‘Mamma Mia!’ Struggles as Salem Theatre Opener

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

SALEM, Ohio — “Mamma Mia!” has become the cash-cow for many community theaters in the country over the last few months since its release for general production.

The ABBA musical has been constantly produced all over the U.S. and by almost every local theater in this area. On Friday, It was the Salem Community Theatre’s turn to stage this audience-pleaser as they opened their current season.

With a book by Catherine Johnson and music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, “Mamma Mia!” follows the impending marriage of Sophie Sheridan to fiancé Sky, all played against the backdrop of the music of the Swedish 70s group ABBA. Sophie never knew her father and finds her mother’s old diary suggesting that three different men may fill that bill. Secretly, she invites them all to the big day.

Peyton Zamarelli fills the role of Sophie with ease. An obviously seasoned performer, Zamarelli is believable in the lead role.Her strong acting and singing abilities bring life to the role and help her to establish a true rapport with the audience. Her talent really shows through in such numbers as “The Name of the Game” and “Under Attack.”

Kari Lankford takes on the difficult role of Sophie’s mother, Donna, lead singer of Donna and the Dynamos of years past. To say this is a tough role doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Lankford is on stage for a majority of the show and carries a major part of the Act II vocals. Not to lessen her presence in the first act, she seemed to have trouble really getting rolling until after intermission. A lack of Act I energy seemed to hold both her and the character back. She still impresses, however, with “The Winner Takes It All” and the touching “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Donna’s backup singers of The Dynamos, Tanya and Rosie, are played by Linda McKim and Tayler Reed, respectively.

McKim shows strong comedy ability and was a hit with quick one-liners and musically with “Does Your Mother Know?” “Chiquitita,” a song that seems like the “fish out of water” piece in the show, was handled well by all three ladies.

The unsuspecting father candidates who think they are just attending a wedding, are played by Rob Schmidt (Sam Carmichael), Rian Davis (Harry Bright), and Vince Siciliano (Bill Austin). What should have been a strong first scene for these gentlemen when they arrive at the Taverna seemed flat and uneventful. In general, there was a severe lack of energy from the entire company in Act I. Line cues and music cues were often slow to be picked up.

Act II, however, did see an improvement. The whole concept of a jukebox musical is to make it much like a freight train – once it starts rolling it should never stop or slow down until it reaches the end of the line. This train had too many stops. Part of the problem could have been from the use of pre-recorded music rather than a live band. That can create pacing problems, which can’t be fixed by editing music. Musical intros can’t be shortened and tempos can’t be changed.

Also noticeable was the general lack of animation from many in the large cast. Except for the pre-recorded music, many of these other problems can be fixed and will hopefully freshen up future performances.

Tessa Wells and Macey Stancato served as both directors and choreographers for the production. Joe McKim was the musical director. Dan Haueter’s set design was well conceived and served the multi-scene production well.

Sept.27, 28 at 7:30 pm
Sept. 29 at 2:00 pm
490 E. State Street, Salem, Ohio

Pictured at top: The cast of Salem Community Theatre production of “Mamma Mia!” includes, seated, Linda McKim and Tayler Reed; standing, J. Rian Davis, Kari Lankford, Peyton Zamarelli, Dom Mediate, Rob Schmidt and Vince Siciliano.

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