REVIEW: "Mamma Mia!—Vanguard University Lyceum Theater

Updated: Mar 25

Come Take a Chance on this Irresistible "Mamma Mia!"


It's time to break out the platform shoes and feather boas one more time! Vanguard University is embarking on a kaleidoscope of the most famous of jukebox musicals, complete with glittery jumpsuits, sequins and Euro-pop vibes, telling the bittersweet, yet hilarious story of a single mother, who is struggling to cope with her young daughter's impending marriage. Stir in three potentially paternal old flames, either of whom may well be the unwitting father, and…well, the whole plot might be considered clichéd — but actually — it's rather brilliant.


But wait! Hold the cat T-shirts! Add around two dozen megahits from the supergroup ABBA’s songbook, and suddenly it’s a show that makes audiences want to forget that extra cool wind just outside the theater door right now, forget that dismal conflict in Europe, forget those $5.00 gas prices, and just dance in the aisles in their shiny spandex and platform heels. That is certainly the feeling you get from the brand new, iteration of the smash hit Broadway musical, “Mamma Mia!” now performing at the campus Lyceum Theater, beginning February 25th, and running three weekends through March 13th.


Rezia Landers, Sophia Aryouth, Camie Del Rosario

For the sake of the uninitiated, “Mamma Mia!” is set on an idyllic Greek island that doubles as both a funky resort and a lunatic asylum for people suffering from a distinctive disorder, the compulsive need to lurch suddenly from natural conversation and leap around singing lyrics with a mighty tenuous ardor, as scores of commoners harmonize impulsively with you and synthesizer chords churn away in the background.


Directed and choreographed by Broadway veteran Nikki Snelson, this joyfully bubbly, toe-curling production bursts with silliness, sass, heart, and oh, so much talent, with the production's assembled student cast stepping up with some amazing vocal performances that will keep you enchanted from beginning to end.


There aren't too many shows around that, twenty years on, can still pack a Friday night theatre. The audience here ranged from students to middle-aged jetsetters to grinning septuagenarians, all blended in with the only thing they have in common…They all love ABBA!

Anabella Sanford, Logan Cranford

I think everyone knows the story. Taken from a book by Catherine Johnson, this liberally honeyed, modern-day fairy tale begins with 20-year old Sophie, played alternately by Sophia Aryouth, Camie Del Rosario and Rezia Landers (who also alternates as girlfriends Ali and Lisa). From the moment the show opens, it instantly draws you in. The angelic voice of Sophie's “I Have a Dream” seems to ring right through you as you become part of a spellbound audience so crowded, they are still adding chairs.


The full charms of the show become evident about 20 minutes later. That’s when Donna's stress level hits the boiling point when she accidentally encounters Sam Carmichael (Anthony Klinner), a hunky architect and one of the three potential fathers who has been invited to the wedding (Nick Goss as Father Alexandrios, standing by to officiate). It's obvious that Sam and Donna still have a connection, although there’s still a question as to whether dandy Harry Bright (Micah Munck) and adventurer Bill Austin (Luke Desmond) are actually the real pop-pop to Sophie.


Isaac Yescas, Logan Cranford

Picture Donna, in work clothes with a drill in her hand, striking a pose of shock, everyone else onstage freezes, and suddenly she's singing with full-throated alarm the title number, a spirited song of regretful attraction (''Mamma Mia, here I go again/ My My, how can I resist you?'').


Combine that with Elijah Munck's excellent portrayal of Sophie's beau, Sky, some fun-loving island boys ("Pepper" and "Eddie;" Brenner Farr and Isaac Yescas) who work at the inn, and the hits just keep on coming…as well as the sexual innuendo and recriminations.


Then later, it’s Donna, coaxing "ah's" from the audience with “I Do, I Do,” having previously shredded the heart strings of most parents in the house, singing the painfully perceptive “Slipping Through My Fingers.” Jordan Ward is radiant here in the leading role of Donna Sheridan, taking us all on an emotional, musical journey. She’s exquisitely expressive with a gorgeous singing voice, whether belting out a dance hit or crooning one of ABBA’s lush ballads.


In her youth, it happens, Mom headed a rock trio, Donna and the Dynamos. Teamed with the incomparable Anabella Sanford, as the free-spirited Rosie, and the tantalizing triple-divorcée, Logan Cranford as Tanya, these divas tear up the stage, soaring through pop hits like “Money, Money, Money,” “Chiquitita,” “Waterloo,” the always contagious “Dancing Queen” and, of course, the title song, “Mamma Mia.” Ms. Sanford leaves it all on the stage with her sensuous and hysterical, “Take a Chance on Me,” sung with the very funny Luke Desmond, as Bill. And Ms. Cranford heats up the stage with cougar hunter, Brenner Farr, as Pepper, performing a sultry “Does Your Mother Know?”


Luke Desmond, Anabella Sanford

Director/Choreographer Nikki Snelson skillfully guides her cast through the catchy pop score, nicely accompanied by Scott Cokely’s spirited, six-member band. Ms. Snelson is most recognized, unquestionably, for her performance as Brooke in the original Broadway cast of “Legally Blonde,” or you may have seen her as Winnie in the Broadway revival of “Annie Get Your Gun,” starring Bernadette Peters. She was also in Broadway’s Sweet Charity, starring Christina Applegate, and has played "Cassie" in the National Tour of “A Chorus Line.” Some of her Broadway National Tours include “Beauty and the Beast,” “Showboat,” “Hello, Dolly,” and Jonathan Larson’s “Tick Tick...Boom.” Also a film star, Ms. Snelson was featured in the groundbreaking documentary “Every Little Step,” as well as the film, “Across the Universe,” and the cult major motion picture, “Reefer Madness.” On the small screen, she has been seen on “Desperate Housewives” and “All My Children.”


Her directing credits include: “Ain't Misbehavin,” “World Goes Round,” “Gypsy,” “Wedding Singer,” “Pajama Game,” “Cabaret,” “Legally Blonde,” and “A Chorus Line.” Nikki has choreographed for Elton John’s “Life Ball in Vienna (the biggest charity event in Europe supporting people with HIV or AIDS), “The Young and the Restless,” “The Miss America Pageant” and the upcoming “The Funny Dance Show” on E!


A most enjoyable show overall! Perhaps the best takeaway from Mamma Mia! however, is the profusion of smiles in the packed house over the weekend. Interspersed with touching solos and duets, Vanguard University left the audience on the edge of their seats with numbers like the platform-shoe toe-tapper “Super Trouper” and “Lay All Your Love on Me” which features the male ensemble high-stepping through the song in wetsuits and flippers. Again, the script is no Shakespeare, but boy, is it fun to watch when things really get started.


A word to the wise: when the show seems to reach its nominal ending, don’t run for the nearest exit yet: There’s a full-on mini-concert left that should not be missed.


VANGUARD UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE ARTS proudly presents, the smash hit Broadway musical, MAMMA MIA! THE MUSICAL, now playing at The Lyceum Theater on the Ed & Dixie Arnold Stage, performing from February 25th through March 13th. Performance dates and times are February 25, 26, and March 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12 at 7:30pm; February 26, 27 and March 5, 6, 12, and 13th at 2:00pm.


WITH: Jordan Ward (Donna Sheridan); Anthony Klinner (Sam Carmichael); Luke Desmond (Bill Austin); Elijah Munck (Sky); Micah Munck (Harry Bright); Logan Cranford (Tanya Cresham-Leigh); Anabella Sanford (Rosie Mulligan); Brenner Farr (Pepper); Isaac Yescas (Eddie); Nick Goss (Father Alexandrios); Sophia Aryouth/Camie Del Rosario/Rezia Landers (Ali/Lisa); Camie Del Rosario/Rezia Landers/Sophia Ayrouth (Sophie Sheridan).


ENSEMBLE: Alyssa Quast (Lee Lee); Audrey Gall (Sarah); Leilani Cranford (Lu Lu); Gregory Dodd (Drippy); Jaida Albanito (Flora Serenity); Elizabeth Allen (Tiffany Ann); Madison Combe (Chloe); Omar Dena (Antonio); Jenna Lockwood (La La); Sadie Alexander (Ozzy); Romy Hitti (CoCo); Gabi Paul (Evvie).


THE BAND: Music Director/Piano 1 (Scott Cokely); Lead Guitar (Richard Guzman); Synth/Piano 2 (Tom Shirey); Drums (David Page); Bass (Eby Viveros); Percussion (Kelly Cokely).


Music by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaneus; Book by Catherine Johnson; Directed and Choreographed by Nikki Snelson; Producer/Artistic Director/Department Chair Susan K. Berkompas; Stage Manager Alyssa Kammerer; Assistant Stage Managers Yasmine Reid, Breeley Ruble; Scenic Designer/Technical Director/Audio Paul Eggington; Props Masters Madison Melendes, Chloe Mann; Costume/Makeup Designer Lia Hansen; Lighting Designer Garrett Spady; Assistant Lighting Designers Cassie Wright, Amanda Hay; Dance Captain Alyssa Quast.


Ticket prices are $20 for general admission and $16 for seniors, children, college students and groups. Tickets may be purchased at www.vanguardtickets.com or by calling the Theatre Department box office at 714-668-6145.



Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report