By Craig and Jennifer Mustoe
Having never been to the Tuacahn before, I was unprepared for how much fun we were going to have seeing Mamma Mia! at this unusual and delightful venue in St. George.
Mamma Mia! tells the story of Sophie (Shae Robins), a 20-year-old bride-to-be who wants her father to come to her wedding (to hunky Sky (Matthew Helfer))on the small Greek island she calls home. The problem is, she isn’t sure who her father is–it is one of three men her mother had affairs with–affairs being called “dot dot dot” when Sophie reads her mother’s diary and finds out about her dubious parentage. Big laughs with the dot dot dot, but a tasteful way to say it, too. The men: Aussie Bill Wright (Steve Judkins), Harry “Headbanger” Bright (Matthew Tyler), and Sam Carmichael (Donna’s true love who dumped her, which led to the other two flings) (Todd Dubail) show up and Sophie hopes to keep them hidden from her fiercely independent mother, Donna (Sasha Judkins), but on such a small island, that isn’t going to happen. In the meantime, Donna’s friends from the old days, Earth mother Tanya (Joann Coleman) and rich thrice married and divorced Rosie (Shari Jordan) come to the island to see Sophie’s nuptials. The bubbly, remarkably sing along-able music is provided by ABBA, a Swedish band popular in the 70s and early 80s. Sound fun? It is!
The genre of Mamma Mia! is called jukebox musicals, which means music already popularized as singles on the radio are compiled and a book (this by Catherine Johnson) is written to create a vehicle for the music. Thus, Mamma Mia! has many recognizable tunes and the original ABBA members (Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson) wrote more songs to flesh out the story.
The Tuacahn is a big stage and it really is a Big Deal. The staff are amazing, the parking is abundant and attractive. Yes, even their parking lot is filled with plants and the walkway up to the ticket booth is fancy with water features, statues, a fun stick your face into the backdrop thingie. It feels like a party with a huge bunch of your best friends when you walk into the Tuacahn complex. One downside is the typical female lament–not enough bathroom stalls to accommodate all the women who are slurping up water to try to stay cool. Yes, it is very hot at Tuacahn. The only other downside. However, I am saying this in the review: take a bottle of water to mist on yourself. Really, it’ll cool you down and you won’t notice it’s hot.
I never owned an album by ABBA, but their songs are obviously pretty popular because the pop hits they had in the 80’s seemed to be right there in my gray matter–I sang all the songs throughout Mamma Mia!. Who knew?
There are so many things I can gush about this production of Mamma Mia! but I’ll start with the principals. The affianced couple are darling and their harmonies and dancing are wonderful. I didn’t feel the love and passion I wanted between them and wondered if it was just because I was more interested in the other stories going on in the musical. I loved Robins’ Sophie and her scenes with her friends and her mom and her maybe-fathers are all great. Robins is bright, funny, talented, and sparkles onstage. I loved her Sophie. Sasha Judkins’ Donna is remarkable. Her clear, strong voice and her feisty maternal body language sold me. I believed her Donna completely. Donna’s friends are hysterically cute and so real, I feel like I know these women. Well, I don’t know these exact ones, but they are so stereotypical in such a funny way that they are familiar and delightful. Jordan’s spunky Rosie is everything a granola ex(?)-hippie should be. Her practical clothing, sensible shoes, short, sporty hair, plus a great voice, great movement, great warmth make her adorable. I loved Jordan in Mamma Mia! and will fan girl for other productions. Coleman’s Tanya is a wonderful foil for both Donna and Rosie and the three women are cohesive and believable as a girl singing group whose members may or may not have ever grown up. Their “Dancing Queen” number is darling. Actually, ALL the all-female numbers were amazing, but I especially loved the ones performed by the “Donna and the Dynamos” trio and company: “Money, Money, Money”, “Mamma Mia”, and “Super Trouper” to name a few.
All musical numbers were great, as would be expected from a professional venue and most of the players are Equity. Per-fec-tion. Director/Choreographer Derryl Yeager made each number flawless. Musical Director Michael Hopewell takes a talented group of singers and orchestra performers and makes the entire valley ring with melodies and harmonies and instrumental layers. The live orchestra brings this production a beautiful addition that many professional theaters don’t have. Live is best and Tuacahn delivers. I can’t say it any clearer. The big ensemble numbers were tight, filled with fun, and dazzling. Our favorite songs/dances was the last three after the show was over–the “concert.” By then, we were on our feet, dancing and singing. You can’t help yourself.
Costume design by Doug Baker is fantastic. It must have been so much fun to design the Donna and the Dynamos’ late 70s costumes. The fashion! The neon! The gaudiness! The swim fins! We loved them all. Scenic Designer Brad Shelton‘s sets were fabulous. The moving pieces were large but not bulky and multi-functional. The background set was very reminiscent of a Greek island and the red rocks in the background looked wonderful as the backdrop. Hair and makeup by Annie Hardt made everyone look beautiful and bubbly.
The Tuacahn Amphitheatre is a little out of the way for some. Do not let this deter you from coming down to see their shows. Their schedule is such that you can see all three of the summer offerings back to back. Three nights at Tuacahn will get you Shrek, Newsies, and Mamma Mia! These are repertory productions, so all these talented performers are in all three shows. Sublime. All of the shows are family friendly and though they start a little late for the real small kiddos (8:45 PM–we got out close to 11 PM), if your kids can stay awake easily, they will definitely stay awake and engaged in these shows. This was our first experience at Tuacahn, but I can guarantee, it won’t be our last. The staff is fantastic, the vibe is positively electric, the crowd is excited and diverse–from littles to grandparents. Nobody should miss going to the Tuacahn. It’s that good.
The Tuacahn Amphitheatre presents Mamma Mia! Music by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson, and book by Catherine Johnson
The Tuacahn Amphitheatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive Ivins, Utah 84738
July 14-October 21, varying nights and times
Contact: (800) 746-9882 or (435) 652-3300