‘Full-Throated Star Power’ at MMT

Every so often Mill Mountain Theatre is presented the opportunity to reassert itself as one of America’s premier professional regional theaters. That opportunity showed up last night with “Mama Mia,” ABBA’s wildly popular costume musical with songs known by nearly everybody.

A full house gave a rousing minutes-long, clapping, singing ovation as the company finished the evening in full disco mode, lights and costumes spectacularly flashing, warmth and excitement flowing from the company through the audience.

This is a production (running through April 14 with sellout promises every night) that was head-turning from its full-throated star power through the sound engineers. The costuming alone said “expensive” and the direction of Ginger Poole and Travis Kendrick has to be among their best work.

Seth Davis’ music sets the tone with the vibrant and memorable ABBA score and Keith Schneider’s costumes nearly steal the show, especially in the spectacular finish and the finish after the finish.

It is obvious that Mill Mountain’s professionals knew what they wanted for a cast, bringing in professionals like Amy Baldwin, Hayley Palmer (who is so reminiscent of Lady Gaga and who steals nearly every scene she’s in), Timothy Booth, Billie Aken-Tyers (superb as comic relief) and Lisa Graye to lead the charge and a full company of singers and dancers to back them up. This is not a local company, which I tend to like a lot, but it gives us all a lesson in professional theater, especially with select numbers like “Dancing Queen,” “Slipping Through My Fingers,” “The Winner Takes It All” and “Take a Chance on Me.”

Before last night, I always pointed to MMT’s production of “Blackbirds of Broadway” some years ago as being as good as it gets in musical theater for a community this size. There’s a new standard now.

Get your tickets here.

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Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. On Advisory Board of New River Voice.

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