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Mamma Mia at Millbrook

What could be more romantic: a remote Greek island, a wedding celebration, the full moon reflected on the shimmering sea? “Mamma Mia!” promises it all. But wait! Love, as we know, is complicated. In this case, a simple wish – that the bride’s father be present to walk her down the aisle – turns into chaos as three prospective fathers turn up and, in the process, reveal the unexpected bonds that hold us together.

Be prepared for an emotional journey. At the heart of the drama is Donna, the bride’s mother, the center of a defunct disco group called “Donna and the Dynamos” and once-renowned “dancing queen.” As the life she’s created on this remote Greek island threatens to unravel, she is forced to come to terms with all the ways her past decisions have impacted her daughter as well as herself, creating a circumscribed idea of what’s possible. Monica Howe, who returns to Millbrook’s stage after her 2017 performance in “Barefoot in the Park,” does a remarkable job as Donna, moving beautifully between both the regret and the life-affirming renewal that arise from facing her past. In a number that brings down the house (“The Winner Takes it All”), Donna – in a classically-draped dress and standing in front of a Greek column – appears to be a figure straight out of Sophoclean tragedy as she sings about the role the gods have assigned her, though hinting at the same time that “the game is still on.” It’s a moving, full-throated cry from the heart.

ABBA’s music provides the signposts along the way. It takes us into the depths and at the same time happily skims the surface, allowing the supporting characters to provide comedic counterbalance. We love hearing “Mamma Mia,” “Chiquitita” and “Dancing Queen.” We love seeing Donna’s “Dynamos,” Rosie and Tanya – played wonderfully by Sarah Goldstein and Kristin Rose Kelleher – reprise their disco number, “Super Trouper,” from the old days. And we love the way the company adds a necessary Dionysian frivolity, as members of the bachelor party cavort in their masks and, yes, their scuba shoes.

The entire cast, under the direction of Shannon Agnew, who currently serves as an Artistic Associate at Millbrook, works in concert to create the magical sense of community that holds the story together. Alison Fisher and Sam Snyder are perfectly cast as the couple, Sophie and Sky, who need to figure out the past before being catapulted into their future. The three fathers, played by Tim Garner (Sam), Daniel Walstad (Harry), and Steve Aguirre (Bill), lend a good-hearted cosmopolitan air to the drama. And there are a couple of surprises. Sammy Schechter, who plays the priest, gives an hysterically funny cameo performance in the wedding scene. And to our great delight, Netti Vernon, a junior at Central Mountain High School who has participated in summer camps at Millbrook since 2012 and who plays young Sophie, dances her way through one of the final scenes, all grace and innocence.

It will probably come as no surprise that the final numbers bring the audience to its feet, clapping and swaying, having “the time of our life.” Come out to see “Mamma Mia!” You’ll leave the theatre with a new spring in your step.

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