A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: MAMA MIA! AT ALHAMBRA THEATRE & DINING
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining has opened one of the most successful jukebox musicals ever with Mama Mia! featuring over twenty ABBA songs composed by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. ABBA-SOLUTELY FABULOUS FUN awaits ticket holders! This show marks the tenth year of the venue’s purchase by Managing Partner Craig Smith and Partners Bill Barnett, Fraser Bruns, and E. Karl Frisch.
The musical, which premiered in London in 1999, has been wildly popular, having played to a worldwide audience of sixty million theatre goers. After making it to Broadway in 2001, it remained for almost six thousand performances before closing in 2015.
The Alhambra’s production is a two-hour plus vacation to the (fictional) Greek island of Kalokairi. The Library Lounge has been decorated to match the theme, and includes a large hanging depicting an island setting – a terrific background for photos. And the bar is offering pre-show happy hour pricing.
Director/Producer Tod Booth and Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens have assembled a lively and spirited ensemble cast of nineteen who sing phenomenally well and, thanks to Choreographer Shain Stroff, dance with contagious exuberance.
The show features many bouncy songs and at times the full-house audience sang along with the cast; favorites were “Honey Honey,” “Money, Money, Money,” and “Dancing Queen.”
The story is that of twenty-year old Sophie (Grace Gibbons) and her mother Donna (Kelly Atkins) who live on a beautiful Greek island in the Aegean Sea, where Donna owns and manages a small taverna.
Sophie is preparing to marry handsome Sky (Cameron Hale Elliott) in a traditional formal wedding. She would like to be given away by her father, but there’s a complication: Donna has never married and never divulged the name or whereabouts of her father. However, she has a plan: she previously found an old diary belonging to Donna, discovered the names of three men she was dating before she was born, and secretly invited them to her wedding.
Donna (Kelly Atkins) has a colorful background. In the past, she was the lead singer of “Donna and Dynamos,” a popular nightclub group. Adkins appeared on this stage twenty years ago; she sang fabulously then and still has a marvelous voice, which she displayed in a number of songs which included the heart-rending “The Winner Takes It All.”
She has, of course, invited gal-pals Tanya (Karen Coughlin) and Rosie (Lisa Valdini) to the wedding, and they relive their nostalgic past with a delightful rendition of “Dancing Queen.”
Sophie’s three special-invitation guests include Sam Carmichael (Jim Sorensen), Bill Austin (Jim Ballard), and Harry Bright (Billy Clark Taylor). All have impressive resumes and provide a lot of the comedy. They too have excellent singing voices. But their appearance doesn’t have the effect Sophie was hoping for; Donna confesses she doesn’t know who is Sophie’s father, as she had affairs with all three around the same time.
And this is as far as we’re going into the plot; other than to note that it concludes with a happy ending.
Others in featured roles include Erin Leigh Knowles (Ali), Holly Atwood (Lisa), Erick Ariel Sureda (Pepper), Mark Wildman (Eddie) and Sam Brown (Father Alexandrios). The ensemble includes Rodney Holmes, Taylor Hilt Mitchell, Mitchel Burns, Victoria Elizabeth, Kaléa Leverette, and Hailey Henderson; they are frequently on and off stage dancing and singing, in addition to helping with sets changes.
Kudos go to the Costume Crew for the colorful costumes, especially the gowns worn in the “Dancing Queen” number. The set by Dave Dionne and Ian Black, with lighting by Daniel Dungan, coupled with the excellent sound design by Eric Sullivan and Linnay Bennett make this an exceptional evening of musical theatre.
The final curtain call is expanded and has the entire cast, along with the audience, singing and clapping to ABBA favorites.
Tickets for this popular musical are going fast and we recommend calling the box office for the limited seating still available. The theatre is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.