City Theater Company’s 25th season kicked-off with Mamma Mia! this past weekend, and it’s one not to miss. Audiences should be prepared to stay downtown this season, however, CTC has moved from their black box digs on the Riverfront to Studio One at The Grand — an intimate and quaint setting that reminds me of my undergrad days at the University of Delaware’s Mitchell Hall.
A professor in college once told me, “The sign of a great musical is the seamless transition from script to song,” a feat that isn’t always easy for a jukebox musical but one in which this production succeeds thanks to Director, Mary Catherine Kelley and the Music Direction of Wilmington’s favorite musician, Joe Trainor. Side note to Joe: THANK YOU for masterfully blending harmonies overall but especially for the girls in “Honey, Honey” — the “shrieks of excitement” of the Broadway recording make me cringe.
Featuring the songs of ABBA, the musical tells the story of a young girl (Sophie) on a fictional greek isle whose mother (Donna) was once the lead singer of a popular girl group. On the cusp of her own wedding, Sophie has invited her three possible fathers to the ceremony, under the guise that Donna has requested their presence, in hopes of figuring out which one is her biological father.
Stand-out performances come from Darby McLaughlin as Sophie and Philly-based actor/singer Trevor Fayle as her fiancée, Sky. This duet shines together, and separately, in scene and in song while their supporting cast helps intensify that light.
Joining them on stage is CTC’s Interim Artistic Director, Kerry Kristine McElrone as Sophie’s loving mother, Donna, who effortlessly carries the tunes of ABBA as if they were a walk in the park. She is expertly backed up by a couple of harmonic powerhouses, Kat Pigliacampi, as the sultry Tanya and Dionee Williford as the wise-cracking Rosie.
The male leads of this production are serviceable in their roles as Sophie’s potential fathers, but leading the charge among them is Righteous Jolly as Sam (yes, that is his real name). His tender and loving interactions with both Donna and Sophie are endearing and his vocal prowess is formidable — watch for he and McElrone’s rendition of “SOS” in Act II.
Also of note is the use of the ensemble in this production. Traditionally, the ensemble for this show is vast and is utilized as a “Greek chorus” and as “muses” for some of the songs and scenes. This production doubles down on the talents of the small but mighty ensemble and strategically integrates them into musical numbers and throughout the performance.
If you are among the few that have not seen the Mamma Mia! movie starring Meryl Streep (and its lesser sequel/prequel); don’t waste your time, or at least see this production first. What the movie severely lacks and unceremoniously forces, this production delivers — a wonderful charm and charisma reminiscent of that which I experienced when seeing the show on London’s West End.
An overall great and fun PG to PG-13 show for the family (the tweens at the table across from me were enthralled and sang along to most of the tunes). Be sure to stick around for the official sing-a-long after bows. CTC’s Mamma Mia! runs through December 15 at The Grand’s Studio One. Visit www.grandopera.org or call 302.652.5577 for tickets.