REVIEW: MAMMA MIA at the Arvada Center

by Michael Mulhern

So honesty and reality check…I have written several drafts of this review. My initial critique was not a glowing one and to be honest this was not my favorite musical from the amazing talents of the Arvada Center. Due to low energy, flat songs, adequate choreography, and off-balance audio difficulties – I was underwhelmed with this musical… first. I have seen and loved so many productions at the Arvada Center over the past decade and I guess I was still living in the euphoria of their finest masterpiece last year that was truly a work of art. Sometimes as theater critics we can be too “critical” and that was exactly what I was doing. It goes against everything that I try to emulate, not only for myself but also for my wonderful writers at Denver Theater Perspectives. Our website strives to have a more constructive eye that a critical one – no pessimism, no narcissism. So upon further reflection I thought about the audience and how much fun they had; and scolded myself for not letting myself go to truly enjoy this adorable show. Also it is not fair to compare this show to past productions because that is comparing apples to oranges. Mamma Mia was good and I wished I had let ABBA let all of my inhibitions go. There really were so many precious moments in this feel good musical and I found myself smiling a lot during the show. Don’t make my mistake – just ENJOY THE SHOW!

The thing I appreciated most about Shannan Steele in the lead role of Donna was her heartfelt and honest performance. Unlike so many of her over the top co-stars, she was raw and real and really drew the audience in. My only wish was that she would have completely lost control during Winner Takes it All. Piper Lindsay Arpan took hold of so many scene stealing moments and the flirty and sensual Tanya. It is always a pleasure to witness her talents onstage. I have to give a standing ovation to Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and the awkward and hilarious Rosie. Two days before the opening she was asked to step into the role after the lead injured herself during a run-through. She embraced the role and ran with it much to the delight of the audience and me. Mariah MacFarlane has such a amazing voice and everyone fell in love with her as the darling daughter, Sophie. I also have to compliment the “dads” in question (Mark Devine, Jeffrey Roark, and Daniel Robert Sullivan) that added so much hilarity to their roles and the production.

Director Rod Lansberry and Music Director Nolan Bonvouloir did a fine job with casting this fun show and the cast had so much fun with this show. Unfortunately the flow of the musical was definitely off and so was the energetic liveliness of this production. I wish that the heightened energy that the cast had in the encore was transparent throughout the entire show.  I was satisfied with the choreography of Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck. While I appreciated her diversity in dance throughout the musical, I was left wanted more in the show-stopping number Voulez Vous. With this said, I thoroughly enjoyed Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, SOS, Slipping Through My Fingers, Take a Chance on Me, and I Do.

Once again I was in awe of Brian Mallgrave’s scenic design of this production. He transported us to the Mediterranean and made this wannabe and struggling Club Med so realistic. Lighting Design Shannon McKinney’s lighting design only further strengthened the set design and I loved her contrast from the tender moments to the illuminating encore! I had issues with the sound design of David Thomas. While there were so many great moments onstage, it was often drowned out by the background chorus (of oohs and aahs) that muffled so many solos and disconnected that audience from the show. As always, I so adored the costume design of the talented Clare Henkel. She has such a range in this production from the real costumes of the current time and all the glitz and glam that is ABBA.

I may not have had the best time, but just let yourself go and have a gay ol time with this delightful production of Mamma Mia – ABBA at its best!

MAMMA MIA is enchanting audiences now through September 30th. For tickets or more information, contact the Arvada Center Box Office by calling 720-898-7200 or online at

PHOTO CREDIT:  Matt Gale Photography 2018


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