The film adaptation of Mamma Mia!, starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, might cast quite the shadow on a community theater’s attempt at the ABBA jukebox musical, but Actors Cabaret of Eugene (ACE) pulled off a fun, charming production of the ABBA-filled musical nonetheless.
In Mamma Mia!, Sophie (Ash Apelzin) is about to get married to Sky (Cameron Graham). But Sophie wants to know who her dad is. So, after perusing her mother’s diary, she concludes it must be one of three men: Sam (Tony Joyner), Harry (Michael P. Watkins) or Bill (Jeff Wisdom).
Unlike an episode of Maury, this leads to innocent fun as Donna (Michelle Sellers) encounters her past. Of course, everything that happens is tied to an ABBA song.
The secret for ACE in this production, it seems, is to not take itself too seriously. Sure, the cast has musical talent, but it delivered some funny moments as well.
Erica Jean (Rosie Mulligan) steals the show with her comic chops. Her timing really shined in “Take a Chance on Me,” a duet with Bill in which she tries to woo him. Sure, it might have been accidental when she shoved a chair-sitting Bill with a little too much force, but Jean managed to catch him and incorporate it into the show.
Colin Gray (Pepper) finds ways to keep the cliché of the sexed-up young man fresh in his role as one of Donna’s resort employees. Gray’s physical comedy and joke delivery was flawless. In “Does Your Mother Know,” a duet with Laura Holden (who played Tanya, one of Donna’s friends), the two bring out quite the awkward sexual tension, especially as Holden rides a near-shirtless Gray. Yet this sexual tension results in a burst of comic relief when listening to the lyrics of the song.
Although the cast has a strong performance overall, they still delivered musically — an obvious requirement for a musical that’s nothing but ABBA songs.
Apelzin had a dazzling performance of “Thank You for the Music” during the first act. And, being Donna requires some big shoes to fill. Luckily, Sellars delivers — at times even making me forget Streep in the 2008 movie adaptation — with her performance of “The Winner Takes It All” as she dealt with her past lover Sam.
With Joyner’s smooth, warm vibrato in “SOS” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” he stood out vocally among Sophie’s possible dads — leaving one to guess that, if singing is any indicator, he must be her father.
The downside to the production, though, is in the lack of a solid sound system at ACE, an issue that did no favors for the cast in its singing to a backing track. ABBA should be played as loud as possible. Sadly, ACE’s in-house sound system didn’t provide that.
Mamma Mia! obviously peaked after the curtain call. I don’t mean I was happy for it to be over. Rather, it’s because the cast got to bust out some of the finest ABBA-inspired costuming west of the Mississippi and belt out a few great ABBA songs — inviting the audience to sing and dance along.
It’s a reminder that ABBA is for everyone.
Mamma Mia! runs through March 9 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; $16-$49.50 online at actorscabaret.org.