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Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

By Sabrina Petroski

My, my, how could you resist seeing “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”? After a 10-year hiatus, the original cast returns to the Greek island of Kalokairi for the grand opening of the Hotel Belladonna. The sequel again showcases the upbeat and fun-filled music of the 1970s pop group, ABBA. With similar themes to the first (love, family, adventure), this movie is sure to be a huge summer hit. 

Written and directed by Ol Parker, the PG-13 movie, which is loosely based on a lesser-known 1968 Italian film, “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” opens on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) getting ready for the opening party for the Hotel Belladonna, named after her late mother Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep), with help from her stepfather Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and hotel manager Fernando Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia). Sophie gave up her life of traveling to manage the hotel, in hopes of making her mother proud. Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), childhood best friends of Donna, arrive to help Sophie with preparations and begin telling her stories of Donna’s wild past.

Tanya (Christine Baranski), Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and Rosie (Julie Waters) in a scene from the movie.

The flashbacks begin with a young Donna Sheridan (Lily James) walking in late to her college graduation, her floor-length graduation gown failing to hide her gold go-go boots. The headmistress of the college calls her up on stage to give her valedictorian speech, but instead, in true dynamo fashion, she breaks into song and invites her backup girls, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies), to perform ABBA’s hit song “When I Kissed the Teacher.” 

The film constantly flip flops between past and present, following Donna on the adventure of her lifetime and Sophie in the most stressful time in hers. In present time, a huge storm destroys the decorations and flowers, devastating Sophie and all those involved with the party. The storm also stops the ferries from running, keeping Sophie’s dads, Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), from being able to reach the island. 

Going back in time, Donna is traveling the world to find herself, and along the way we see how she met Harry Bright (Hugh Skinner), Bill Anderson (Josh Dylan) and Sam Carmichael (Jeremy Irvine).

If you’ve seen the original “Mamma Mia!” then you know what comes next. Donna gets pregnant while in Kalokairi, is given the old farmhouse to live in and fix up, and decides to stay on the island to raise her baby despite having no one. She doesn’t know who the father is, but doesn’t care. In parallel, Sophie finds out she is pregnant at the same age and in the same place as her mother was. 

Young Tanya, young Donna and young Rosie in a scene from the movie.

Sophie begins to lose hope of being able to open the hotel successfully but is saved by Sky, Bill and Harry, who convince a group of fishermen to bring their friends and family to Kalokairi. Three boats pull into the docks, full of people ready to enjoy the Hotel Belladonna’s opening night.

Toward the end of the movie there is a twist that no one sees coming, including Sophie’s grandmother (Cher) arriving in a private helicopter and crashing the party. She announces she is ready to take on the role of being a grandmother, and now great-grandmother. 

As the party ends, the film jumps ahead in time, following Sophie up the path leading to the church where her child will be baptized. At the same time, young Donna is doing the same walk on her way to baptize Sophie. When they both reach the front of the church, young Donna transforms into her older self and sings a haunting duet with her daughter. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater as Sophie held her mother’s hands for the last time.

Throughout the film, the audience is drawn in by the dramatic themes laced with comedic moments and the romances blooming between the characters. There is passion and fun, as well as somber moments of heartbreak. Each character is well developed and well received, and the younger versions of the main characters shine with the same awkward, funny and sweet personalities of their older counterparts. 

There are some scenes where Lily James mimics the mannerisms of Meryl Streep’s Donna so well you would think it was Streep in disguise. Young Tanya and Rosie capture the aspects of the friendship so well you would think they had known each other for decades.

Of course, it is the exciting musical numbers featuring many well-known ABBA hits from the original movie including “Waterloo,” “The Name of the Game” and “Dancing Queen” along with more obscure songs (“Kisses of Fire”) from the Swedish pop group that tie it all together for two hours of good fun.

With spot on casting, along with the great costumes and beautiful filming locations, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is a must see for this summer.

By Heidi Sutton

“Mamma Mia!” has had quite a run so far and shows no sign of slowing down. The jukebox musical, based around the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, was a 14-year-long hit on Broadway. When it closed in 2015, it earned the title as the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history. The show was adapted for the big screen in 2008 with a sequel titled “Mamma Mia! Here I Go Again” set to be released this July. Now the smash hit arrives at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and does not disappoint.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the story of 20-year-old Sophie (Michelle Rubino) who has grown up on a small Greek island with her single mother, Donna, who runs a taverna.

Sophie is getting married to her fiancé Sky (Niko Touros) and wants to have her father walk her down the aisle. The problem is that she doesn’t know who that is! Her mother (Christina D’Orta), the former lead singer of the 1970s pop group Donna and the Dynamos, refuses to talk about the past, so Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. “I want to get married knowing who I am.”

After reading her mother’s diary, she narrows the possibilities down to three men, the Australian adventurer Bill (Michael Bertolini), the debonair architect Sam (Steve Corbellini) and London banker Harry (Mark Cahill) and secretly invites them to the wedding. When all three show up, Sophie turns detective to try to find her real father. When the “dads” start to figure things out (“This is beginning to look like a set up …”) all three offer to give Sophie away, and confusion and mayhem ensues.

Donna, on the other hand, is forced to reconnect with her past and face her demons, especially with Sam who she thinks cheated on her. Fortunately, she has invited her two lifelong girlfriends and former band members, Tanya (Stephanie Moreau) and Rosie (Andrea Galeno) to the wedding who help her get through it with tears and laughter.

I remember seeing the show on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater years ago and, except for the encore, did not enjoy it. Seeing it again last Sunday in the balcony of this quaint community theater on Smithtown’s Main Street has renewed my faith. Why? Let me count the ways.

The level of professionalism: Tommy Ranieri directs an incredibly talented cast of 20 who clearly love what they are doing. All the actors fit perfectly in their roles, especially evident in the chemistry between D’Orta and Corbellini and Rubino and Touros.

The feel-good music: The show features such classic hits as “Dancing Queen,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Super Trouper,” “Mamma Mia,” “The Name of the Game” “Voulez-Vouz,” “The Winner Takes it All,” “Honey, Honey,” “Chiquitita,” “Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie” and “S.O.S” to name a few.

The singing: Where to begin? This ABBA songfest takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster with one musical number after another. Donna’s solo, “Slipping Through My Fingers,” is lovely and heartfelt and Tanya’s sexy number, “Does Your Mother Know,” is an audience favorite. Rosie and Bill’s duet, “Take A Chance on Me,” is hilarious and Donna and Sam’s duet, “S.O.S,” is heartwrenching.

The choreography: The musical numbers, choreographed by Danielle Nigro, are superb, especially during “Voulez-Vous” where the dancers flop around in wet suits and flippers in perfect rhythm — not an easy feat.

The impeccable costumes: Costume design by Ronald Green III is on point, ranging from fun beach garb to wedding attire to the flashy 1970s dance costumes in the finale where even the men wear heels.

The clever set: Designed by Timothy Golebiewski, the set features classic white walls that swivel back and forth, revealing a beachfront restaurant with a fully stocked bar and bar stools on one side and a bedroom on the other. The background features images of palm trees and clouds with soft hues of blues and pinks.

The encore: Cast members come down into the aisles and, with very little nudging, invite the audience to join them in dancing, clapping and singing to a remix of “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo.”

If you love the songs of ABBA, go see this show. If you’ve seen “Mamma Mia!” on Broadway and loved it, go see this show. If you didn’t enjoy “Mamma Mia!” the first time around, go see this show and see it done right.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, located at 2 East Main Street, Smithtown will present “Mamma Mia!” through April 29. Running time is 2.5 hours with one 15 minute intermission. For mature audiences due to mild language and sexual content.

The season continues with “Dreamgirls” from May 12 to June 17; the northeastern regional premiere of “We Will Rock You,” a musical based on the songs of Queen, from July 7 to Aug. 19; and “Fun Home” from Sept. 8 to Oct. 21. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors and $25 students. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by James Gorman

Robin Lounsbury (as Rosie), Michelle Dawson (as Donna) and Heather Patterson King (as Tanya) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical that features an assortment of iconic songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA, opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week. And, it appears the name of the game for the Northport venue is success as it has produced another Broadway-quality show right here on the North Shore.

Director Antoinette DiPietropolo skillfully directs a multitalented cast of 20 who recreate the warmth, charm and energy that audiences loved when the production ran on Broadway for 14 years.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the touching story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan who lives in a taverna on a small Greek island with her mother Donna. After reading her mother’s old diary, Sophie, who is about to marry her fiancé Sky, decides to invite three men from the single Donna’s past, one that may be the young woman’s father. While the threesome’s visit may or may not bring the answer Sophie is looking for, it does take Donna on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane.

Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from 'Mamma Mia!' Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Hannah Slabaugh (as Sophie), Sean Hayden (as Sam), Jeff Williams (as Bill) and Frank Vlastnik (as Harry) in a scene from ‘Mamma Mia!’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Portraying Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, is Michelle Dawson, who played the character in the Broadway National tour. The actress perfectly embodies the quirky, free-spirited, earthy nature of Donna, and she has great stage presence, too. With her animated facial expressions and dynamite smile, it’s easy for the audience to decipher whether Donna is in agony over past mistakes or enjoying beautiful memories. Her vocals are strong on every number, and when it comes to “The Winner Takes It All,” in the beginning of the song she uses her singing talents to deliver the lyrics as if they were a monologue, and then she powerfully builds the song up to its heartbreaking ending.

Dawson also shows off her comedic abilities with Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury, who play her visiting friends Tanya and Rosie, respectively. The three are funny during the song “Chiquitita” where Tanya and Rosie try to cheer their friend up, and then deliver a well-executed “Dancing Queen” as they remember their days as Donna and the Dynamos. A couple of scenes later, they treat the audience to their fantastic vocal talents once more with “Super Trouper.”

King is perfect as the sophisticated yet fun-loving Tanya, and during Act II, she sings “Does Your Mother Know” like a rock goddess. Lounsbury as Rosie is funny and delightfully carefree, especially during the number “Take a Chance on Me” where she playfully lets one of Donna’s former lovers, Bill, know exactly how she feels.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie Sheridan is everything you expect the young woman to be — sweet, loving, curious and determined. She captures Sophie’s spirit perfectly, and her vocals are lovely on every song she sings.

 Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro
Sean Hayden (as Sam) and Michelle Dawson (as Donna) Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Sean Hayden is charming and sweet as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers. On opening day, when Sam sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” to the young woman, it seemed as if both Carmichael and Slabaugh were misty-eyed.

Frank Vlastnik is well-cast as the buttoned-up yet kind Harry, and during Act II, Vlastnik and Dawson treat the audience to a tender version of “Our Last Summer.” Jeff Williams captures the sexy, adventurous nature of Bill Austin and at the same time easily shows the character’s softer side. He demonstrates good vocals on the numbers he takes part in, too.

Jacob Dickey is adorable and endearing as Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. Dickey possesses the handsome good looks of a boy band member, but when he sings, he performs his parts like a successful solo artist. Jennifer Seifter (Ali), Lydia Ruth Dawson (Lisa), Darius Jordan Lee (Eddie) and Christopher Hlinka (Pepper) as Sophie’s and Sky’s best friends enhance the upbeat feel of the musical, and Hlinka shows a good amount of comedic ability when Pepper attempts to seduce Tanya.

Director DiPietropolo also choreographed the Northport production, and her choreography is at its finest at the end of Act I when the whole cast as well as ensemble delivers a fun, energetic “Voulez-Vous.”

As far as the striking set in shades of blue and sand with floral accents, it’s worthy of a stage on the Great White Way. Designed by DT Willis, the set includes doors that allow the actors to move effortlessly on and off stage as well as a section that easily switches from a front door to a bedroom.

Not to be forgotten is the band featuring Alexander Rovang (conductor/keyboard), Anthony Brindisi (keyboard 2), Douglas Baldwin (guitars), Russ Brown (bass) and Josh Endlich (drums). The musicians do an excellent job recreating the instrumentals of the cherished ABBA tunes.

After the bows on opening night, in true “Mamma Mia!” musical form, the cast had no trouble getting the audience to get up and dance with them to favorite ABBA hits. The pop group once sang “the winner takes it all,” and in the case of the Northport production, the cast, crew and audience all walk away winners.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Mamma Mia!” through Sept. 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evening performances and $71 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

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