Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, just did the smash-hit musical “Mamma Mia!” in 2018, but darn if I can remember anything about it, especially given the delirious dream of a show I just saw this past Saturday. And the fact that it was 2018, which feels about a million years ago.

Despite the obviousness that it’s Circa (and everything here is entertaining, a comfort and joy), I knew we were in for a real treat when I saw the curved four strands of white lights from the proscenium arching up over the tables to the balcony. When you see how guest director Michael Brindisi (and the super creative lighting designer Haley Brown) use those lights at the story climax, you’ll think, “Of course, nice!”

Special lighting extends over the audience at Circa ’21 for “Mamma Mia!” (photo by Jonathan Turner).

This exuberant ABBA jukebox musical — with 22 beloved songs closely tied to the emotional, layered story — is not only a dream come true for its lead actresses (who play mom and daughter), Kim VanDerGinst and Caroline Portner. It’s literally a perfect paradise for those of us who get to come along for the immensely satisfying journey. It reminded me how much my wife and I REALLY need a relaxing vacation.

The next best thing — “Mamma Mia” is set on a small Greek island where 20-year-old Sophie dreams of her ideal wedding – one that includes her father giving her away. The problem is that Sophie doesn’t know who he is. Her mother Donna, the former lead singer of a 1970s pop group, refuses to talk about the past, so Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. Sneaking a peek in her mother’s old diaries, she discovers three possible fathers: Sam, Bill and Harry.

Caroline Portner, left, and Kim VanDerGinst play daughter and mother in the new show.

Sophie secretly invites all three to the wedding, convinced that she’ll know her dad when she sees him. Scenic designer Kathleen Voecks and costume designer Bradley Robert Jensen create a colorful, inviting island getaway — simultaneously a blissful party atmosphere, Donna’s hotel where she’s worked 15 years without a day off, and the bewitching place where she and Sophie find their place in the world.

Portner — who co-starred in Circa’s last holiday musical, “White Christmas” — is simply superb as our young, perky and cute protagonist. She’s smart, sensible, relatable and just a delight to follow through this buoyant journey that’s both light as a feather and as weighty as a justifiably life-altering choice.

Everything about this production is flawless — the singing, dancing, acting, the look and (most importantly) feel. For a completely made-up story (and completely real hit songs), the musical feels genuine and authentic. We care about these characters and how they end up, and that’s one of your main goals when putting on a show.

Enduring and endearing

What also makes “Mamma Mia” so enduring and endearing is how British playwright Catherine Johnson (who also penned the film’s screenplay, making it the biggest grossing picture in UK history) weds the story to the songs. This isn’t just a feel-good literal jukebox, where the plot has nothing to do with the music and lyrics, and it’s an excuse to roll out the hits.

Caroline Portner and the Circa cast of “Mamma Mia.”

From Sophie’s plaintive “I Have a Dream,” to the rollicking “I Do, I Do, I Do,” each song is a fleshed-out reflection of what’s happening in the story (even though ABBA wrote and recorded them decades before). For example, VanDerGinst (as the harried mother reuniting with her dynamic bandmates) uses “Money, Money, Money” to relate her financial challenges.

That song also is an example of how lighting designer Brown uses the back wall hues to complement particular scenes — green there, and hot pink in Act II’s “Does Your Mother Know?,” which matches Sarah Hayes’s pink outfit. That latter song is among many highlights — as the tall, cynical Tanya, Hayes (who has legs for days) has a snarky, dominant presence and the athletic dance with the playful, beefcake Pepper (boisterously played by Anthony Christopher Milfelt) is terrific fun.

The iconic “Dancing Queen” (perhaps ABBA’s biggest hit) is given a raucous, irresistible run by VanDerGinst, Hayes and Caitie L. Moss — who consistently embodies Rosie (third of the Dynamos) with tremendous energy. Moss puts a hilarious new spin on “Take a Chance on Me” in Act II in her enthusiastic seduction of Dan Hasty as the rugged writer Bill (one of Sophie’s potential dads).

Another clear highlight is the tender, poignant scene between Portner and VanDerGinst, “Slipping Through My Fingers,” where Sophie tries on her wedding dress, and Donna faces losing her daughter.

Bobby Becher, left, Dan Hasty, Caroline Portner, and TJ Besler.

The main men of the cast are all solid (including Tommy McCarthy has the clean-cut beau Sky, and Thomas J. Besler as the nerdy, British Harry), but Circa veteran Bobby Becher makes the biggest impression as Sam, an architect who designed the Greek taverna and seems closest to Donna.

Becher and VanDerGinst shine in one of the rare serious, dramatic songs — “S.O.S.,” where they rehash hard times — the song starts: “Where are those happy days?/They seem so hard to find/I tried to reach for you but you have closed your mind/Whatever happened to our love, I wish I understood/It used to be so nice, it used to be so good.”

Later, VanDerGinst climbs another emotional peak, with a triumphant “The Winner Takes It All,” showing how Donna has moved on from Sam and found her place in the world.

A scene from the new production of “Mamma Mia!”

The world of “Mamma Mia” is one I never wanted to leave. especially seeing how the wedding scene’s hanging globes and strung lights in back connect with all the other lights.

Confidently helming his first musical for Circa ’21 is Michael Brindisi, the longtime resident artistic director for Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in Chanhassen, Minn. With Circa favorites Ron May as music director and Ashley Becher as choreographer, we’re in expert hands.

Certain lines from the show really hit home — “Having the time of your life” (from “Dancing Queen”) and “What would life be? Without a song or a dance, what are we?” (“Thank You for the Music”).

Thank you, Circa, for the music, and the joy and the memories. I won’t forget this one.

“Mamma Mia!” will be presented through July 8 at Circa ’21 on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday matinées at 1:15 p.m. Pre-show entertainment featuring the wait staff, the Bootleggers, also will precede all performances.

Tickets ($60.55 for the evening shows and $53.73 for the Wednesday matinées) include dinner, show and tax, and are available at the theater, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island, or by calling 309-786-7733 ext. 2.