Misty Cotton (center) has been succeeded in the role of Donna (by Natalie Nucci, not pictured) in Welk Resorts Theatre's production of "Mamma Mia!" Photo by Ken Jacques
The new year marks exactly two decades since Mamma Mia!, the stage musical populated by the sugary pop songs of the Swedish group ABBA, debuted in London’s West End. The show, with a book by Catherine Johnson, would go on to mega-success, including a 14-year run on Broadway, a feature film adaptation and a sequel film that was kind of a prequel (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”). Taken as complete camp, Mamma Mia! Is amusing, even hummable. Taken seriously, it’s … well, who takes it seriously?
Welk Resort Theatre does, and with good reason. Its production of Mamma Mia! Is winding up a mammoth six-month run in Escondido. In fact, it opened only a couple of months after Moonlight Stage Productions in Carlsbad presented its own Mamma Mia!
This show obviously has staying power.
The Welk staging enjoys a cast of 17 and a five-piece band in the pit, along with more than enough outrageousness to sustain a two-hour, 15-minute show. Ironically, the most outrageous moments come after the story ends: The three-song encore concert by Donna and the Dynamos (Natalie Nucci, Nancy Snow Carr and Barbara Schoenhofer) has the entire cavorting cast clad in what could only be described as the best AND the worst of ‘70s “couture.”
Besides Nucci (the mamma of Mamma Mia!), Snow Carr and Schoenhofer, the ensemble features the versatile David S. Humphrey as one of the three men invited to the wedding of Donna’s daughter, Sophie. One, she suspects, is her natural father. (Lance Arthur Smith and Mike Bradford are likable as the other two maybe-dads. All three sing better than Pierce Brosnan from the Mamma Mia! movies. Shudder.) The real star of the Welk production, however, is young Olivia Hodson as Sophie. Not only is she an appealing actress and a nimble dancer, but also a very promising vocalist.
The roll call of ABBA tunes needs no elucidation. Suffice it to say that some, like “Take a Chance on Me,” function acceptably in context with the narrative. Others, such as “Super Trouper” or even “Dancing Queen,” are there just to escort ABBA fans giddily down Memory Lane. Plenty willing to be escorted time and again are out there, ensuring that when it finally goes, Mamma Mia! won’t be gone for long.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 1/2/19.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat