"Mamma Mia," International ABBA Musical Hit is Westchester Broadway Theatre's 200th Production

Published: Monday, April 10, 2017 By: Chesley Plemmons Source: Town Tribune - Guest Review

Twenty years ago, "jukebox musicals" were in vogue on Broadway.  Producers, awed by the cost of mega hits such as "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," Miss Saigon" and "Cats," were leery of risking capital on untried properties. An enterprising fellow figured out a way to avoid risk, at least as far as music was concerned, by utilizing songs already made popular in other mediums… Taking a hit album, the body of work of a single artist, or even the life of the artist himself, stirring in a little plot and revving the production and the amps up to disco and rock and roll levels - a genre was born.

Clearly one of the major successes of this process of assimilation was "Mamma Mia" which became an international success and is now ranked No. 8 on the list of long-running Broadway shows. I saw it in London when it first premiered eighteen years ago (it's still going strong there) and on Broadway where it ran for fourteen years.

The production at Westchester Broadway Theatre is the first in the area and it's a high-octane winner by any standard. The score by the Swedish ABBA (Benny Anderrson, Bjorn Ulvaeus with contributions by Stig Anderson) includes nearly two dozen hit songs ranging from the ebullient  title number, "Gotta dance" tunes like "Dancin Queen," "Super Trooper," "Honey, Honey" and "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme," to emotional and romantic ballads such as  "The  Winner Takes  It All," and " I Had A Dream."

Musical director Eric Alford keeps the music flowing seamlessly and with spirited panache.

The plot? - I almost forgot.  It’s set on a small Greek island just offshore from the mainland.  Written by Catherine Johnson, it's as light and refreshing as a breeze from the Aegean. There, Donna Sheridan (Michele Dawson), a single mother and owner of a small, struggling hotel, is preparing for the wedding of her daughter, Sophie (Mariah MacFarlane) to Sky (Nathan Cockroft), a local lad. Donna has invited two of her old show business pals to the festivities: Tanya (Elise Kinnon) think of a sexy Betty White with Marlene Deitrich's legs; and Rosie (Jennifer Swiderski), a Bea Arthur style down-to-earth feminist.

Having secretly read her mother's diary, in hopes of learning who her father was, Sophie has also invited guests to the ceremony -three men whose names figure prominently in Donna's romantic past. She figures if one of them is her dad, she'll be able to tell - if they all accept their invitations.

And they do - and prove to be a trio of appealing and decidedly unlike guys. There's the suave architect Sam (Xander Chauncey), the Teddy bear-like Bill (Brant Bateman) a travel writer, and Harry (Kilty Reidy) a British financier. So who's Sophie's papa? And will love be rekindled between Donna and one of her old lovers after twenty years?

Sorting all this out through song, dance and a few emotional confrontations, the excellent cast excels. As the central character, Michele Dawson contributes a warm, strongly sung performance. Everyone deserve high praise, but I'm a sucker for brassy dames so Kinnon's Tanya gets a special tip of the hat.

The WBT production is smartly turned out. Set designer Steve Loftus's stark white villa above the sea serves as a perfect contrast for Jeff Hendey's colorful, and sometimes intentionally tacky costumes. Oh, those flared trousers - what were they thinking?

However, what makes this production such a standout is director Mark Martino's exuberant and inventive choreography which is fast and funny. And keep your eye on Connor Wince who plays Pepper, he's a study in perpetual motions and keep your fingers crossed he doesn't backflip into your Peach Melba!

This show is the theatre's 200th production, a tribute in itself for delivering an easy to access package of food and entertainment. An hour or less from this area, easy driving, ample free parking and first class food and theatre.  The prime rib of beef is delicious.   

"Mamma Mia" plays through June 25th at the Westchester Broadway Theatre