“MAMMA MIA!,” through Aug. 10, Eccles Outdoor Stage at Sundance Resort, 8841 N. Alpine Loop Rd., Sundance (866-734-4428 or sundanceresort.com); running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (one intermission)
SUNDANCE — “Mamma Mia!” isn’t a show particularly known for its depth. And that’s OK. In fact, the superficiality is part of its charm.
It’s been 30 years since “Mamma Mia!” first premiered on the West End, and its popularity is still going strong today. The musical tells the story of Donna, who runs a hotel on a Greek island, as her daughter, Sophie, tries to figure out which of the three men she secretly invited to her wedding is her birth father.
But it’s not the plot or even the script that keeps filling the seats — it all comes down to the power of ABBA. The catchy songs don’t always fit perfectly with the plot, but you get the feeling that the audience — and, at some point, the musical itself — doesn’t really mind. It’s essentially an ABBA tribute concert and that’s where the musical shines most.
Sundance Summer Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” leans into this concert aspect of the musical. The outdoor stage is a perfect setting that conveys the feeling of a concert, especially when the ensemble comes out into the crowd and dances through the aisles. It’s impossible to watch this production without wanting to get up and join the cast in dancing along to the insanely catchy songs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this production is at its best during the large ensemble numbers. With a big supporting cast and ensemble, songs like “Money Money Money” and “Dancing Queen” fill the space powerfully. The choreography by Becky Wright Phillips also works especially well with a large cast in numbers like “Dancing Queen,” with “Saturday Night Fever”-esque disco moves and a few dabs in there for good measure.
Some of the standout moments from the show include the male portion of the ensemble during “Lay All Your Love on Me” wearing colorful wetsuits and tap dancing in flippers, Donna and the Dynamos’ silver, tasselled “Super Trouper” outfits, and the dream sequence at the beginning of the second act with its ominous green lighting and zombie-like choreography. The funniest moments of the show were due to the natural chemistry between Donna, played by Dianna Graham, and her friends and former bandmates Rosie and Tanya, played by Jocelyn Hansen and Kerilyn Johnson, who both got the largest laughs from the audience.
Throughout it all, however, Graham’s honest and likable portrayal of Donna anchored the show, which can sometimes get lost in itself, in realistic emotion. She has a strong voice that carries well in the large numbers, but she especially stands out in the show's more emotional numbers. After a touching moment when Donna’s daughter Sophie, played by Rilyn Gardner, asks her mother to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, Graham gives a powerful performance of “Slipping Through My Fingers,” followed immediately by “The Winner Takes it All,” which got the biggest applause of the night due to the emotional intensity of Graham’s voice.
Despite the surprising emotional depth of these two numbers, the audience never really believes Sam, Donna’s love interest, when he tells Sophie, “It doesn’t always end happily ever after.” In fact, it actually ends with a nicely wrapped-up plot followed by two large crowd-pleasing numbers that turned the venue into a giant dance party. At the end, the whole audience was on its feet singing and dancing along.
If you’re looking for a an excuse to spend a night under the stars, listening to fun, catchy music (and maybe dancing along, too), “Mamma Mia!” at Sundance is the place to be.
Content advisory: The stage version of “Mamma Mia!” has some language and mildly suggestive lyrics but is suitable for general audiences.