter pairing believable and tender. Just as she did as Beth in LCP’s “Little Women,” Denzer has a simple, sincere quality, a sort of girl-next-door quality that makes her so likeable. With expressive eyes she conveys thoughtful, happy and conflicted moments. Her voice is light, clear and emotion-filled, a good fit for Sophie. When she sweetly sings “I believe in angels, something good in everything I see,” it rings true.

But the highlights of the show are the big dance numbers which this cast pulls off beautifully. “Honey, Honey” with the three “dads” and “Money, Money, Money” just get things warmed up for “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” (as Rosie, Tanya and Donna return to their days as pop stars) and “Super Trouper.” Bergendahl, who pairs nicely with Denzer, leads the guys with goggles and flippers that glow in the dark as they frolic in “Lay All Your Love on Me.” (By this time the audience was completely warmed up, clapping and bouncing in their seats.)

Joe Nolan, playing Sam, one of Sophie’s “dads,” has several well-done vocal turns in “SOS” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” His dad-mates also have some nice turns. Jim Halverson is a charming Harry, looking delightfully nerdy as he head-bangs in “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” while Marty Graffenius is a good choice for the outdoorsy Bill. His pairing with Blanck’s Rosie in “Take a Chance” is a fun romp before the big wedding.

Schilling’s Tanya has some fun with Sam Dembiec as Pepper in “Does Your Mother Know,” with Dembiec executing a flawless flip. The trio of Satchell, Schilling and Blanck obviously have a good time with their characters.

The musical in the tiny LCP theater feels like a big production. It loses nothing in the small space, thanks to the marvelous set and staging. While I’m not a big fan of pre-recorded music, in this case it helped keep all the tunes close to the ABBA originals. Lindsey Willicombe’s music direction produced nice harmonies and backup sounds from the ensemble, while all the soloists were way more than adequate.

As if the show weren’t enough, the entire cast came out for an encore that included “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and Waterloo” with even the guys in glitzy, satiny ’70s outfits (even platform heals!) while the audience danced and clapped along.

It seemed a shame the party had to end.

 If you go

Who: Lake Country Playhouse

What: “Mama Mia!”

When: Through May 19

Where: 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland