Mamma Mia! @ CSD

photo csdtheaters.com

Mamma Mia! now playing at Corvallis High School’s performing arts center, CSD Theater. Directed by Laura Beck. I’ll start with the things I liked:

The set is gorgeous. As if the production team lifted a portion of Santorini and put it onstage. Beautiful! I recommend sitting in the higher seating levels to see the full detail. One thing I appreciate with CSD is they dress the floor of the stage as well which most venues do not. If you sit in the lower level, you’ll miss the extra layer. Design by Laura Beck, construction by Mike Brantley, with scenic artistry by Mae & Dan Hitchcock.

Costumes were on point and there are a LOT of them! The cast has a huge ensemble and everyone looked cohesive. Led by Vicki Guenther with a list of contributors almost as long as the cast list! Just know you did a great job and everyone looks great! The only piece I felt was out of place, was Sophie’s wedding dress. It was too sparkly and I felt like her character is more bohemian…

Speaking of the large cast…the ensemble was staged quite well as there are about 53 of them! The lead cast has 13. That’s quite a lot of people to choreograph making sure they aren’t running into each other. The choreography by Kelly Volkmann showcased all the dancing talents of the students. The leads seemed to move well and the ways Sophie weaves throughout some of the musical numbers and interacts with other characters was well done.

Lights were fun and added another wonderful layer to this show. I especially liked turning day to night and night to day with the stars and blue sky. The party scene with the draped strings of lights was a clever way to bring an additional layer. Designed by Josh Hiser.

Sound has some great layers such as ocean sounds, bird sounds, and other layers which really support the environment. Designed by Grady Holaday. I believe Grady also kept the vocals mixed well and levels sounded appropriate for the performance.

Musical Director Jim Martinez leads another solid orchestra which include Evan Smouse, Robert Elliot, Skip Rung, and Diane Kozak on keyboards; Gale Farley and Kendall Lee on guitar; Mark McAllister on Bass; Dennis Mcintire on Drums and Lava Lamp; and Murphy Gleske on percussion. The orchestra was on point and had the music of ABBA dialed in. My only problem was I couldn’t hear them as well as the vocals. It felt like I was watching the play on TV. I was hoping for more of a submersion into the music. It seemed like maybe the speakers for the upper seating levels weren’t used.

Vocal director Cheryl Martinez did a great job working with such a huge cast. Everyone seemed to be having fun and sounded well balanced.

The cast is strong overall; however, some seemed tired which makes sense since I saw the Sunday matinee (the fifth show of the weekend following tech week). Janessa Minta as Sophie was believable as a young girl on the cusp of her wedding and the chemistry with Jack Martin as Sky seemed natural. Emily Ferrin as Rosie was a kick and Nicole Kent as Tanya was just the right amount of sass. They seemed natural in their characters which magnified the caricature of Ruth Mandsager’s Donna. I surprised because she’s usually so on point. Sunday’s performance felt like she was pushing or “acting” Donna’s emotional arcs instead of enjoying the ride. To be fair, the character Donna experiences more emotional surprises than the others when her past comes back to test her. It’s a delicate balance coupled with having to sing at the same time. I’m nit-picking, I know. (Probably gonna lose some friends after this… ) The three dads: Matthew Otten as Harry had sweet costuming and I liked he played the guitar in his opening scene. A bit too flamboyant early on which didn’t give him far to go as the story moves on but overall, well done. Liked the messy rock hair, too. Greg Craven as Bill was the centering of the three for me. As I was watching the show, I kept feeling like he would’ve been a better choice for Sam and Donovan as Sam would’ve been better as Bill. Both have strong vocals but the chemistry between Sam & Donna just wasn’t there for me. I’m a visual pairing person, too, so my brain wanted the physical matches to be Greg & Ruth and Donovan & Emily. Supporting leads by Sydney Hoffman, Reilly Mincinski, Benjamin Souther, Aiden Evans, and Eve Elwood were fun to watch and seemed to have a great time.

Overall, it’s a strong show and not a surprise why the masses like it. I was especially happy the CSD version toned the sexual innuendo waaay down. (If you saw the Albany Civic Theatre version, you know what I mean. If you didn’t, I wrote a review about the blatant sex stuff.) The CSD version does have some extra moments revolving around flashbacks which I felt were distracting. I wanted to focus on the leads interacting with each other, not the flashbacks. No offense to the flashback actors.

Mamma Mia! runs through March 15th at CSD Theaters. Click HERE for tickets and showtimes.

**My personal note. While I despise the narrative of this story, I attended this show to support the people I know who are amazing performers as well as community theatre! I think the premise is dangerous to women, and young girls, as it under minds female empowerment while dazzling people with a disco party of ABBA music. In the age of why aren’t women acknowledged in film, at the Oscars, in the workplace, or anywhere for that matter, consider the under mining narratives women keep supporting with their money buying tickets to shows like this or agreeing to perform shows like this. Am I a hypocrite for buying a ticket to this show? YES. Those who know me, know how much I DESPISE this musical. However, I LOVE the people involved in the show and want to support them. I know the title is catchy, the music is fun, and most people agree the premise is weak; however, the not-so subliminal message the show sends is not good. Donna is an independent woman who has done an amazing job raising a daughter who loves with her whole heart. Despite Donna’s reservations about the institution of marriage, she supports Sophie’s desire to marry. Meanwhile, Donna is ashamed of her past (otherwise, she would’ve shared it with her daughter) which comes back to haunt her after her daughter reads Donna’s diary. (Donna has such a strong opposition to marriage, Sophie is afraid to ask her about her three possible dads as well as permission to invite them to the wedding which under minds Donna’s independence and free spirited love life as a young woman…) The three possible dads show up and throw Donna into a tailspin. It’s obvious her relationship with Sam is the one who got away as she treats him with contempt from the opening. (This begs the question, is she really as independent as she claims or is it by default?) Turns out, Sophie caves to the pressure of her mom’s anti-marriage propaganda and the presence of her three dads so she decides to NOT get married and runs off with Sky. At which point, Sam declares they shouldn’t waste a perfectly good priest and asks Donna to marry him which she does after prodding from her friends. (So, am I supposed to think Donna is NOT an independent woman capable of getting back into a relationship slowly but a woman who has been just pining away for her man to come back and rescue her from loneliness and marry her? Which she does immediately and no one thinks twice about it.) Happily ever after? NO. A better ending would’ve been Sophie getting married with Donna and her three dads beside her with Donna and Sam agreeing to give it another shot and see what happens. Both get what they want, the narratives stay consistent, and I could enjoy the show fully. I wish someone would do THAT version.

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