ABBAsolutely fabulous: 5 reasons to see ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Wright State

(left to right) D'Kaylah Whitley (Tanya Chresham-Leigh), Sophie Hardy (Donna Sheridan) and Ana Smith (Rosie Mulligan) with the cast of Wright State University's production of "Mamma Mia!

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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(left to right) D'Kaylah Whitley (Tanya Chresham-Leigh), Sophie Hardy (Donna Sheridan) and Ana Smith (Rosie Mulligan) with the cast of Wright State University's production of "Mamma Mia!

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Dancing queens and super troupers, Wright State University’s irresistible production of “Mamma Mia!” is an absolute must-see.

caption arrowCaption
(left to right) D'Kaylah Whitley (Tanya Chresham-Leigh), Sophie Hardy (Donna Sheridan) and Ana Smith (Rosie Mulligan) with the cast of Wright State University's production of "Mamma Mia!"

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

(left to right) D'Kaylah Whitley (Tanya Chresham-Leigh), Sophie Hardy (Donna Sheridan) and Ana Smith (Rosie Mulligan) with the cast of Wright State University's production of "Mamma Mia!"

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
(left to right) D'Kaylah Whitley (Tanya Chresham-Leigh), Sophie Hardy (Donna Sheridan) and Ana Smith (Rosie Mulligan) with the cast of Wright State University's production of "Mamma Mia!"

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Sharply directed and spiritedly choreographed by Greg Hellems, this feel-good, post-quarantine diversion featuring over 20 pop classics by 1970s Swedish sensations ABBA thoroughly entertains from gentle start to rollicking finish.

On a tiny Greek island (beautifully designed by Pam Knauert Lavarnway and accented with evocative hues by lighting designer Matthew P. Benjamin), themes of love, parenthood, hope and forgiveness revolve around Sophie Sheridan, a young woman longing to know who her real father is on the eve of her wedding. While Sophie plays detective, her mother Donna, a former pop singer-turned-taverna owner, reunites with her former bandmates and ultimately begins to renew her friendship with the three men who might be Sophie’s father.

Featuring an exuberant cast whose strong vocals impress even while masked due to COVID protocols (a feat in itself), here are five reasons why you shouldn’t miss one of the best versions of “Mamma Mia!” to be produced in Dayton.

Sarah Green as a daughter on a mission

Vocal powerhouse Sarah Green is outstandingly perky, flirty, inquisitive and resilient as Sophie. In addition to showcasing her infectious personality in “Honey, Honey” (selling every ounce of the juicy details Sophie finds in Donna’s diary), she fills the nightmarish “Under Attack” with striking distress (costumer Michelle Sampson’s ancient Greek garb makes for gorgeously tattered sleepwear) and ignites “The Name of the Game” with superb yearning and refreshing vocal riffs.

Sophie Hardy as a single mother upended by her past

WSU originally scheduled “Mamma Mia!” to conclude its 2019-2020 season, but the coronavirus pandemic brought the production to a screeching halt nine days before opening. Sophie Hardy was a part of that original cast, and she is terrific here as the empowered yet conflicted Donna. Hardy’s comical examinations of Donna’s former lovers in the title song are a hoot (signifying Hellems’ gift for musical staging) and her marvelously lyric-driven rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” defiantly acknowledges Donna as a survivor while also indicating she still romantically pines for what used to be.

The former flames and possible dads

The men caught in the middle of Sophie’s scheme and Donna’s disgust are delightful. As Sam Carmichael, Austin Gladstone, a memorable Cinderella’s Prince in WSU’s “Into the Woods,” commands with an authoritative yet compassionate presence, supplying a heartfelt “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Jeremy Weinstein is very chipper as the aptly named Harry Bright, a role that can often be overshadowed but fully resonates here thanks to his sunny charisma. Tanner Gleason pleases as Bill Austin, letting loose with abandon late in Act 2.

Friends fueling the bonds of sisterhood

Hardy receives great support from sassy, sophisticated D’Kaylah Whitley as Tanya Chreshman-Leigh and funny, cheeky Ana Smith as Rosie Mulligan. Their rapport with Hardy warmly elevates “Chiquitia” and “Dancing Queen,” but they’re also engaging elsewhere. Whitley, vibrant and strutting in red, transforms the Festival Playhouse stage into her own runway for a fiery “Does Your Mother Know?” (opposite humorously suave Marcus Antonio as Pepper). Smith, a natural comedienne, shines in “Take a Chance on Me” (opposite a gyrating Gleason).

The simple joys of nostalgia

By and large, when it comes to “Mamma Mia!” it really is all about the songs and their nifty context. Whether it’s the carefree vibrancy of “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” the pre-wedding sentimentality of “Slipping Through My Fingers” or the touching goodbyes providing the emotional framework for “I Have a Dream,” these nostalgic, toe-tapping earworms never grow old, especially when they’re confidently sung with passion, purpose and joy as is evident here. So, during the rousing curtain call, don’t be surprised if you find yourself on your feet clapping, dancing and singing along under the glow of a disco ball. Get your tickets because this show is a hit.

HOW TO GO

What: “Mamma Mia!”

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Dayton

When: Through Nov. 14; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: Call 937-775-2500 or wright.edu/theatre

FYI: Audiences are required to wear masks and observe university health regulations.

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