The Mountain Play - Mamma Mia Review
|Address:||Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, Mt. Tamalpais State Park
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Mamma Mia! — Tunes & Toe-Tapping on Mt. Tam
The music of ABBA has members of the audience tapping their toes high on Mt. Tam. Mamma Mia! is this year’s Mountain Play, and while nostalgia is the appeal for some, it’s part of the Mountain Play tradition and good fun for others.
The story centers around a wedding about to take place on a Greek Island. Sophie Sheridan is the bride, and her mother, Donna, is an American ex-pat and single mother who runs a tavern on the island. Donna has never told Sophie who her father is, but Sophie wants him at her wedding nonetheless. She’s done a little sleuthing and found three candidates, and so she invites all them all to her wedding, leading to complications. It’s a lightweight story and somewhat implausible, but Mamma Mia! is more about ABBA’s playlist than plot, and Mountain Play veteran Jay Manley’s direction keeps the action moving and makes the most of the songs, so it’s easy to get into the rhythm, relax and enjoy the experience.
Mill Valley native Carrie Brandon plays Sophie as a girl on the brink of adulthood, and she does an admirable job of showing Sophie’s growth as she goes from naïveté to understanding the consequences of one’s decisions. A scene early on with squealing girlfriends Ali and Lisa, played by Julia Ludwig and Cindy Head, respective, is spot on, and Brandon brings a charm to the role, as well as demonstrating substantial vocal skills in I have a Dream, her opening solo.
Dyan McBride, a regular performer with 42nd Street Moon, plays Donna Sheridan as a self-made woman and loving mother, who is in the midst of the frenzy of wedding planning, when she unexpectedly finds three former lovers on the island. She also has two girlfriends who are visiting for the wedding. Susan Zelinsky, a Mountain Play favorite, plays Tanya, and Jennifer McGeorge is Rosie, and the trio’s back-to-back performances of Chiquitita and Dancing Queen are a highlight of the show, along with McBride’s rendition of the Winner Takes All.
The three possible dads are Harry Bright, a British banker played by Sean O’Brien; travel writer Bill Austin, portrayed by David Schiller; and Sam Carmichael, an architect who envisioned Donna’s tavern when he was younger, with Tyler McKenna in the role. The individual actors define their distinct characters well, and each has a special moment with Sophie. McKenna delivers a heartfelt Knowing You, Knowing Me, as he reflects on his life and the difficult choices one sometimes has to make.
Music and lyrics are by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and so a rock band, under the direction of Jon Gallo, takes the place of the usual orchestra and adds energy to the production. Nicole Helfer and Zoë Swenson-Graham join forces to direct the choreography and take full advantage of the music with dance scenes with the chorus—one that’s beach-side and includes flippers.
Andrea Bechert’s revolving set makes the transitions from one scene to another each, whether it’s the beach, the tavern’s courtyard or Donna’s room, and it captures the feeling of a Greek island with cross-topped cupolas and plenty of Aegean blue. One of the more intriguing features is a boat that delivers passengers to and from the island.
One of wonders of the Mountain Play is that a large production can come together so well on an outdoor stage, high on a mountain, in the midst of nature. It’s an impressive feat. Add a talented company of performers and some catchy tunes, and it’s all the more magical.
The Mountain Play takes place at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Sundays, May 20 through June 17 and on Saturday, June 9, which is Sing-Along Saturday. All shows start at 2 p.m. For tickets, go to www.mountainplay.org or call 415-383-100.
• Preshow entertainment takes place before each performance. Sunday, June 17, features a Fathers’ Day Picnic Contest with celebrity chef Roland Passot as judge.
• The best way to get the Mountain Play is by taking a yellow school bus from either Tamapais High School or the Manzanita Park & Ride. The cost is $5. The last bus leaves at 12:45 p.m.
• Walkers can hike down the mountain after the show. However, in a change from previous years, they will have to find their own way to get their belongings to downtown Mill Valley.
• The Rotary Club of Mill Valley sells drinks and ice cream; the Tamalpais Tavern offers Barefoot Wine and Lagunitas Brewing Company beer, and the Mount Tamalpais Café serves lunch and snack items.