Review: “Mamma Mia!” on Mount Tamalpais

High atop Mt. Tamalpais, at about the 2,000 foot level,  sits the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre where the “great outdoor theatre adventure” known as The Mountain Play has been produced for the past 105 years. Your all-day adventure includes a slow, winding ride up the mountain, a hike to the 4,000 seat amphitheatre and a trek down to your seat lugging coolers full of food and ‘adult’ beverages (they’re allowed.) You get your umbrella and seat cushions arranged, unpack your goodie basket and just as you start to enjoy a pleasant afternoon picnic, a show breaks out.

Ah, yes. There is a show. This year’s production is Mamma Mia!, the 1999 jukebox musical that uses the slightest of stories as an excuse to perform the catalogue of pop super group ABBA.

Susan Zelinsky, Dyan McBride, Jennifer McGeorge

Set at a Greek island taverna run by Donna Sheridan (Dyan McBride), the story centers on the circumstances of her daughter’s upcoming wedding. Sophie (Carrie Brandon) is about to get married to a slab of British beefcake (Jake Gale) and wants to invite her father to her nuptials. The problem is, she doesn’t know who it is!

A quick trip through her mother’s diary leads her to three possibilities – Harry (Sean O’Brien), an uptight British banker, Bill (David Schiller), a travel writer and adventurer, and Sam (Tyler McKenna), an architect and, the other two notwithstanding, her mother’s one true love. Sophie decides, in proper musical theatre tradition, to invite them all and sort everything out later. Chaos, hilarity, singing, and dancing ensue.

Folks don’t go to shows like Mamma Mia! for their complex storylines or deep psychological subtext, they go for the songs. Put no thought into why the story leads to particular songs being sung, just enjoy the 20-plus tunes including “Chiquitita”, “Dancing Queen”, “S. O. S.” and the title song.

Director Jay Manley gets generally solid performances from the large cast, but it took a couple of songs for the vocals to really hit their stride culminating in a very powerful delivery of “The Winner Takes It All” by McBride. There’s colorful and clever scenic work by Andrea Bechert, some nice energetic choreography by Nicole Helfer and Zoë Swenson-Graham, and the ABBA songbook is well played by Musical Director Jon Gallo and a nine-piece band.

The Mountain Play provides a unique Bay Area theatrical experience. Where else can you catch a pleasant Broadway musical that comes with a pre-show warning about ticks and rattlesnakes?

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½

’Mamma Mia!’ runs Sundays through June 17 (and Saturday, June 9), at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre. 801 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley. 2pm. $20–$45. 415.383.1100 www.mountainplay.org

Photos by Ed Smith

This review originally appeared in the North Bay Bohemian.

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