Like smilin’?

‘Mamma Mia!’ is unpredictable rom-com musical just right for summertime fun

Marsi Smith (from left), Lina Aiko Krueger and Ellen Peterson perform as Donna and the Dynamos. Jack Grace photo

Stage Review

“Mamma Mia!” is not John Steinbeck nor Stephen Sondheim, but it is the most fun you will have this summer. Special effects and multiple stage surprises certainly contribute to the wow factor of “Mamma Mia!,” but it is the quality vocals, rich harmonies, breakout performances and a smorgasbord of Broadway tour-worthy elements that makes this Maui OnStage production at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku so intoxicating.

Although formulaic, Catherine Johnson’s romantic musical-comedy is not predictable despite being 20 years old, and its untraditional plot twists are what keep the ABBA jukebox musical fresh and very funny. Whether or not you laugh out loud, “Mamma Mia!” will keep you smiling all night long.

Relative newcomer Julia Schwentor as Sophie Sheridan is a delight from start to finish, and her portrayal rings both true and refreshing. Complementing Schwentor’s pleasing performance is Lina Aiko Krueger’s enthralling offering as Sophie’s mother, Donna. The combo of a strong youthful debut opposite the always outstanding Krueger is captivating, genuine and, at times, tear-jerking.

Act 1 of “Mamma Mia!” flies by, timing out at just under one hour and is chock-full of memorable moments. One prominent early highlight is the gathering of Donna’s former “Donna and the Dynamos” bandmates Tanya (Ellen Peterson) and Rosie (Marsi Smith). Sophie, who has grown up without a father, innocently invites her three potential biological fathers — Sam Carmichael (Scott Smith), Harry Bright (Marc Tolliver) and Bill Austin (Dean Watt) to her approaching wedding to Sky Rymand (Stephen Webb), set to take place at Donna’s Greek isle taverna.

Ellen Peterson (in lounge chair) and Michael Enovijas flirt on the beach. Jack Grace photo

Distressed by their unexpected arrival, Donna retreats to Tanya and Rosie’s room for solace. The dialogue and familiarity of this marvelous scene, anchored by the musical numbers “Chiquitita” and “Dancing Queen” and a great deal of side-splitting humor, will assuredly win over the most cynical “Mamma Mia!” patron. If you’re not having a blast by “Lay All Your Love on Me” and “Super Trouper,” which quickly follow, then perhaps fun is not your forte.

Whether you are an ABBA fan or not, “Mamma Mia!” may be the best musical achievement of this season, as keyboardist and Musical Director Kim Vetterli has saved her best for the last. The full company, frequently unseen backstage, uses complex harmonies to duplicate the studio quality ABBA sound, adding immense depth and creating a musical theater sound never before heard on Maui. With the aid of Conductor Richard Vetterli, keyboardist Beth Fobbe-Wills, guitarist Mark Gilmore, bassist Peter Della Croce and percussionist Perry Gragas, “Mamma Mia!” is nearly as much rock concert as it is Broadway.

Act 2 explodes off the stage as a bevy of thrilling special effects, designed by Production Manager and Lighting Designer Amy Lord — aided by Bob Offerman and Zoe Tezak — galvanizes with “Under Attack,” the likes of which I have not witnessed since the Oahu national tours of “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon.”

When you incorporate the further electrifying lighting that comes later in the act, you might as well toss in Las Vegas extravaganza to the rock concert orchestration.

The new blood element to “Mamma Mia!” is fully appreciated throughout the second act, first with the rousing performance and first-rate vocals of Scott Smith on “S.O.S” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

Carlyn Leal (from left), Julia Schwentor and Rachel Lockhart peruse a diary that is not theirs. Jack Grace photo

Peterson astonishes as well as the brassy Tanya on the very funny “Does Your Mother Know,” but so does Michael Enovijas as her youthful suitor Pepper.

Enovijas is so athletic and so skilled at physical comedy that he and Peterson nearly steal the show.

Much of “Mamma Mia!’s” charm lies in the many subplots and moments for the entire cast to shine, which include Webb on “Lay Your Love On Me,” Tolliver on “Our Last Summer,” Krueger and Schwentor on the endearing “Slipping Through My Fingers” and the showstopping “Take A Chance On Me.” Marsi Smith and Dean Watt perform this uproarious number so well that it is worth the price of admission alone and might be my favorite stage moment of 2019.

Its competition for “Mamma Mia!’s” finest moment is Krueger’s chicken-skin inducing “The Winner Takes It All.”

There are many additional surprises which are best left unrevealed — like the costumes “to die for” by Vicki and Jessi Nelson, a paradisiacal and romantic set by Caro Walker and a never-ending larger-than-life curtain call that should have you dancing in the aisles.

Krueger (left) and Schwentor prepare for the wedding ceremony. Jack Grace photo

Director Kalani Whitford has outdone himself and then some with this must-see musical, which in my opinion is Maui OnStage’s finest achievement since “RENT.” Tack on the sold-out, overflowing crowds seen last weekend and “Mamma Mia!” seems poised to be the toughest ticket in town.

• Maui OnStage continues “Mamma Mia!,” music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson, directed and choreographed by Kalani Whitford, under the musical direction of Kim Vetterli. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 4 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $20 to $40. “Mamma Mia!” contains adult content which may not be appropriate for all audiences. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

Also this week

Theatre Theatre Maui presents “Legally Blonde JR.,” music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hach, directed by Kristi Scott choreographed Felicia Chernicki-Wulf and under the musical direction of Vania Jerome.

• Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Haleakala Ballroom at Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. Tickets are $15 for ages 13 and older, $9 for ages 6 to 12 and $5 for ages 3 to 5. Keiki age 2 and younger are admitted free. Tickets are available in advance at Lahaina Music or at the door one hour prior to performances. For more information, contact Theatre Theatre Maui at 661-1168 or visit www.ttmwestmaui.org.

Aboriginal dance company, Dancers of Damelahamid, transform time and space at Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater Friday. Photo courtesy the MACC

*****

Maui Academy of Performing Arts presents “Disney’s Frozen JR.,” original music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, book by Jennifer Lee, directed by Hoku Pavao Jones, assisted by David C. Johnston, choreographed by Kathleen Schulz and under the musical direction of Beth Fobbe-Wills.

• Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 7 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 and 4 p.m. Sundays through July 28 in the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. Tickets range from $10 to $15 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets visit www.mauiacademy.org.

*****

Maui OnStage Youth Theater presents “Disney’s My Son Pinocchio JR.,” music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, book by David Stern, directed by Brianna Kenar, choreographed by Jessica Nelson and under the musical direction of Sara Jelley.

• Performances are at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays, through July 28 at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.

*****

The Maui Arts & Cultural Center presents “Dancers of Damelahamid.” Through dramatic dance, captivating narrative, intricately carved masks and elaborate regalia, the Dancers of Damelahamid — an aboriginal dance company from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia — transform time and space to bridge the ancient with a living tradition.

The rich history of masked dance inspires a compelling performance, celebrating the diversity and time depth of the many beautiful aboriginal, First Nations cultures.

• Performance is at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Castle Theater at the MACC in Kahului. Tickets are $25 and $35 with half-price tickets for keiki ages 12 and younger (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org. 

Upcoming

Oh Boy Productions presents the Hawaii premiere of “Tortilla Curtain” by Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett, directed by Vinnie Linares.

Adapted from T.C. Boyle’s bestselling novel of the same name, this production is a visceral, thought-provoking drama that tackles preconceived notions. This sometimes dark, sometimes comical portrait about achieving social-economic upward mobility and the American Dream explores the universal yearning to connect with and belong to a community. 

• Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1 through 4 in the McCoy Studio Theater at the MACC. Tickets are $30 for general admission, $20 for students with ID (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.