Review by Nan Lincoln
BAR HARBOR — I can’t imagine a better antidote for an early November blast of arctic winter than a trip to the sunny Greek Isles, where beautiful people in breezy or sparkly outfits sing and dance to ABBA tunes under disco balls, dive for pearls and make whoopee.
And the best part is, anyone can go for a fraction of the price of air fare and no passports needed.
Just book a ticket for the Mount Desert Island High School production of “Mamma Mia!” this weekend. This production transports its audiences, if not exactly to Greece, then to a very happy place.
The moment the curtain rose last Saturday night on the whitewashed buildings, flower-covered trellises and the projected azure sea of Carlene Hirsch’s balmy set, one could feel an audible sigh ripple through the theater as icy-fingered folks melted into the moment. Had there been a way to waft the aroma of angeliki blossoms into the hall, the illusion of Greekness would’ve been complete.
Instead of lovely scents, it was lovely, fun music that took us that happy place, beginning with the remarkable Molly Collins as bride-to-be Sophie, pondering a dilemma in her opening song “I Have a Dream,” with her sweet, pitch-perfect soprano.
The dream in question is having her father walk her down the aisle. The glitch is, Sophie has never met her dad. She has, however, discovered from reading her mom Donna’s purloined diary, that there are three possible candidates for the honor — the result of all that aforementioned whoopee. Thinking that she will recognize, on first sight, which of the three men is her real dad, Sophie invites them all to her wedding without revealing the ulterior motive.
Of course, when the clueless Sam (Alexander Shepard), Bill (Zach Uliano) and Harry (Finn Hansbury) arrive at her mother’s island inn and taverna, all sorts of confusion ensues.
Fortunately for us all, the kerfuffle and emotion are expressed in some truly delightful ABBA songs and dance by every one of the show’s principal characters and a large and tuneful chorus of backup singers.
Alex Stavnesli, a relative newcomer to the Higgins-Demas stage, carries a good deal of the show’s plot and music on her shoulders as Donna, Sophie’s mom. She has no idea why these three former lovers have arrived for the nuptials and is not particularly thrilled about the wedding in any case.
With her pixie-ish look and incongruously deep voice, Stavnesli brings to mind a young Annette Benning. She does an excellent job transitioning her character from a harried mom, overwhelmed by wedding preparations and what the heck to do with the three men who seem to have crashed it, to a woman once again giddy in love, giving us a glimpse of the gal whom this trio of guys fell for 21 years ago.
Although her big second act solo, “The Winner Takes It All” is just a tad out of her best range she packs it with such honest emotion it doesn’t matter and her duet with Sam, “SOS” is just plain wonderful.
And speaking of Sam, Shepard has a terrific, true voice and stage presence.
Uliano, as the devil-may-care Bill, and Finn Hansbury as nerdy Harry are also excellent in their roles. It has been a sheer delight to see these two evolve as performers since middle school.
Lily Crikelair plays the seductive cougar Tanya, and her “Does Your Mama Know” is a highlight of the show, as is “Super Trouper” which she sings with Donna and Rosie (a fun Claire Sanner) as the former cabaret trio, Donna and the Dynamos.
And they are not the only terrific trio in this show. Playing the original version of the old girl group are Ashley Graves, Sarah Cook and Stella Walke whose harmonies are as tight and dancing as disco-liscious as the original ABBA.
Actually, this show is packed with performers hitting all the right notes and steps of the excellent choreography by Tami Willis and others.
Director Frank Bachman had a larger than unusual cast to manage, but he has handled it well. To avoid on-stage traffic, he has the chorus singing much of the backup off stage or in the aisles.
That helped save the crowd scenes for the big numbers and best of all for the sparkly, explosive finale, which also had the audience dancing and singing in the aisles.
If I heard a sour note from Annie Leonardi’s pit orchestra, I don’t recall it. They also managed not to ever overwhelm the singers. In fact, the actors and singers project so well that they might not need the microphones set as high as they were.
The tech crew were also great with lighting, special “disco” effects and other fun scene-setting projections.
Marilee Marchese’s costumes are a fabulous floral and shimmery sequin extravaganza, dressing not just the performers but the stage.
The white wedding gown Marchese created for Collins is so lovely, I doubt Vera Wang could come up with something more suited to her.
Next weekend’s performances could be even better would be a little faster pacing. And if Stavnesli and Collins could be convinced how superb they are in their mother/daughter roles, they might be able shake off the nerves a little more and relax and enjoy the journey as much as their audiences are.
Performances of “Mamma Mia!” continue this Friday and Saturday, Nov.22 and 23, at 7 p.m. The final performance is a matinee Sunday, Nov. 23 at 2 p.m.
For ticket information or to buy tickets online visit mdidrama.org.