Rochester Civic Music's 68th season opened Friday with "Mamma Mia," a show that is already a proven hit on stage and screen.
How can you go wrong?
Take songs by ABBA, which are some of the most popular tunes of the past 40 years, mix in a talented cast performing on a sunny set, and all the parts are in place.
Except for this: The backing music for the vocals is generic and pre-recorded, rather than performed live. It's the one disappointing aspect of this production, especially if you savor the spontaneity and energy of live music.
"Mamma Mia," directed by Megan West, continues the Civic's development as a hybrid professional/community theater, with pros performing alongside local amateurs. Can you spot the difference? Not always, which is a compliment to the local talent.
Stef Stafford and Rick Van Ert, both of Rochester, have major roles and carry their scenes with ease. Stafford is especially charming on "Take a Chance," and Van Ert had nice chemistry with professional actor Jen Maren on "Our Last Summer."
Other professionals brought in for this show are Tommy Hahn, Jeremy Darling, Kym Chambers Otto, Ryan Zierk and Amie LeClair.
Maren expertly portrays conflicted Donna, whose daughter, Sophie, is about the get married. Sophie invites three men who could be her father (they're former lovers of Donna) to her wedding, hoping one of them will walk her down the aisle. Also in attendance are Donna's former singing partners, Rosie and Tanya.
Otto, as Tanya, is a comic delight, while LeClair, as Sophie, runs the gamut of emotions in her singing, from tears to cheers.
The songs need no introduction: "Chiquitita," "Dancing Queen," "Super Trouper," "The Name of the Game," "S.O.S.," "Take a Chance," and others. ABBA's songs, catchy as they are, can be lightweight to a fault. Grounding the songs with a narrative, as in this play, helps keep them from floating away on the breeze.
The show ends with the entire cast on stage, dancing and singing, with the audience singing and clapping along, and a disco ball spinning from above. Welcome to the new Civic season.
Speaking of which, on Friday, Kevin Miller, executive director of the Civic, announced a change in the season-closing production next May. "Aida," with music by Elton John and Tim Rice, will now replace "Hairspray" on the schedule. Performance dates are May 1-17. The change was necessitated when the rights to "Hairspray" were pulled back due to a pending national tour.