‘Mamma Mia’ a crowd pleaser

By Ron Burtz

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Single mother Donna (Josie Miller), left, shares a moment with her bride-to-be daughter Sophie (Jacquelyn Kiefner) in a scene from “Mamma Mia,” now playing at Black Hills Playhouse. [Russell Lloyd Jensen/Sage Studios Photo]

From the first strains of classic 1970s ABBA tunes to the final standing ovation and extended encore, the cast of “Mamma Mia” had the audience in the palms of their hands when the hit Broadway musical opened Friday evening at Black Hills Playhouse (BHP). 

Playing to a sold-out house, the cast sang and danced their way into the hearts of their audience in this kooky comedy of errors which weaves together many popular songs created by the Swedish pop group ABBA. 

The play presents the story of mother and daughter, Donna and Sophie Sheridan, in the final hours before Sophie’s wedding to her fiance, Sky. After reading Donna’s diary from 21 years ago, Sophie has invited to her wedding the three men most likely to be her father so he can walk her down the aisle. When the trio shows up on the same boat, hilarity ensues. 

Jacquelyn Kiefner is bewitching in the role of Sophie. Her youthful, innocent looks combined with her soulful singing were the perfect match for the part. Her vocals were pitch-perfect and well-suited to the style of ABBA’s music. 

Josey Miller as Mamma Donna was the ideal counterpart to Kiefner’s performance. Miller’s range as an actress continues to amaze. From playing a child in last season’s “Putnam County Spelling Bee” to a young adult in “Oklahoma,” Miller showed yet another facet of her talent in portraying the middle-aged Donna flawlessly. Even without much in the way of aging makeup, Miller was extremely believable in the role of Sophie’s mother and, as always, her singing was amazing. Her too-infrequent duets with Kiefner left us wanting more from the pair. 

The trio of Playhouse veterans cast as Sophie’s “fathers” were excellent as well. 

Rapid City Central theater director Justin Speck played architect Sam Carmichael, BHP artistic director Dan Workman trimmed his hair and beard to take on the role of Englishman Harry “Head Banger” Bright and the always-electric Jeff Kingsbury played the free-spirited writer and world-traveler Bill Austin. The three worked well in their scenes together as well as in their individual scenes with Donna and Sophia. 

The rest of the supporting cast in this production was strong and energetic as well.

Jenna Green and Jenna Lee Moore as Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s long-time friends and the other members of her girl band “Donna and the Dynamos” from the ’70s, had the middle-aged vibe down to a “T” and their rendition of “Dancing Queen” in Donna’s bedroom using hair brush mics was a hoot. Their reappearance in stage costume and with real microphones for a performance of “Super Trouper” was a fun romp which prompted many smiles and laughs from the audience. 

Bethany Springs as Lisa and Lera Zamaraeva as Ali were superb and full of youthful energy as Sophie’s friends and bridesmaids. 

As the groom, Alex Rudd was likable and sympathetic and his vocals were a fine complement to Kiefner’s singing. 

Rounding out the cast were Darryl D’Angelo Jones as Pepper, Jack Warring as Eddie and Caleb Olson as Father Alexandrios. They, along with ensemble members Kenzie Henderson, Kevin Earlywine, Mia Hilt, Nicholas Ducote and Cole Kennedy, provided excellent back-up vocals and often served as live background scenic effects such as when a group of guys appeared behind a set piece with shark fins attached to their heads. 

In addition, the dancing of the entire company was fantastic, adding much to the overall energy of the production. 

A special shout-out goes to the men who performed an entire dance routine with swim fins on their feet and to Rudd who even did a little soft shoe wearing the awkward footwear. 

As always, there are many behind-the-scenes players who deserve credit for a fine production like this. Director Emily Cherry produced a well-crafted production aided by musical director Vonnie Houchin and Speck who served double-duty as choreographer. 

Scenic designer Kathy Voecks richly deserves applause for her creation of a highly functional and versatile set which captured the atmosphere of the fictional island off the coast of Greece where the show is set. A beautifully lit cyclorama in the background gave us a sense of the open sky and sea. 

Apart from a popping microphone which seems to be the bane of opening-night performances at BHP, the audio production was excellent. The blend of voices with the recorded background music was outstanding. The skillful use of reverb at certain points on solos was also a nice touch, reminiscent of the produced-for-radio recordings of ABBA. 

The first act of “Mamma Mia” was over before we knew it, (Always the sign of an engaging production) and as the show moved into it’s second half, the dream sequence to the song “Under Attack”, complete with zombies and a rotating bed, drew the audience right back into the action. 

With a surprise plot twist near the end, followed by the cast’s high-energy performance of “I Do, I Do, I Do,” and Sophie’s heartfelt rendition of “I Have a Dream,” the show ended with the audience on its feet cheering and applauding. 

The crowd was rewarded with an encore of several of the signature songs from the show complete with new costumes, disco lights, bubbles and bouncing beach balls. Audience members sang and clapped along as the celebration continued for a full 10 minutes after the play officially ended. 

“Mamma Mia” played to sold-out houses through the rest of the opening weekend and the prospects look bright for this crowd-pleaser as it continues through Aug. 11.