‘Mamma Mia!’—This Musical Winner Takes It All

Published: Thursday, April 6, 2017 10:00 am By: Bruce Apar Source: Halston Mediia

Broadway fans who go to see “Mamma Mia!” at Westchester Broadway Theatre might not believe their eyes at what appears to be “Hamilton” hot shot Lin-Manuel Miranda performing on stage in the Abba musical.

It’s not him but the resemblance is uncanny. The Miranda look-alike who portrays dashing Sam Carmichael in this crowd-pleasing production is Xander Chauncey. When I met the talented actor at the opening night reception, I gushed that “you know that you look, sound and even move like Lin-Manuel Miranda,” to which the blushing actor replied, “From your mouth to…”

Mr. Chauncey is in good company not only because he conjures in the mind’s eye a singular talent in Mr. Miranda, who arguably is the entertainment world’s hottest commodity. Another reason Xander is in good company has to do with the rest of the large cast of this feel-good, hit parade musical—the eighth longest running in Broadway annals: They all are a joy to watch and hear. They make good company for a couple of hours.

The entire production—from singing, choreography, and costumes to comic moments and full-cast production numbers—is very smoothly staged. It is one of the best in recent memory at the Elmsford dinner theater. “Mamma Mia!” entices you instantly, right from the opening notes, then puts a big smile on your face with the party-hearty grand finale, which lifts giddy audience members to their dancing feet.

Less than a minute after the show began, as central character Sophie Sheridan (played by Mariah MacFarlane) poignantly sings “I Have a Dream” to swooning music, the gentleman sitting next to me—himself a veteran stage performer—said, “This is great. I love this already.”

We meet Sophie and crew on the day before her wedding (Act I), then go along for the fun ride through wedding day (Act II). Sophie is the daughter of Donna Sheridan (Michelle Dawson), former lead singer of a ‘70s girl group who now runs a tourist villa on a tiny Greek Island.

The clever storyline and fast-paced dialogue seamlessly stitch together more than 20 songs by the Swedish phenomenon. Unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie has invited three of Donna’s past paramours to the wedding, in hopes of discovering which one of the men is her father.

Among the flashy, toe-tapping numbers, written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, are the title song, “S.O.S.,” “The Name of the Game,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and, of course, “Dancing Queen.” Except for The Beatles, no one has sold more records than Abba.

Both Ms. Dawson and Ms. MacFarlane command the stage with confidence and charisma, not to mention strong and versatile vocal chops that are exciting to experience.

Adding to the shenanigans with sustained brio are Donna’s lifelong friends and backup singers: Elise Kinnon as statuesque socialite Tanya and Jennifer Swiderski as pragmatic feminist Rosie. With Ms. Dawson, they project genuine camaraderie and mutual empathy without missing a musical beat. Theirs are three finely tuned, seasoned performances that go a long way toward investing the show with the spice of life.

In addition, to architect Sam Carmichael, the candidates for Sophie’s dad are Australian adventurer Bill Austin (Brent Bateman) and British financier Harry Bright (Kilty Reidy). Each actor deftly milks a bunch of laughs from their colorful characters.

Filling out the cast in supporting and ensemble roles are young male and female triple-threat actors (sing, dance, act) who bounce, sashay and flip around the stage with energy and lithe limbs to spare. It’s impossible not to have fun watching them have non-stop fun. There’s even some wholesome beefcake on parade in a couple of scenes where Sophie’s fiancé Sky (Nathan Cockroft) and friends show off their shirtless torsos in bathing suits on the beach.

The streamlined, gleaming alabaster set—as befits a Mediterranean retreat—never changes, and remains perfectly serviceable throughout. It conveys a sunny optimism for a bright future ahead. You may not leave “Mamma Mia!” humming the scenery, but I virtually guarantee that you will leave humming one or more of Abba’s infectious, happy-go-lucky songs.

Directed and choreographed by Mark Martino, with musical direction by Eric Alford, “Mamma Mia!” marks a milestone as Westchester Broadway Theatre’s 200th mainstage production. It can be seen through June 25.

For the second half of 2017, the theater will present ever-popular “Annie” as its summer fare, followed this fall by “Annie Get Your Gun.”