Theater review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Flat Rock Playhouse

Tauren Hagans, Mary Mossberg and Angie Schworer are dancing queens in Flat Rock Playhouse's 'Mamma Mia!.' Photograph courtesy of Flat Rock Playhouse
Tauren Hagans, Mary Mossberg and Angie Schworer are dancing queens in Flat Rock Playhouse's 'Mamma Mia!.' Photograph courtesy of Flat Rock Playhouse

Anticipation has been building for the arrival of the ABBA-influenced megahit Mamma Mia!, and Flat Rock Playhouse rises to the challenge. The glitter-ball musical by Catherine Johnson, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus takes over the main stage through Saturday, Aug. 18.

Sophie (played by Emily Fink) is getting married on a beautiful, secluded Greek island at the taverna of her mother, Donna (Mary Mossberg). Before the big day, Sophie reads her mother’s diary and discovers her father is one of three lovers Donna had during the 1970s. Desperate for a resolution, she drops a letter in the mail to each prospective father, secretly inviting them to her wedding. When they arrive, it stirs old emotions and Donna must come to terms with her past. Luckily, she has her two best friends and old bandmates Tanya (Angie Schworer) and Rosie (Tauren Hagans) by her side.

Fink is extraordinary as the curious daughter. She portrays an emotional tug-of-war with energy and verve. This immediately jolts us into the romantic, upbeat zone where the show intends to be. Her vocals are simply beautiful.

Zane Phillips as Sophie’s fiancée Sky is on point. There’s a youthful eroticism between them, most notably in a titillating rendition of “Lay All Your Love on Me.” Fink zips Phillips into a wet suit before his bachelor’s party and sexy backup dancers give it their all (the attractive Héctor Flores Jr. is a standout). Major props go to this production for embracing the sensuality of this LGBTQ-friendly musical.

Donna’s past lovers Sam (Sean Hayden), Harry (Jason Watson) and Bill (JP Sarro) are perfectly cast. Hayden has the  showier role and his voice is incredible — especially in one of ABBA’s greatest songs, “S.O.S.” However, the staging in that number could have been stronger.

Ultimately, it is Sarro that makes the greatest impression of the three. He has a note of realism that takes us away from the typical musical theater performance. Sarro also has a splendid connection with Hagans.

Hagans also impresses as Donna’s funny friend. Schworer makes her FRP debut as the woman who turns all the young men’s heads on the island. Together, the friends make a great trio.

Mossberg is fantastic as the matriarch of this musical. As it should be, “Slipping Through My Fingers” is a tear-jerking delight that reminds us of how fast life can pass us by and how we must savor every moment. Similarly to Meryl Streep in the 2008 film version, Mossberg’s acting abilities outdo a majority of her vocals. That is, until letting out a suppressed belt in “The Winner Takes It All.” This proves she can pop the title song and the amazingly staged “Money, Money, Money” better in future performances. Ultimately, Mossberg is more suited for the part than Streep was.

In fact, FRP’s version is even more entertaining than both the Broadway version and the film — a feat not to take lightly, as this production had the power to draw Tony-nominee Terrance Mann to the opening. All technical aspects are stellar here, including beachy costumes by Ashli Arnold Crump and, especially, the gorgeously simplistic set by Dennis C. Maulden.

Director and choreographer Amy Jones has staged two of FRP’s best productions so far — 2016’s haunting A Christmas Carol and, now, Mamma Mia! The thrilling encore of ABBA songs had the audience members out of their seats to dance. This irresistible production is not to be missed.

WHAT: Mamma Mia!
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock, flatrockplayhouse.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 18. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $17-$55

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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