• “Mamma Mia!,” a collaboration between Allen Community College and the Iola Community Theatre, kicks off tonight at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center at 7:30. Shows also are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $7. Pictured, is lead actor Sabra Stockebrand, center.
  • Drew Shepard, Jeff Cokely, Jim Stukey, Jim Gilpin, and Susan Raines.
  • Angela Whitmore, left, and Jessica Quinhones.
  • Julius Hodges, top at center, stars in “Mamma Mia!,” which runs tonight through Saturday at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.

‘Mamma Mia!’ magnifique

The Iola Register

“Mamma Mia!,” the most ambitious, fully realized, light-filled production to adorn the Bowlus stage in a long while, begins its three-day run tonight at 7:30.

The jukebox musical, a rare collaboration between the Allen Community College theatre and music departments and the Iola Community Theatre, assembles a cast of nearly 40 players for two fizzy, fast-paced hours of song and dance, with a libretto that also manages to inject this candy-colored bonbon with vibrations of real feeling.

The action is set on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, at a small hotel run by an American expat named Donna Sheridan, played brilliantly and with quiet authority by Susan Raines.

The musical begins with Donna’s 20-year-old daughter, Sophie, who is busy prepping for her upcoming wedding. Before tying the knot, however, Sophie aims to get to the bottom of a long-unsolved mystery: namely, who is her biological father? Having recently found her mother’s diary, which records intimate encounters with three different men exactly 20 years earlier (on separate occasions, it should be said; not three at the same time), Sophie makes a secret bid to invite all three men to her wedding, where, she imagines, she’ll at last be able to determine the truth of her parentage. It’s around this paternal mystery that the plot revolves — not that plot matters much in a production so richly jammed with a cortege of instantly recognizable, joy-drenched, irrepressibly campy ballads by the 1970s Swedish pop band ABBA.

Soon after receiving Sophie’s invitations, the men arrive on the island at which point, as one might guess in a musical of this stamp, chaos and song ensue.

Sophie is played with subtlety by Sabra Stockebrand, whose voice — familiar to many who’ve seen her in various star turns on the Bowlus stage in recent years — retains its capacity to raise goosebumps on the arms of anyone with ears to hear it. As pure as the Aegean breeze, as rich as the first bite of Baklava, as strong as a cold slug of ouzo, as intoxicating as two bottles of Roditis on an empty stomach, as precise as the marble cuts of Praxiteles — the musical is Greek, get it? — Stockebrand’s deep-timbred voice is the sustaining grace of an already strong production.

As the villa’s matriarch, Raines is the other essential chromosome that gives life to this project. Shifting between confidence and vulnerability, while never once bungling a dance move, Raines — in tandem with Stockebrand — finds the emotional reality in a musical that might otherwise go spinning off its axis on the gyrating power of its own ecstatic improbability.

The ACC-ICT collaboration gives director Tony Piazza —  who deserves Olympian amounts of credit for steering a ship this large with such a gossamer touch — the pick of local talent, and he’s selected wisely. In a huge cast, which includes the 25 singing-dancing ensemble players, there isn’t a rotten olive in the bunch.

The musical’s potential papas represent three distinct stars in the galaxy of male archetypes (and, let’s be honest, it’s a fairly dim night sky when you consider how few male types there actually are). First, there’s Bill Austin (Jeff Cokely), the buccaneering American travel writer. There’s Harry Bright (Drew Shepard), the dapper, self-possessed Englishman. And there’s Sam Carmichael (Jim Stukey), the earnest, romantic, tousle-haired charmer, who seems to have the keenest hold on Donna’s heart. With the virile charisma generated by this onstage trio, a blind man could see why Donna invited each of them into her bed (at different times!) on one or another perfumed night in Kalokairi 20 years prior.

For all the romance and who’s-my-pater intrigue, the musical wouldn’t achieve its glorious altitude without the comedic interplay and saucy wisenheiming of Donna’s two best friends, Tanya and Rosie, played with lusty, hilarious appeal by Jessica Quinhones and Angie Whitmore.

If you’re sick of the toxic noise that bombards the ears during a choleric campaign season, such as the one we’re in the midst of — in other words, if you’re looking to escape to that Greek island of the mind — then you could do worse than paying the $7 price of admission to “Mamma Mia!,” which runs tonight and Friday, at 7:30 p.m, and twice on Saturday, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. It’s the best show you’ll see this year.


The Iola Register

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