Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bragging Rights

Hey everyone! Check out this article written a couple weeks ago in Akron, Ohio where the fantastic tour of Mamma Mia! starring Bekah Nutt was published! I always knew she was a star and now you can read this review and see it for yourself!

Massillon native Bekah Nutt shines in the pivotal role of Sophie in musical

`Mamma Mia,' she does very well

By Kerry Clawson

Beacon Journal staff writer

The current production of Mamma Mia at E.J. Thomas Hall proves that one strong characterization can bring the musical's lightweight story beyond mere fluff.

Massillon native Bekah Nutt (a Baldwin Wallace graduate) brings plenty of heart to her role as the young engaged Sophie, who is desperately searching for her father in an effort to be a ``proper bride.'' The diminutive performer is not only a likable actress, she's also a sweet singer and dynamic dancer -- a big improvement from the underwhelming vocals and cardboard characterization of Canadian Kristie Marsden, who played in the 2002 Northeast Ohio premiere of the musical in Cleveland.

In any compelling musical, the heroine has to offer an ``I want it'' song early on to make us care. Nutt's Sophie does that well, creating the thread that weaves together 22 ABBA songs from the 1970s into a new, modern-day story on a tiny, mythical Greek island.

In this story, 20-year-old Sophie learns from her independent-minded mother's diary that her father could be one of three men. She invites all three to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, a former rocker.

Lauren Mufson's Donna is understated -- more melancholy than feisty. Mufson's not a rock power like other Donnas have been, but she proves she has a big set of pipes in her show stopper, The Winner Takes It All.

On opening night Tuesday, the show's energy was slow to pick up in the first act. Some of the cutest staging occurs with the antics of groom Sky's scuba-diving buddies, who sneak in during an intimate moment between Sky and Sophie to literally steal Sky away. The dynamics become intense during a bachelorette party scene, where emotions run high as Sophie confronts possible dad Bill (Milo Shandel) in The Name of the Game.

In other clever staging, the three dads fawn over Donna in bed and an ominous-looking chorus of scuba divers surround Sophie during her second-act nightmare. Talk about wedding jitters.

For the most part, the show's singing is energetic and joyful. But at times, ensemble harmonies from offstage sound booths don't sound as richly layered as the cast album's.

Northeast Ohio is well represented in this show: Akron native Blake Ginther, a 1999 Firestone High School graduate and 2003 University of Cincinnati grad, joined the tour as an ensemble member right after Christmas. He's the son of Dr. William and Sharyl Ginther of Akron. Ginther, 24, is all boyish cuteness and muscular trimness as he throws himself into the fun-loving choreography.

As Rosie, the comedic Laura Ware is the biggest card in the show. Possible dads Shandel as Bill, Ian Simpson as Harry and understudy Rod Weber as Sam also are charming and lovable.

The show's big disappointment is Lisa Mandel's poor vocals as middle-aged siren Tanya. Mandel's statuesque height and elegance can't change the fact that she ruins the perfectly cool tune Does Your Mother Know. Equally mediocre are her solo lines in Dancing Queen.

Memorable lighting by Howard Harrison bathes characters in a dreamy blue aura. The story is set in designer Mark Thompson's rustic, versatile taverna.

The show, most appropriate for those high school age and older, has some double entendres, a sprinkling of profanity and adult themes. It also contains some tasteless male bashing.

The ABBA music is the true star of this show. Once again, the audience was most enthusiastic after the curtain call during the mini-concert, which in itself is nearly worth the price of admission.