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Incline Theatre Greets the Summer with a Breezy “Mamma Mia!”

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of “Mamma Mia!”: Incline Theatre

Incline Theatre kicks off its summer season with the crowd-pleasing “Mamma Mia!” and one can hardly think of a more appropriate selection to kiss the cold and rains goodbye. Set on a colorful, carefree Greek island, “Mamma Mia!” celebrates love, family and joie de vivre. Full confession: jukebox musicals like “Mamma Mia!” aren’t my favorite musical theatre genre, but the universal appeal and popularity of the ABBA music that permeates it, and its fairly seamless integration into the (admittedly light-weight) plot, make it one of the best.

The plot focuses on Sophie (Lexie Rigsby) and her single mother, Donna (Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers). Sophie is getting married to Sky (Jackson Hurt) on the isolated Greek island where her mother runs a tourist taverna, but has secretly invited three men from her mother’s diary, any of whom may be her father: Harry (Brian Anderson), Bill (Dan Doerger), and Sam (Ryan J. Poole). Rounding out the main cast are Donna’s friends from her old musical group, Tanya (Leslie Taylor) and Rosie (Anna Schneider) who just arrived for the wedding. The show follows Sophie as she becomes close to the three men and tries to identify her father, as well as reconcile her marriage with her mother whose free-spirited ideals don’t match with Sophie’s desire to get married at age 20.

“Mamma Mia!” poses prodigious vocal challenges, which the cast met with various degrees of success. Some of the issues were related to the sound and acoustics, with occasional static, feedback and inconsistent volume levels. Raymond-Goers led the cast vocally and brought the house down with her signature ballad, “The Winner Takes it All”. Newcomer Lexie Rigsby, an NKU student, has been busy this spring having just come off of an impressive dramatic supporting role in Falcon’s “A Lion in Winter” and now demonstrates her musical theatre talents. She is sweet and charismatic as Sophie, and has a fine, clear voice which could benefit with a little more forcefulness. Two stand-outs in supporting roles were Annie Schneider and Dan Doerger, who shined in a well-choreographed and humorous number, “Take a Chance On Me”. Welcome back to Doerger, who has been on an extended sabbatical in Hawaii and whose return to the Cincinnati stage this year reminds audiences how much his physical style, stage-presence, and impish smile have been missed.

The most effective numbers overall were the ensemble pieces by a young and eager chorus, who also backed up many of the solos and duets. Choreography by Allison Evans was fairly standard, but a few numbers like “Lay All Your Love on Me” and “Under Attack” had some clever and memorably eye-catching elements. Music Director Steve Goers conducted a small but effective band that handled the ABBA music perfectly.

Scenic designer Brett Bowling provided a beautiful and flexible facsimile of Donna’s taverna, while Caren Brady’s costumes were colorful and appropriate. Denny Reed’s lighting design also provided color and drama to the staging.

Tim Perrino directed “Mamma Mia!” with his usual professionalism, care, and skill (and also provides a cute cameo as the wedding official). Somehow, though, I couldn’t help feel that the cast both dramatically and vocally seemed somewhat over-scripted and restrained. The very best moments of the show came at the end, with an after-finale dance party-ish encore of several songs where everyone, included the audience, let go. Some of that same exuberant spontaneity and energy throughout would have brought the production to another level.

Despite any shortcomings, however, as the song “Mamma Mia” intones, “How can I resist ya?” Incline’s production is a fun and free-wheeling show that makes a great start to its summer offerings. It plays at the Incline Theatre through May 26th, with tickets available at their website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.