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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Bright voices, lights shine in ‘Mama Mia!’ SHOW in Chilton

Critic At Large

Calumet County Community Theatre and The Engler Center for the Performing Arts

Cast and crew members of “Mama Mia!” gather for a light display for the production presented by Calumet County Community Theatre and The Engler Center for the Performing Arts. (David Voss photo)

CHILTON, Wis. (WFRV)

Talk about a juiced-up production.

That would be “Mama Mia!” as presented by Calumet County Community Theatre and The Engler Center for the Performing Arts.

On top of two female leads with top-notch voices and characterizations, the production is a SHOW with many lighting effects.

The story is set mostly outside at a resort on a Greek island, but it may just as well be inside a snazzy nightclub for all the lighting do-dads.

The music of ABBA is the cause for all this. A collection of the group’s hits has been fashioned into a somewhat outrageous story: A bride-to-be wants to have her father give her away at the ceremony, but she does not know who her father is. Reading her mother’s diary, she discovers her father could be one of three men. Unbeknown to her mother, she invites the three to the wedding. All show up.

At the start of the show, Amanda Hartlaub sings a bit as bride-to-be Sophie as she mails the invitations. A few notes in – ding! – and it is clear that Hartlaub has a clear, high, ringing voice, and she will color the show. Hartlaub does over and over in such zesty hits as “Honey, Honey,” “Thank You for the Music” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” And then there is the song that reveals Sophie’s soul, “I Have a Dream.”

Sophie’s mother, Donna, is portrayed/sung by Chelsey Burke, who has a lot of character strengths/foibles to work with and sing often reflectively about. Everything about Donna – single mom, conflicted past and present, independent woman, secretively yearning woman – leads to Burke unleashing the show-stopping “The Winner Takes It All” with her gun of a voice. Talk about selling a song – Burke unloads in high-caliber ways.

Burke and Hartlaub have strong support – Antoinette Habermann and Becky Marcus as Donna’s longtime friends and one-time showbiz teammates, Jonathan Kobs as Sophie’s intended and Jody Chaussee, Dan Koffarnus and Rick Behnke as Sophie’s possible fathers, with Chaussee primary as the story goes and his key song, “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

Director Larry Marcus helps everybody finesse their character, and there are abundant nuances to work with.

The setup for ensemble appearances is this: ABBA songs have a lot of backup singing. Anytime a scene takes place outside the resort, mostly youthful “tourists” show up and supply the chorus singing. Most times while they are on hand, they break into dance, too. Songs become production numbers. When a scene is an interior, the backup singing comes from off stage.

The exterior situations tend to be dazzling. Here we are outside with a song being sung, and the stage is A-LIGHT in SHOWBIZ ways. Above is a circular array of adjustable, multi-colored lights that beam anyplace, plus the whole structure can be dropped and aimed. On the stage wings are adjustable multi-colored lights. In the rear are spotlights. At times, beams play on the mirrored ball on the hall’s ceiling, creating a star effect. Sometimes, geometric light images are displayed on the ceiling. And then there is standard stage lighting. At times, the effect in the hall is like being inside a huge kaleidoscope.

The hall also is equipped with a solid sound system. Performers wear high-quality wireless headsets. Two sequences are impressive. One is near the end when Hartlaub/Sophie goes from person to person hugging each while continuing to sing, and her sound and clarity remain consistent and right on. The other is the finale, with the entire cast spread out along the aisles throughout the hall, singing clearly and with an overall balance of sound along with the lively live band. The atmosphere is celebratory – a perfect way to end “Mama Mia!”

***

Creative: Music and lyrics – Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, with some songs with Stig Anderson; book – Catherine Johnson; director – Larry Marcus; assistant director – Emily Marcus; music director – Paul Sucherman; choreographer – Hilary Mayer; producer – Brian Bartel; set designer – Russ Rautmann; stage managers – Russ Rautmann, Cassie Raquet; lighting designer – Brady Kees; directors of technical crews – Brady Kees, Brian Bartel; costume coordinator – Jeanne Keuler; props coordinator – Cassie Raquet

Cast:

Donna Sheridan (mother) – Chelsey Burke

Sophie Sheridan (daughter) – Amanda Hartlaub

Tanya Cresham-Leigh – Antoinette Habermann

Sam Carmichael – Jody Chaussee

Harry Bright – Rick Behnke

Bill Austin – Dan Koffarnus

Rosie Mulligan – Becky Marcus

Sky – Jonathan Kobs

Ali – Sophie Brandt

Lisa – Dulce Sierra

Father Alexandrios – Tim Argall

Eddie – TJ Olp

Pepper – Brent Bel

Ensemble – Alex Bowe; Charlotte Deehr, Cambria Deehr, Ellie Fuerbringer, Kelly Hanna, Kailey Kaltenbrun, Annalia Lopez, Charlie Lorenz, Miranda Lorenz, Andrew Mader, Lydia Meyers, Haylee Mueller, Paige Owens, Cortney Piepenburg, Elizabeth Plotka-Heinen, Kaitlyn Voss, Young Moua, Teresa Fischer

Orchestra: Director, keyboards, auxiliary percussion – Paul Sucherman; assistant director, keyboards – John Tengowski; keyboards – Hanna Stolper; drums and percussion – Austin Gafner; bass guitar – William DeBlaey; acoustic and electric guitars – Colin O’Dwanny; violin – Clara Montes; violin – Griffin Montes

Running time: 2½ hours

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. July 13, 18, 19, 20

Info: englercenter.com

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture – Orchestra

“I Have a Dream” (Prologue) – Sophie

“Honey, Honey” – Sophie, Ali, Lisa, Ensemble

“Money, Money, Money” – Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Company

“Thank You for the Music” – Sophie, Sam, Harry, Bill

“Mamma Mia!” – Donna, Company

“Chiquitita” – Donna, Rosie, Tanya

“Dancing Queen” – Tanya, Rosie, Donna, Company

“Lay All Your Love on Me” – Sky, Sophie, Men

“Super Trouper” – Donna, and the Dynamos

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! – Sophie, Ali, Lisa, Company

“The Name of the Game” – Sophie, Bill, Ensemble

“Voulez-Vous” – Company

Act II

Entr’acte – Orchestra

“Under Attack” – Sophie, Ensemble

“One of Us” – Donna

“S.O.S.” – Sam, Donna, Ensemble

“Does Your Mother Know?” – Tanya, Pepper, Ensemble

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” – Sam, Ensemble

“Our Last Summer” – Harry, Donna, Ensemble

“Slipping Through My Fingers” – Donna, Sophie

“The Winner Takes It All” – Donna

“Take a Chance on Me” – Rosie, Bill

“I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” – Sam, Donna, Company

“I Have a Dream” – Sophie, Company

Bows – Company

***

THE VENUE: Located at 530 W. Main St. in Chilton, the 735-seat Engler Center for the Performing Arts opened in Chilton High School in the 2003-2004 school year. The space has an open, airy aura. Central is the large proscenium (flat-front stage) with a dark blue curtain. Shades of dark blue are echoed in the seating fabric and wall panels. Six sets of wood ceiling tiles – some rectangles, some squares – are spread across the ceiling for acoustical purposes. The auditorium floor is concrete, with leaf-pattern carpeting along walking lanes. On side walls, wood beams set apart paneling that is dark blue on the sides and blood red in the rear, with the lower portion of side walls a geometric pattern of cement blocks that are painted in a shade reminiscent of dark wood. Outside this showcase space is a spacious lobby/commons.

THE PEOPLE: The families of Michael and Kathleen Engler and William and Gail Engler, Jr. provided the key funding for the theater through the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Inc. Name associated with the Englers: Kaytee and its products for pets.

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