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