‘Mamma Mia’ moves to a vibrant disco beat


It doesn’t matter if you have seen’ Mamma Mia’ before. As an audience member sitting next to me at the Marriott Theatre said, “I saw it on Broadway. This is better.”

Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in 'Mamma Mia!' at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin
Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin

A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, the Marriott production has it all: terrific solos, great dance numbers, fine staging and a perfect combo of light and sound that brings back the 1970s disco era. A Swedish group, ABBA was performing, basically from 1972 to 1982.

Marriott’s theater-in-the–round design is perfect for ‘Mamma Mia,’ set on a Greek island by playwright Catherine Johnson.

But even more important, the show is directed by Rachel Rockwel. A multi Jeff award winner in the categories of Best Musical, Choreography and Director, Rockwell has a finely-tuned dancer’s instinct for how to pull together music and movement.

Rockwel is also working with a talented cast that includes Danni Smith as Donna Sheridan, a member of a retired trio who is a single mother and owner of a taverna. Smith, a memorable Aldonza in Marriott’s ‘Man of La Mancha,’ does a fabulous “The Winner Takes it All” number.

Derek Hasenstab, Peter Saide, Karl Hamilton are Sophie Sheridan's possible dads. Photo by Liz Lauren
Derek Hasenstab, Peter Saide, Karl Hamilton are Sophie Sheridan’s possible dads. Photo by Liz Lauren

Tiffany Tatreau who some Marriott goers might remember as Mary Robert in ‘Sister Act’ fits well into the role of Donna’s young daughter, Sophie Sheridan.  Sophie plans to marry Sky (Russell Mernagh), another young islander but she wants her father to walk her down the aisle.

The problem posed in ‘Mamma Mia’ is that Sophie finds out her mother had relations with three lovers during the crucial conception time. So Sophie invites all three to her wedding in hopes of learning her dad’s identity.

It’s fun to watch the dawning awareness of each of the three men, Sam Carmichael (Peter Saide) Harry Bright (Karl Hamilton) and Bill Austin (Derek Hasenstab) that Sophie might be his daughter.

However, the trio that really makes this production special is the now retired band singers, Donna, Tanay (Meghan Murphy) and Rosie (Cassie Slater).

A sexy, mature Murphy does a fabulous tease number “Does Your Mother Know” with Pepper ( Liam Quealy), another young islander.  And Slater does a fun “Take a Chance on Me” with Hasenstab.

Bride to be Sophie Sheridan ( Tiffany Tatreau), center, and company of Mamma Mia. Photo by Liz Lauren
Bride to be Sophie Sheridan ( Tiffany Tatreau), center, and company of ‘Mamma Mia.’
Photo by Liz Lauren

But the number that brings the house down is Sheridan, Murphy and Slater’s rendition of “Dancing Queen.” Audiences are likely to leave humming it or the title song, “Mamma Mia.”

Kudos go to Ericka Mac, a performer who is gaining a reputation for choreography, set designer Scott Davis, lighting designer Jess Klug, and sound designer Robert E. Gilmartin.

The setting reminds us this is an island with water flowing along the stage’s side but also a taverna when posts go down. White washed building sides surround audience and flowers above the stage that glow with lights when it’s the taverna set a Greek island vacation mood.

Flashing lights and exciting 70’s-style music are sure to bring on an rge to dance or at least, move the bod.

The show ends, not with just the actors taking a bow, but the popular ABBA songs written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeu doing a bit of an encore as the cast point and hustle to disco beats on stage and in the aisles.  (Additional material and arrangements are by Martin Koch.)

Details: ‘Mamma Mia!’ is at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL, now through April 16, 2017. For tickets and other information call  (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.