Review: Tuacahn’s ‘Mamma Mia’ is a super trouper good time

Sasha Judkins as Tanya, Jennifer Swiderski as Donna and Shari Jordan as Rosie in Tuacahn's production of "Mamma Mia," Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

REVIEW – Though the stage musical “Mamma Mia” has been around since opening on Broadway in 2001, playing to some 60 million people in over 50 countries, to many the show is best known for its lamentable movie adaptation. But Tuacahn’s version of “Mamma Mia” proves emphatically what the stage musical’s die-hard fans already know: Forget the movie altogether and see it live to experience its sexy, campy celebration of ’70s super-group ABBA’s powerhouse pop.

Set pieces for Tuacahn’s Production of “Mamma Mia” grace the Tuacahn stage, Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

One reason “Mamma Mia” soars while other jukebox musicals struggle is because ABBA’s two dozen or so songs dovetail so perfectly into the story written by Catherine Johnson.

Set on a small Greek Island, 21-year-old Sophie (Shae Robins) is excited about her upcoming wedding to Sky (Matthew Helfer). Raised by single mom and former pop singer Donna (Jennifer Swiderski), Sophie’s biggest wish is to have her father walk her down the aisle. The problem? Sophie’s father could be Sam (Todd Dubail), Bill (Steve Judkins), or Harry (Matthew Tyler), none of whom have seen Donna since their individual summer flings all those years ago — and Sophie invites all three to the party. Also arriving are Donna’s besties Tanya (Sasha Judkins) and Rosie (Shari Jordan), and island chaos and comedy ensue, all backed by solid-gold infectious pop.

The cast is terrific – if for no other reason they can sing the “skit” (as they say in Sweden) out of catchy songs like “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money, Money” and of course the radio friendly hits “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia.”

Just when the plot starts to wear a little thin, a catchy tune reminds you what this show is all about. You won’t soon forget one of the most exhilaratingly fun surprise scenes in recent Broadway musical history that occurs during “Lay All Your Love On Me.”

Credit veteran Tuacahn director-choreographer Derryl Yeager, who knows how to fill a big space with inventive, vibrant dance moves and make brilliant use of a wooden dock that stretches the entirety of the downstage area. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of dozen ripped, athletic young men left over from the “Newsies” cast at your disposal;  and the cast makes the most of the party ambience. (Be sure to stick around for the post-production hits-mix.)

Sasha Judkins as Tanya, Jennifer Swiderski as Donna and Shari Jordan as Rosie in Tuacahn’s production of “Mamma Mia,” Ivins, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Tuacahn Amphitheater, St. George News

The Greek-isle influenced set is simple and gorgeous, while the orchestra provides plenty of punch to the disco-influenced songs written by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson.

The technical aspects on this performance night were solid, but the backup singers (or recorded sweeteners) were often too loud in the sound mix, unnecessarily drowning out the excellent lead vocalists.

If you are not a fan of ’70s pop generally, or ABBA’s music more specifically, Tuacahn’s “Mamma Mia” won’t convince you otherwise. For the rest of us, we can say to ABBA “Thank You for the Music,” and to Tuacahn, thank you for reminding us how much fun a Broadway show can be.

“Mamma Mia” performs throughout the week through Oct. 21 at Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive in Ivins. Tickets are $29-$89. Purchase tickets online or call the box office at 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300.

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