High atop Mt. Tamalpais sits the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, where the Mountain Play has been produced for the past 105 years.
Your all-day adventure includes a slow, winding ride up the mountain, a hike to the 4,000-seat amphitheater and a trek down to your seat lugging coolers full of food and adult beverages (they’re allowed.) You get your umbrella and seat cushions arranged, unpack your goodie basket and just as you start to enjoy a pleasant afternoon picnic, a show breaks out.
Ah, yes. There is a show. This year’s production is Mamma Mia!, the 1999 jukebox musical that uses the slightest of stories as an excuse to perform the catalogue of pop supergroup ABBA.
Set at a Greek island taverna run by Donna Sheridan (Dyan McBride), the story centers on the circumstances of her daughter’s upcoming wedding. Sophie (Carrie Lyn Brandon) is about to get married to a slab of British beefcake (Jake Gale) and wants to invite her father to her nuptials. The problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is!
A quick trip through her mother’s diary leads her to three possibilities: Harry (Sean O’Brien), an uptight British banker; Bill (David Schiller), a travel writer and adventurer; or Sam (Tyler McKenna), an architect and, the other two notwithstanding, her mother’s true love. Sophie decides, in proper musical theater tradition, to invite them all and sort everything out later. Chaos, hilarity, singing and dancing ensue.
Folks don’t go to shows like Mamma Mia! for the complex storylines or deep subtext; they go for the songs. Put no thought into why the story leads to particular songs being sung, just enjoy the 20-plus tunes, including “Chiquitita,” “Dancing Queen,” “SOS” and the title song.
Director Jay Manley gets generally solid performances from the large cast, but it took a couple of songs for the vocals to really hit their stride, culminating in a very powerful delivery of “The Winner Takes It All” by McBride. There’s colorful and clever scenic work by Andrea Bechert, some nice energetic choreography by Nicole Helfer and Zoë Swenson-Graham, and the ABBA songbook is well played by Jon Gallo and a nine-piece band.
The Mountain Play provides a unique Bay Area theatrical experience. Where else can you catch a pleasant Broadway musical that comes with a pre-show warning about ticks and rattlesnakes?
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½