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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ thrives on big energy in Manitowoc

Critic At Large

The Masquers, Inc.

As Sophie Sheridan, Alexa Malley poses with Sophie’s potential fathers, from left, Harry (Patrick Schamburek), Bill (Allan Fett) and Sam (Pete Schoepp). (Company photo)

MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV)

The musical “Mamma Mia!” is creating a buzz on the Lakeshore.

Big show.

Ambitious show.

Big audiences.

Big introduction for many people to a renovated community showcase place.

Plus, the venture of The Masquers, Inc. is the start of the troupe’s 89th season, which says something.

Many of the songs in “Mamma Mia!” were popular before the show came to the stage. They are from ABBA, a dominant hit-making group in the 1970s and beyond.

Around a bunch of those hits a story is woven that’s a bit “out there” and a bit earthy: Twenty-one years after a summer of love on a Greek isle, a mother’s daughter aims to get married and invite the father she never met. From her mother’s diary, three secretive dot-dot-dots give her possibilities. She invites all the dot-dot-dots.

“Mamma Mia!” has so many popular songs that thrive on backup singing and danceability that nobody seems to mind that singing/dancing ensembles materialize at will around the main characters.

The production that continues for two more performances to Sunday, Nov. 10, in Capitol Civic Centre includes a live orchestra whose sound carries on the auditorium’s new amplifiers.

An upgraded lighting system comes into play first during the overture, with a bit of a colored light show on a scrim.

Action turns around Deanne Stokes as the mother, Donna Sheridan, and Alexa Malley as her daughter, Sophie.

Not only is Donna exotic as she runs a resort on the Greek isle, she comes with a handful of connections – the three dot-dot-dots and two friends from her days as an entertainer. With the wedding at hand, Donna is on a rollercoaster of emotions that Deanne Stokes rides with sometimes explosive dramatics. Much leads up to Deanne Stokes’ high-octane delivery of “The Winner Takes It All.”

Sophie is a bundle of wondering, not only about who is her father but her impending crossroads with her nice-guy finance, Sky (Philip Kuenzi). Her thoughts open and close the show on a sensitive note. Alexa Malley surely rolls with the topsy-turvy flow of Sophie. Included is the remarkable “Under Attack,” a nightmare scene that opens the second act. A knot of singers/dancers lifts and carries and maneuvers Alexa Malley as she sings in high angst. Free momentarily from the group, Alexa Malley cartwheels across the stage. One of the biggest physical effects is Alexa Malley, while being held above the heads of the lifting dancers, strides as her legs are manipulated for her. Doggonedest thing.

Director/choral director Erin LaFond and her creative collaborators keep the community theater company focused on their voluminous task.

Much character building goes into many roles.

Included are the dot-dot-dots – Pete Schoepp as the architecture-minded Sam, Patrick Schamburek as the hipster turned banker Harry and Allan Fett as the world adventurer Bill. An extra sequence comes into play as Pete Schoepp expresses Sam’s thoughts in “S.O.S.” with Zach Lulloff and Allyson Stokes interpreting the words in dance.

Donna’s friends also are key – Tessa Komorowski as the free-spirited Rosie, who lights up “Take a Chance on Me,” and Sophia Bartels as thrice-married Tanya, who sizzles in song and look.

Various configurations of ensembles leap into songs that tend to be seas of motion.

The set is solid. In front of a sea-like aqua backdrop are Donna’s two-story taverna, a wall of traditional Greek white geometrics and a wooden dock. In a case of sheer theatrical inventiveness, part of the dock separates to become a bed.

With Capitol Civic Centre gussied up, The Masquers, Inc.’s “Mamma Mia” provides momentum with excitement.

***

Creative: Music and lyrics – Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, with some songs with Stig Anderson; book – Catherine Johnson; producer – Claran LaViolette; director/choral director – Erin LaFond; choreographer – Katie Jo Shimulunas; stage manager – Phillip Jindra; set designers – Luan J. Leonardelli, Warren Schmidt; set decorator – Patrick Schamburek; properties – Zach Lulloff; costume design – Danielle Frahm; hair, make-up design – Jessica Marie Green; master builder – Tom Bartelme; sound technician – Jordan Danielson; lighting design – Pat Smith

Cast:

Donna – Deanne Stokes

Sophie – Alexa Malley

Tanya – Sophia Bartels

Sam – Pete Schoepp

Harry – Patrick Schamburek

Bill – Allan Fett

Rosie – Tessa Komorowski

Sky – Philip Kuenzi

Ali – Jessica Iannitello

Lisa – Allyson Stokes

Father Alex – Michael Strauss

Eddie – Max Schoepp

Pepper – Henry Rotter

Ensemble: Cindy Bradley, Catherine Egger, Sam Gretz, Jake Jacquart, Brogan Jindra, Grace Kolb, Zach Lulloff, Carter Metzen, Emily Schaller, Marty Schaller, Melissa Schamburek, Peter Schoepp Sr., Siena Schoepp, Brittieny Simmer, Dean Sleger, Alyssa Soja, Judy Stechmesser, Emily Tyeptanar, Missie Wendorf, Morgan Wiesner

Orchestra: Conductor – Ethan Christiansen; bass – Jordan Jones; keyboards – Hanna Stolper, Benjamin Vaganov, Ashley Reif; guitar – Colin O’Dwanny; drums – Sawyer Sendelbach

Running time: 2½ hours

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 2 p.m. Nov. 10

Info: themasquers.org or cccshows.org

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture – Orchestra

“I Have a Dream” (Prologue) – Sophie

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

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

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

“Mamma Mia!” – Donna, Ensemble

“Chiquitita” – Tanya, Rosie, Donna, Ensemble

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

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

“Super Trouper” – Donna & the Dynamos

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight”) – Sophie, Ali, Lisa, Ensemble

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

“Voulez-Vous” – Ensemble

Act II

Entr’acte – Orchestra

“Under Attack” – Sophie, Ensemble

“One of Us” – Donna

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

“S.O.S.” – Sam, Donna, Ensemble

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” – Sam, Sophie, 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, Ensemble

“I Have a Dream” (Reprise) – Sophie, Ensemble

Bows and Encore/“Waterloo”  – Company

***

NEXT: “Calendar Girls” by Tim Firth, Feb. 27-29.

THE VENUE: Renovation and upgrade projects carried out in 2019 are virtually complete, including new seating (with drink holders in the arms), technical upgrades and added public spaces. Located at 913 S. 8th St. in downtown Manitowoc, the 1,003-seat West Auditorium of Capitol Civic Centre features classically oriented styles befitting its 1921 origins as a combined vaudeville and movie palace. New lighting in 2019 brightens the auditorium considerably. Two large, tiered, tear-drop clear crystal chandeliers grace shoulders on each side of the proscenium stage. All around is ornamentation – Corinthian capitals on faux columns, leaf-and-scroll braces beneath balcony and step-stage box seat areas, gold and red paint highlighting swirls and/or patterned geometric designs amid the cream-colored wall features. The ceiling is coffered. The fringe around the stage is ornate, with the stage curtain regal red with the Capitol Civic Center’s signature overlaid C’s standing out in the middle of the top hanging, which includes six tassels. Distinctive in the theater is the mezzanine, which is tucked far under the balcony and above the rear seats of the main floor. The lobbies (the second level new in 2019) and meeting areas complement the rest of the theater in design. One area includes photo displays of stars and prominent personalities, including Charlton Heston and his wife, Two Rivers native, Lydia Clark Heston. The “Jewel on the Lakeshore” is home to 14 community arts, music and theater groups. Designed by local architect William J. Raueber and built by the local George Brothers, Arthur and John, the theater opened June 16, 1921, at Ascher Brothers’ Capitol Theatre under a lease agreement with the Chicago-based Ascher movie and vaudeville house operators. The current name dates to 1987, following restoration with the lead grant coming from the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc.

THE PEOPLE: John West was president of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. The foundation that bears the Ruth and John West name supports and fosters the arts, with the Rahr-West Art Museum another significant site in Manitowoc.

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