I didn’t really know what to expect from my first visit to the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Ga., so I was pleasantly surprised by both the venue and the level of talent shown in its production of Catherine Johnson’s clever jukebox musical Mamma Mia!.
Based on the songs of Swedish pop group Abba, the play never feels like the story was forced to fit the songs. But it’s the hits from Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, more than the storytelling of a girl trying to find out the identity of her father, that made it the ninth longest-running show in Broadway History (it finally closed in 2015 after a 14-year-run).
Key to Aurora’s production was the performance of Kristin Markiton as Donna Sheridan, the single mother and hotelier on a remote Greek island, whose 20-year-old daughter is engaged to be married. Markiton has both the charisma to charm the three possible fathers of the bride and the voice to carry hits like “Mamma Mia,” “One of Us” and “The Winner Takes It All.” After hearing her sing, it’s no surprise to learn that the Atlanta theater veteran also has a pair of solo albums out, including a debut produced by Sugarland’s Kristian Bush. (Coincidentally, Bush’s bandmate Jennifer Nettles played the Donna role during the show’s short 2017 run at the Hollywood Bowl.
Markiton is buoyed by Donna’s two former bandmates, Rosie (Marcie Millard) and Tanya (Terry Henry), both of whom are gifted with comedic timing and singing chops. Among Donna’s three former lovers, the stand out is Greg Frey, who plays Harry Bright, the British banker formerly known as Head Banger in his wilder, more spontaneous days.
Overall, the choreography, set design, vocal skill and, especially, the costuming all punch above the weight of a small regional theater, and the energy never wanes. Mamma Mia! continues its nearly sold-out run through April 22 at the Aurora Theatre before the production moves to the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech June 9 – 24.