Review: Moonlight brings the fizz and fun to ABBA-centric ‘Mamma Mia!’


A musical with sweet vintage tunes, summer love, steamy Mediterranean nights, some baby-mama drama and a character of random Australian extraction?

Hey, let’s call it “Greece!”

(Or is that name already taken?)

Actually, you hate to sell “Mamma Mia!” short: It may take place on a fictional Greek island, but the ABBA-centric jukebox musical — which just opened a hard-to-resist production at Moonlight Stage in Vista — also has an Italian name, was born in Britain and showcases the pop tunes of a bunch of Swedes. (With song titles in Spanish and French to boot.)

It seems possible that “Mamma Mia!” actually was created as a project of the United Nations — or maybe by NATO, as a top-secret weapon to pacify foes with aggressively infectious melodies and such hypnotically repetitive song titles as “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” and “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.”

The composers’ English can be a little odd at times (“The gods may throw a dice / Their minds as cold as ice” is one head-scratcher of a line from the “Mamma Mia!” song “The Winner Takes It All”).

But say one thing about this show: Moonlight speaks ABBA.

Director-choreographer John Vaughan’s season-opening production revels in the essential goofiness of this musical that wraps nearly two dozen of the group’s tunes around a story of an island wedding and the bride-to-be’s search for her mystery dad.

Vaughan deploys a crack cast that numbers nearly 30, and music director/conductor Lyndon Pugeda and his solid band get them all moving to that disco-fied ABBA beat, with particularly splashy ensemble takes on “Voulez-Vous” and “Lay All Your Love On Me” — the latter featuring a chorus lines of dudes in wetsuits and swim fins. (Try high-kicking with those on your feet.)

Moonlight returnee Katie Sapper steps up wonderfully into the central role of Sophie, the 20-year-old daughter of the island innkeeper, Donna (Bets Malone); she brings soaring vocals even to such B-list ABBA tunes as “Thank You For the Music,” and her buoyant, appealing presence helps lend the story at least some sense of consequence.

Sophie wants her father to give her away at the upcoming nuptials to Sky (Nicholas Sloan); the drama revolves around which of three men mentioned in Donna’s diary is actually Sophie’s dad.

It might be the suave American, Sam (Robert J. Townsend); or the genial Brit, Harry (Jason W. Webb); or the lovably rough-hewn Aussie writer, Bill (Lance Arthur Smith).

Sophie has invited them all to the wedding, although she hasn’t gotten around to telling Donna (whom Malone plays with warmth and wit).

Also along for the ride are Donna’s funny long-ago bandmates, Rosie (Karyn Overstreet) and Tanya (Barbara Schoenhofer), who eventually slip into their glittery old getups to relive glory days. (The eye-candy costumes and sets are imported from 3-D Theatricals.) The trio’s harmonies were a little rough on “Dancing Queen” at Friday’s performance, but were in fine form by the song’s ebullient encore.

Townsend, who spent time in the long-running Broadway production of “Mamma Mia!,” has a stirring vocal turn on “S.O.S.” And maybe the show’s best number is the duet between Smith — who brings a winningly hearty vibe (and good accent) to Bill — and the comic standout Overstreet with “Take a Chance On Me.”

Hard to say Moonlight is really taking a chance on such a reliable crowd-pleaser of a musical. But easy for fans to say “I Do” (in whatever language) to this polished local premiere.

‘Mamma Mia!’

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. (Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for picnicking.) Through June 30.

Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Terrace Park, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista.

Tickets: $17-$57 (discounts available)

Phone: (760) 724-2110


Twitter: @jimhebert