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Song and Dance Shows That Keep Everyone on Their Feet

Sophie Sheridan (Francesca Arostegui) is seen with two of her three possible fathers, Eric Petersen, left, as Bill Austin and Trey Ellett as Harry Bright in "Mamma Mia" now at Music Circus. Photo by Charr Crail.

Few Broadway musicals can boast as many hit songs as “Mamma Mia!,” now at the Music Circus. The thing is, the songs were hits before anyone ever thought of making the musical.

Conceived by Judy Craymer with a book by Catherine Johnson, the play pulls together the popular songs of Swedish pop band ABBA and jumbles their chronology to tell the story of Donna Sheridan (Michelle Dawson), a free-wheeling single mother of the ’70s, whose 20-year-old daughter Sophie (Francesca Arostegui) is about to get married and wants her father to walk her down the aisle. Trouble is, according to Donna’s diary from back in the day, there are three potential baby daddies. What does Sophie do but invite all three to the wedding (without her mother’s knowledge), sure that she will know her real father on sight. Yeah, right.

Using music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, (the two B’s of ABBA) and some songs with Stig Anderson (not one of the A’s), the musical works a lot better than anyone has a right to expect. From “Honey Honey” to “Thank You for the Music” and “Dancing Queen,” “The Name of the Game” and “S.O.S.” to “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” the story winds from meeting three potential father figures as they arrive for the nuptials to the wedding day when all three want to walk the bride down the aisle. It’s Sophie’s choice and it probably comes as no surprise the person she chooses.

The songs may be familiar, but setting them against the music of an 11-piece orchestra heavy on keyboards and guitar keeps them rockin’. The show has one of the youngest casts of the summer season (even counting the kids in “Newsies”) and they are uniformly fine. Michael Campayno as groom-to-be Sky doesn’t get a lot to do, but he shines in the beach scene singing “Lay All Your Love on Me” with Sophie and a gaggle of friends listed only as Girls and Boys.

Part of Donna’s back story is that she was part of girl group in  the ’70s, with Tanya (April Nixon) and Rosie (Jodi Kimura), both of whom also show up for the wedding. Nixon is hilarious as the much-married Tanya, and Kimura draws laughs from her depiction of an aging rocker, Rosie. The three women do knockout renditions of “Chiquitita,” “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper.”

By the end of the show, when it’s time for the performers to take their bows, the audience is on its feet, singing and dancing (some of them) to a “Mamma Mia’ encore. What’s especially nice is that the performers seem to have enjoyed the show as much as the audience did.

“Mamma Mia” continues at Music Circus through Sunday, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (final show). Music Circus is in the Wells Fargo Pavillion, 1419 H St. Tickets are $45-$99 and are available at the box office, by calling (916) 557-1999 or by going on-line at BroadwaySacramento.com.

They Just Keep Dancing

What began as a project to give out-of-work dancers from the Sacramento Ballet some summer employment is fast becoming — in its fourth year — an institution. Capital Dance Project is the organization and its annual production is called “Behind the Barre: Made in Sacramento.” It’s 100 percent homegrown.

Each year the dancers collaborate with visual and aural artists to create a program of original movement and music. This year’s program runs Friday and Saturday at the Crest Theatre, and once again, it shows the depth and breadth of the Sacramento arts community. The dances range from classical to hip-hop (with some ninjas thrown in for good measure) and the art includes sculpture, photography, projections and more.

CDP was recently awarded a California Arts Council Local Impact grant to help fund its programming, including “Behind the Barre” and shows for young audiences with special needs.

Last year, for the first time, CDP presented what it called a sensory-friendly version of the program in the same theater but with lower lighting and sound volume and room to play for young folks who may be autistic or have other attributes that make attending regular theater or dance programs problematic. This year, CDP will continue the special program with performances at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Crocker Art Museum.

Performances of “Behind the Barre” are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with artists’ wares and food and drink on sale. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at the door or at CapitalDanceProject.org.

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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