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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Spirited ‘Mamma Mia!’ bears repeating in De Pere

Critic At Large

Birder Players

Program cover.

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – The music of ABBA is sooooooo infectious that Birder Players theatrical company is having another run at “Mamma Mia!”

The show features a bunch of chart hits and a few more to tell this story: An independent woman’s grown daughter reads her diary from her youth, and the daughter invites three men who could be her father to her coming wedding on a Greek isle.

Birder Players’ production in February 2019 was a big success. The 2021 edition includes key players who created that success.

The production opened Thursday night in Broadway Theatre with enthusiasm in the air for the songs, the dances, the costuming and the performances. Eight performances remain.

Proficient players lead the way.

Rändi Fay, as Donna Sheridan, the single mother whose past as an entertainer included one-nighters. (Wink, wink. The story is about liberties of various kinds). For her role, Rändi Fay transforms from being a singer-composer who favors jazz to singing pop songs in a musical theater creation that requires acting. Rändi Fay especially feels comfortable pouring out “The Winner Takes It All” that has all the shadings of Donna in voice and character.

Ana Lissa Bakken, as Sophie Sheridan, the conflicted daughter. Ana Lissa Bakken has spent her life in theater in prominent roles and checks all the boxes – sing, dance, act, be a presence. She and Fay are seasoned in their roles, so there’s depth.

Ann Preiss Gray and Natalie Rein, as Donna’s colleagues from showbiz semi-stardom. The two colorfully weave into Donna’s story while splashing action of their own.

Behind the scenes is Alicia Birder, the show’s producer, director, co-choreographer and company wellspring. She fits more than 1,000 pieces to create this colorful puzzle.

Dancing is a character in this show, and three choreographers take on various segments – Alicia Birder, Anna Allen and Ann Preiss Gray. Dancing is sometimes by throngs in such excitable numbers as “Mamma Mia,” “Voulez-Vous” and “Waterloo.” In one case, Rändi Fay is hoisted on a short ladder by two male dancers, requiring her to sing all the way up and back down again as if this, of course, is a natural occurrence. Ana Lissa Bakken also is part of other such carryings-on – or being spun around in a bed by her character’s three potential fathers (Mark Jackson, Keith Pratt and Jon Weiss), all dressed in gleaming white from hats to shoes and everything in between.

ABBA’s hit-fueled songs often sweep the show along. The story gets a bit deep-thinky in the second act before the ABBA splash resumes, leading into the three-production-number geyser that is the sensational encore that has the company going all out.

Filling the stage is the set, the façade of a resort. The set has the feel of a warm vacation spot. Noticeable are vines that cling to the resort’s wall and arc lines of long, brown and green arms. How’d they create them?

Basic setup for Birder Players’ “Mamma Mia!” (Warren Gerds)

Usually close at hand in the story are splashes of excitement.

Sophie is visited by two friends (Megan Navarrette and Betsy Sorenson), who arrive in a wave of girlish giggles. The three get the hits going with “Honey, Honey.”

When Donna is visited her friends (Natalie Rein and Ann Preiss Gray) the three light fire to “Dancing Queen.” And their “Super Trouper” near the end comes with costuming luster. Rein and Gray have side stories of their own as their characters look for love. Ann Preiss Gray’s “Take a Chance on Me” shows how musical theater can give added meaning to a song.

Sophie and eventually Donna are visited by the three men (Mark Jackson, Keith Pratt and Jon Weiss) who don’t know each other and don’t know they could be a parental unit. The strong players deal with a lot of churn suddenly thrust on their characters.

Visiting Sophie’s intended, Sky (Lucas Brunette), are Sky’s fun-minded, booze-minded buddies. Somehow fitting is a guy dance romp in swim fins with support dancers in iridescent-fringed dive suits. Sky in a full wedding gown? That’s a Sophie nightmare.

Very much part of the surges of action is the ensemble that ignites bolts of energy that made ABBA popular in the first place. Somehow, the ensemble shows up at just the right time on the beach to sing background in songs.

Many ensemble players are different from the 2019 Birder Players production. A live band has been replaced by a soundtrack for much of the background music. And COVID-19 was not a presence in 2019, and it’s not really obvious but still is creeping around out of sight.

The main thing is the show dishes out entertainment in a lot of flashy ways.

***

Creative: Music and lyrics – Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, with some songs with Stig Anderson; book – Catherine Johnson; producer, director, choreographer – Alicia Birder; music director – Brandon Rockstroh; choreographer – Anna Allen, Ann Preiss Gray; lighting design – Andrew Schmitz; sound design and engineers – Chris Gabyrczak, Chloe Ledvina, Rebekah Witte; stage manager – Frank Tower; assistant stage manager – Jenna Peterson; set design – Warren Elliott; scenic artist – Susan Elliott; wardrobe coordinators/designers – Janet Ajango, Sandy Melroy, Judy Patefield; props crew – Anna Allen, Warren Elliott, Ann Preiss Gray, Ritter Jackson, Jon Jensen; set build – Susan Elliott, Warren Elliott, Bill Sands, Jack Rhyner, Jim Sanders; set crew – Mary Nelly Baumgardt, Ann Preiss Gray, John Gray, Ritter Jackson

Cast: 

Donna Sheridan (mother) – Rändi Fay (R – returning from 2019 production)

Sophie Sheridan (daughter) – Ana Lissa Bakken (R)

Ali – Megan Navarrette

Lisa – Betsy Sorenson

Tanya – Natalie Rein (R)

Rosie – Ann Preiss Gray (R)

Harry Bright – Jon Weiss (R)

Bill Austin – Keith Pratt

Sam Carmichael – Mark Jackson (R)

Sky – Lucas Brunette

Eddie – Brian Murray

Pepper – Jesse Robak

Alice – McKenzie Alosi

Alena – Ashley Skoczynski

Angel – Gabby Rein

Cole – Tory Ortscheid

Effy – Beth Remmers-Jensen (R)

Greta – Anna Allen (R)

Kat – Brianna Zawada

Phoebe – Mikaela Torbenson

Ted – Lindsey Lykerly

Teri – Jolee Jackson

Zoe – Madeline Tetzner

Ensemble crew – Mary Nelly Baumgardt, Abigail Elfner, Ritter Leeph Jackson, Annabelle Schurbring, Ava Sullivan

Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 5, 13-15; 2 p.m. Oct. 16; and 4 p.m. Oct. 17

Info: birderonbroadway.org

***

Musical numbers (including recorded soundtrack)

Act I

Overture – Piano

“I Have a Dream” (Prologue) – Sophie

“Honey, Honey” – Sophie, Ali, Lisa

“Money, Money, Money” – Donna, Company

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

“Mamma Mia” – Donna, Harry, Bill, Sam, Company

“Chiquitita” – Donna, Rosie, Tanya

“Dancing Queen” – Donna, Rosie, Tanya

“Lay All Your Love on Me” – Sky, Sophie, Pepper, Eddie, Boys, Girls

“Super Trouper” – Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Girls

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” – Sophie, Lisa, Ali, Harry, Bill, Sam, Girls

“The Name of the Game” – Sophie, Bill

“Voulez-Vous” – Sky, Eddie, Pepper, Company

Act II

Entr’acte – Piano

“Under Attack” – Sophie, Nightmare Chorus

“One of Us” – Donna

“S.O.S.” – Donna, Sam

“Does Your Mother Know?” – Tanya, Rosie, Pepper, Harry, Lisa, Ali, Bill

“Knowing Me, Knowing You” – Sam

“Our Last Summer” – Donna, Harry

“Slipping Through My Fingers” – Donna, Sophie

“The Winner Takes It All” – Donna

“Take a Chance on Me” – Rosie, Bill

“Dancing Queen Hymn” – Company

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

“I Have a Dream” – Sophie

Encore

“Mamma Mia” – Company

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

“Waterloo” – Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Company

***

NEXT: “A Christmas Carol The Musical,” Dec, 2-18.

THE VENUE: Broadway Theatre is a 154-seat (in normal times), 3,000-square-foot facility at 123 S. Broadway on the east side of the Fox River in De Pere. The building started life as the Majestic Theatre sometime around 1930. The space is essentially a “black box” performance space that is adjusted to the needs of a specific production. The rectangular space includes a high, arcing ceiling consisting primarily of its original patterned tin, painted white, and a laminate dark brown floor. The stage is set on a long leg of the space, with moveable seating on risers on the opposite side. The stage has an angled front with three steps to the top surface. Performances spill from the stage onto the main level of the seating area, so action often is up close and personal. The theater is the home for performances and rehearsals of the youth Birder Studio of Performing Arts and adult Birder Players, and it is another option for other endeavors of entertainment.

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