Review: Mason Street Warehouse goes far above and beyond with ‘Mamma Mia!’

What’s the big deal about Mamma Mia!, the fluffy jukebox musical built upon Swedish disco-pop group ABBA’s hits? With a 14-year run on Broadway and solidly placed in the top-10 longest running shows in both Broadway and West End history, and a movie adaptation with a sequel set to release this year, it’s a show people are downright wild about.

Yes, ABBA has produced perhaps the catchiest tunes ever written, and if “Dancing Queen” doesn’t at least make you sway a little, your heart must be made of stone. And like it or not, their songs, nearly all of them hits, are ubiquitous. We know this music whether we meant to or not, and it’s wholeheartedly infectious. But why people see this show over and over again, traveling far and wide, and scream and clamor and thrill that it’s finally been released for regional productions . . . well, it’s finally clear.

And that’s because Mason Street Warehouse has put on the kind of production that not only brings its audiences to its feet, but will undoubtedly create a cult following. It’s just so right in every possible way. It’s the music, yes, but even more, it’s Director Kurt Stamm’s joyful vision come to life with the finest of talent that takes a cute story and characters and creates something you can’t help but connect to and celebrate.

The story on which all the songs hang quite well is feminist single mom Donna’s daughter Sophie is getting married at the taverna they run on a Greek Island, and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle even though she has no idea who he is. After reading Donna’s 20-year-old diary, Sophie, unbeknownst to her mom, invites the three men who could be her father to the wedding; and when they — as well as Donna’s oldest girlfriends and former bandmates — descend on the island, nostalgic shenanigans ensue.

The magic here is not necessarily implicit, but at Mason Street Warehouse, Mamma Mia! is shot through with excellence from start to finish, and leaves you planning the next time you’ll get to come back and see the show again.

It’s even more infectious than its ABBA hits.

Though it does, indeed, start with Jamie Reed’s terrific music direction, crisp and clearly articulated by the orchestra, a kickin’ rock band in its own right, from the instrumental overture of hits at the jump, seemingly choreographed with Jennifer Kules’ colorful yet subtle light show with moving patterns that keep the show visually interesting even during scenes without big dance numbers and yet is never distracting.

And Kurt Stamm’s choreography offers classic hips and steps and big swirling arms for the disco feel and motifs everyone longs for, huge ensemble partner dances with unique and spectacular lifts, silly conga and kick lines with scuba gear, and the kind of goosebump-inducing, sexy Fosse-esque ensemble numbers he’s known for creating and putting on dancers who make it look effortless.

The stunning visual picture comes to fruition on Todd Engle’s functional set in shades of blue and white that beautifully evokes a Grecian island taverna with layered textures of stone and wood. It’s amazing how many spaces are created so seamlessly with what looks like a singular set piece that has delightful hidden tricks.

Fabulous costumes originally designed by Matthew LeFebvre, tailored and adapted by Resident Costume Designer Darlene Veenstra, run the colorful glittering, shimmering, sparkly, feathered, sequined, fringed, gauzy, plunging, revealing, boy-short, platform-heeled, peplum-waisted, bell-sleeved and bell-bottomed, perfectly-accessorized gamut. They’re everything you want and more.

The music and visuals alone would be worth the cost of admission to this party in paradise; however, there’s also a brilliant cast of triple-threat performers who create enormous, distinct characters you can’t help but fall in love with. Every single person on stage is stellar, and the extraordinarily beautiful and beefcake ensemble corps are as integral to the overall effect as the virtuoso performances. The three women and three men who create the parallel structure of characters are perfectly cast and create real emotionality with just the right of intergenerational nostalgia that allows all of us to enter a little reverie of our younger days.

Gina Milo is an absolute knockout as Tanya, the shamelessly free-spirited, jet-setting cougar who’s so fiercely exquisite and real even her fabulously augmented cleavage can’t upstage her. Heather Patterson King shows her considerable award-winning experience playing Donna, bringing gorgeous vocal depth and range, particularly in numbers such as “The Winner Takes It All,” and creates a wonderfully touching and believable complex mother-daughter dynamic with Becca Andrews as a sweet yet not at all simple Sophie. Mark Epperson is also an exceptional Sam, convincing as the handsome cad with regrets who got away with a terrific singing voice. He and King create lovely harmonies and are especially good together in S.O.S.

By the end of two acts and 25 ABBA hits brought to life and enhanced by such extraordinary talent, every single person of the nearly sold-out opening night audience was up singing and dancing along with gusto. This will happen every night of Mason Street Warehouse’s run of Mamma Mia!, and the party will likely continue long into the night, with people clamoring for more.

And once you see it — if you’re lucky enough to get a ticket — you’ll understand why.

Mamma Mia!
Mason Street Warehouse
June 22-July 15