They can dance, they can jive: Theatre MSU presents 'Mamma Mia!'

Preslie Anne Cowley as Ali, Rylee Burchfield as Sophie and Mary Caitlyn Wright as Lisa take center stage in McComas Theatre during Theatre MSU’s dress rehearsal of ‘Mamma Mia!’

Excited murmurs swept the crowd of Theatre MSU’s “Mamma Mia!” on opening night. The musical provided heightened anticipation, especially since it featured the popular works of ABBA, the Swedish pop supergroup. This rendition merged musical storytelling with comedic antics and provided an entertaining evening that was equal parts emotional resonance and catchy music.

Tim Matheny, an assistant professor of theatre performance, directed this electrifying production. Clever theatrical elements were incorporated into the cast’s performances, including subtle choreography and delightful surprises. This production serves as Matheny’s final project before leaving to serve as an associate dean at William Carey University. As his final mark on Theatre MSU, Matheny gave everything to this charming adaptation. “Mamma Mia!” centers around a young woman who invites three men to her upcoming wedding, each one possibly being her biological father.

The story was not difficult to follow when interwoven with the music, as each song mirrored the feelings of the characters. The first act set the stakes, while the second act had fun, subverting expectations which made the show a blast. This production was a jukebox musical, featuring 22 renditions of ABBA songs. It was family-friendly, apart from some suggestive dialogue and a singular curse word. The themes were sweet and silly, featuring a range of entertaining components.

While the performances were solid, the set design immersed the audience and transported them to a beautiful island in Greece. Everything was vibrant, with calming pastels and a beautiful blue-and-white color scheme. The performers’ costumes had a tropical theme, which was entertaining and gave the show a sense of relaxation. It all fit together beautifully, specifically when the choreography was thrown into the mix. The lighting and sound operators raised the show by giving character spotlights, adjusting lights in time with the music and offering background tracks for the performers. Musicals are incredibly difficult, but the entire cast showed exceptional effort with this production.

Their acting skills were obvious, but a few cast-members were difficult to hear, even from the second row. Perhaps it was nerves that led to the whispered singing, but their ability to sing still sounded better than cast members of the film production. While the main leads were great, the minor roles and ensemble cast were brilliant. They all brought hysterical quirks and mannerisms that left them memorable. This cast gave their all, bringing the story to life and captivating the audience with the first few songs.

Rylee Burchfield played Sophie, the bride-to-be. Burchfield shared her thoughts on her first performance.

“I think it went pretty well for opening night. I’m going to be better tomorrow though. I’m going to make my voice rest more than I did today and hopefully, it won’t be as pitchy as tonight,” Burchfield said.

Burchfield went on to compare this role to her previous performances.

“This is the largest role that I’ve had. It’s really scary, but I kept trying to look at it as exciting. I’m doing my best to not let anyone down and be the best I can be,” Burchfield said.

Jacob Vogelsang played Harry, a London banker and potential father to Sophie. He offered his stance on how this musical differs from regular theatrical productions.

“This is only my second year since I’m a transfer, but doing a musical is completely different. Formatting-wise, a lot more rehearsal process goes into it for such a big name performance. It is a drastic difference, but it is a good thing. The songs help propel the story forward because it’s all these little snippets. They show how each character feels throughout the entirety of the show,” Vogelsang said.

Vogelsang explicitly wanted to convince non-theater attendees to give the show a shot.

“For people who may feel hesitant to come see it, give it a chance. Theatre is an amazing art form. The amount of laughter, smiles, and entertainment that you’ll have when you come to this show is unbelievable and it is unlike anything that you’ve ever been to in your life,” Vogelsang said.

“Mamma Mia!” was the most entertaining Theatre MSU production of the term. It was condensed fun, featuring seventies hits and a party atmosphere that will certainly leave you singing along by the final numbers. The production will run on the McComas main-stage until the last performance Feb. 23.

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