Mamma Mia! On Stage Again at Roger Rocka’s

Jan 23, 2019 | 2019 Articles, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance Mc Arthur

It’s “Voulez-Vous” all over again…or is that déjà vu?

In the Spring of 2018, the Good Company Players presented Mamma Mia!, the ABBA musical, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. It was a great show, and it was a big hit. Guess what? They’re at it again! If you missed it before, see it now. If you saw it before, a lot of the stars have returned, and their familiarity with the material makes it even stronger. (Performers reprising their 2018 roles are marked with “*”)

The basic story: Sophia (Emma Denbesten) is getting married to Sky (Steven San Sebastian*) at the Greek taverna of her mother, Donna (Emily Pessano*). Donna’s old friends (Paige Parker*, Kay Wilkins*) from their Donna & the Dynamos singing days in the 70s are invited. Having found Donna’s old diary, Sophie invites the three men (Greg Grannis, Ted Nunes, Teddy Maldonado*) who might be her father. Sophie wants to know who her father is, Donna doesn’t want old memories unearthed, and the men have no clue at first.

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Cast of GCP’s production of “Mamma Mia!”

Denbesten is cute and winsome, and the Machiavellian machinations she employs to find her real father come off as sweet and naïve, which is as it should be. Her vocals are strong and heartfelt.

Pessano infuses her songs with authority and fun. “The Winner Takes It All” steals every heart, “Money, Money, Money” has a richness to it, and “Dancing Queen” builds to a frenzy with Parker and Wilkins strutting with her every beat of the way. Parker gets playfully cougarish with Alex Figueroa* on “Does Your Mother Know,” turning from the pursued to the stalker—but with a smile. Wilkins gets her moment to shine on “Take a Chance on Me” with Nunes.

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Donna (Emily Pessano) in the middle with Donna’s friends (Paige Parker & Kay Wilkins) on either side

Maldonado plays more of a grown-up than he did as the father in A Christmas Story, reeling in the shtick to provide a tender, mature individual, while powering up to put “Knowing Me, Knowing You” into the bleacher seats. Grannis has moments when the character shows glimmers of a hard-rock past, and blends nicely with Pessano on “Our Last Summer.” Nunez makes his journalist character world-wise, but not world-weary.

Mallory Parker and Aubree Facio* are chipper as Sophie’s BFFs, and Figueroa and Shawn Williams provide support as the taverna staff. Steven San Sebastian towers over Denbesten, and he gets the better of the thankless task of being the fiancée not understanding his love’s purpose for having the wedding (and he has a moustache, this time). Christopher Hoffman* does a crisp job as the priest conducting the wedding, wearing a snazzy white ensemble.

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Sophia (Emma Denbesten) and Sky (Steven San Sebastian)

In many shows, there are unsung heroes needed to make the show work. In Mamma Mia!, the ‘sung’ heroes are the chorus members behind the set, singing their lungs out to create those multi-layered rhythms and harmonies we expect from the songs of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (and a few with Stig Anderson). Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed and staff brought back those wild-and-crazy costumes, especially the Labelle-esque Day-Glo and Spandex suits for the Dynamos. David Pierce’s Greek buildings served as great complements to projected images and animations.

Judith Dickison’s vocal coaching pulled all the threads of sound into a shimmering tapestry. Kaye Migaki’s choreography incorporated the essence of Greek folk dancing into movement. And then…there was Dan Pessano, director extraordinaire, who has the wisdom to know when his actors should stay in one place.

One treat of the show is kept until after it ends, as the music and dancing spills out into the audience. Let the music take you away! The Junior Company pre-show is a tribute to decades of musical hits.

Mamma Mia! plays through March 17 at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon at Olive Ave. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at (559) 266-9494.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 12 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Librarian in Fresno County, California. He is also a storyteller, puppeteer, magician, and maker of pine needle baskets. On top of that he writes stories that range from rhymed children’s tales to splatterpunk horror. He’s an odd bird, but he’s nice to have around.

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