In February 2018, the Duluth Playhouse heralded the rebirth of the NorShor Theatre with “Mamma Mia!”
Thursday night, performers Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Vicki Fingalson and Tanya Moore returned to that stage for “Dancing Queens: The Music of ABBA’s Mamma Mia!” to reopen the NorShor from its lengthy pandemic slumber for an audience happy to hoot and holler for an hour at every song they heard.
“Dancing Queens” is a cross between a concert and a musical. You have singers with hand-held microphones interacting with the audience combined with singers in costume and character. Jeff Brown’s lighting design helps to bridge the two elements.
The performers were ecstatic to see an audience that was “live, in-person, and socially distanced,” which explained the ironic record for most empty seats at a sold-out performance. Except for the performers, everybody was masked (mine had the Vikings logo for the draft).
An equally enthusiastic audience got to sing along with “Mamma Mia!” and clap along to “Take a Chance on Me.”
The show opens and ends big with the ladies in their sparkling blue Donna and the Dynamo costumes for “Dancing Queen,” and joined by Shad Olsen for “Waterloo” with everybody fitting back in their old dazzling white outfits.
Director Phillip Fazio gives a pair of songs pandemic-related contexts. “Money, Money, Money” was set up with Burleigh-Bentz lamenting what all that take out food had done to her finances and “I Have a Dream,” turned into three-part harmony, was prefaced with the hope of performers being able to see the audience’s faces in the future.
Moments brought back memories of the 2018 production. This time Fingalson hit her big note in “Does Your Mother Know” standing up instead of being carried around on stage. Burleigh-Bentz’s final note in “The Winner Takes It All” was every bit as epic as I remembered it to be.
Moore partnered with Olsen this time around for her big fun number “Take a Chance on Me,” after he had reprised “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” his standout solo from the show.
Back-up singers Sara Marie Sorenson, Haley Methner and Sam Hildestad filled out the signature ABBA sound while stationed down in the pit with music director Andy Kust’s quartet of musicians.
The Playhouse concert series continues with “The Age of Aquarius: The Music of Hair” in June and “Xanadu” in July. Then the 2021-22 season begins in September with “Spamalot,” the show that was canceled four days before opening 14 months ago.
If you go
What: "Dancing Queens: The Music of ABBA’s Mamma Mia!”
When: 7:30 p.m. through May 2
Where: NorShor Theater, 211 E. Superior St.
Tickets: $30-$35. Call (218) 733-7555 or duluthplayhouse.org/main-stage
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.