“Mamma Mia!” Never Gets Old

When you combine ABBA with the stars of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, you’ve got a crowd pleaser on your hands
Walth, Rodau, and Barber singing the lyrics of the ABBA hit using hair brushes and blow dryers as microphones.
Therese Walth, Kersten Rodau, and Michelle Barber as Rosie, Donna, and Tanya (a.k.a. Donna and the Dynamos) in Chanhassen’s “Mamma Mia!”

Tom Wallace, 2019

With both the Hollywood-created Mamma Mia! sequel and the Broadway tour of Mamma Mia! swinging by the Orpheum in 2017, plus the Ordway’s rendition in 2018, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ version of the musical (playing through Sept. 28) might have been singing to an oversaturated crowd. Hearing the laughter and clapping during opening night says otherwise, though, as people not only still enjoy one of the most popular musicals of all time but they also enjoy their Chanhassen favorites performing it—Michelle Barber, who played Tanya (and was most recently the show stealing Louise in Holiday Inn) got cheers before she said her first line.

During the number "Thank You for the Music," Michael Gruber, John-Michael Zuerlein, and Jay Albright as Harry, Sam, and Bill, sing with Jessica Fredrickson (center) at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' "Mamma Mia!"
Michael Gruber, John-Michael Zuerlein, and Jay Albright as Harry, Sam, and Bill, singing with Jessica Fredrickson (center).

Tom Wallace, 2019

Sophie is played by Jessica Fredrickson, and while she opens the show with “I Have a Dream” and the gleeful “Honey, Honey” (with the help of her two ‘60s beach party friends) it’s Kersten Rodau (recently Medda Larkin in Newsies) as her mother Donna who really kicks things off with “Money, Money, Money.” In Fredrickson’s defense, “Money” is also the first large number, made complete with Rodau’s belting range and a brief touch of meta-humor with Sophie and her betrothed, Sky (Aleks Knezevich).

This is a musical that doesn’t shy away from campy energy; chorus members may pop out of the woodworks during a certain eponymous song. However, whether it is because a couple numbers lack spark or because we get a shallow serving of many onstage presences, the show seems a little dispersed. Any and all wrinkles are remedied with good onstage chemistry—especially between commanding ladies Barber and Therese Walth (Donna’s other friend, Rosie)—and ABBA’s catchy and encapsulating lyrics. As a spoiler, the vocal performance of the night is Rodau singing “The Winner Takes It All,” as it should be. Here she best mixes her power with emotional and musical dynamics to remind you that slow songs can be just as riveting as big production scenes.

Mamma Mia! has charming and benign characters with quirks that make you chuckle (thank you for HHB, Michael Gruber). While the show is new to very few, Chanhassen’s production of it has more than enough sparkle to make you want to be a “Dancing Queen” by the time it is over.

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