GRCT's 'Mamma Mia' is a delight

Marie Havenga • Mar 1, 2019 at 5:00 PM

GRAND RAPIDS — This was a community production? Tell that to the sold-out crowd that witnessed the opening shows of “Mamma Mia” at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, which runs through March 17.

Given the talent level, crowd members may have felt like they had been transported to Midtown Manhattan. I've seen my share of community productions over the years and though many stand out with amazing talent, “Mamma Mia” exceeds all expectations.

If you like Broadway-quality musicals, if you like voices that soar in harmony, if you like dance moves that put “Saturday Night Fever” to shame and if you like casting that's superior to the movie version, then be sure to catch this show.

It chronicles the story of Sophie, a 20-year-old who reads her mom's (Donna) diary and discovers that there are three men who could possibly be her father. Two months before her wedding, she sends invitations to all three of them, and all three show up at her mom's Greek Isle beach home/hotel on wedding eve, without the knowledge of Donna, who hasn't seen any of them for 21 years.

Sophie's quest is to find out who her father is, and have him walk her down the aisle when she marries Sky, played by Cullen Dyk.

Sophie, played by Breighanna Minnema, displayed refined vocal talents, beginning with the opening “I Have a Dream.” Casting decisions played out well here — not only in the voice department, but Minnema actually looks much like the Sophie in the 2008 movie.

Minnema comes with an impressive background — she's a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, performed alongside Sally Struthers and Valerie Harper on the East Coast, and spent two years performing as a lead vocalist for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Heather Cregg gives an unbelievable performance as Sophie's mother — unbelievable because this production is her stage debut. The grandmother launched her own cleaning business a year ago, but she's clearly at home on stage, flashing robust vocals, impressive range and spot-on dance moves.

I’m not sure of her talents with a broom, but someday she may sweep Broadway. Her rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” is delivered with sheer emotion, energizing the crowd with every crescendo. It's a total “feel” song, and she commands it.

The ABBA songs kept the audience toe-tapping and rocking in their seats throughout the show.

Speaking of songs, the pit orchestra, conducted by Wright McCargar, didn't miss a beat — from the curtain opening to the rocking and rolling finales of “Dancing Queen” and Waterloo.”

Unlike many stage performances, the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre's production of “Mamma Mia” involves the crowd. From the beginning announcement prior to the curtain rise, the audience is invited to sing along and dance. And that they did, with the exception of a couple of heart-wrenching emotional numbers, including when Donna helps Sophie dress for the wedding and sings “Slipping Through My Fingers,” a slow ballad about children growing up too quickly. I, and several other audience members next to me, wiped tears after this powerful delivery.

The crew of “Mamma Mia” paid great attention to set and sound details, including adding the soft sound of ocean waves during beach scenes. That was a nice touch, one that wouldn't have been missed had it not been there.

The audience delighted in every “Donna and the Dynamos” performance. Three middle-age women — Rosie, played by Sara LaCroix; Tanya, played by Maura Pheney Lamoreaux; and Donna — banged out ABBA tunes from the ‘70s, including the crowd-raising “Super Trouper.”

The production's finale is a show-stopper, with a reprise of “I Have a Dream,” “Mamma Mia” and “Dancing Queen.”

But just when you think the show is over, it's not. Donna, Tanya, Rosie and company deliver a magnificent rendition of “Mamma Mia” in red, yellow and orange 1970s outfits, then are joined by the three “I could be the father” characters dressed in similar costumes as the song breaks into ABBA's “Waterloo.”

The crowd goes wild here, and dances and sings through this closing number, as well as up the aisles and onto the sidewalks.

Visit www.grct.org for showtimes and ticket information.

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