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The Observer: A night at the Engeman/Mamma Mia! in review

The Observer

July 28, 2016

David Ambro

 

Now that Mamma Mia! has ended its Broadway run and the script is available for regional theater the test will be the music. Get the music right and you have a good Mamma Mia!

In its production of Mamma Mia! that opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, they got the music right.

This is one of those must sees, an Engeman best.

They bound through the plot with great ease, and it’s a good one. A single mother, Donna Sheridan played by Michelle Dawson, runs a hotel on a tiny Greek island. Her 21-year-old daughter, Sophie played by Hannah Slabaugh, is getting married the next day.

Sophie doesn’t know who her father is, but she longs to know. She finds her mother’s diary, reads about relationships she had 21 years ago with three different men, Sam Carmichael played by Sean Hayden, Bill Austin played by Jeff Williams and Harry Bright played by Frank Vlastnik. In her mother’s name, she invites all three to her wedding in hopes of figuring out which one is her father.

By the wedding day, the three men agree to share a third each of fatherhood; Sophie and her fiancé Sky, played by Jacob Dickey, decide not to marry; and, not to waste a good wedding Donna and Sam marry and everyone lives happily ever after.

It’s everything romantic comedy is meant to be, but Mamma Mia! didn’t spend 14 years on a Broadway stage for its quirky plot  penned by Catherine Johnson. It’s the music by Benny Anderson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson, and made famous by the swedish rock band ABBA, that made Mamma Mia! a Broadway sensation.

And in the groundbreaking Northport production, the Mamma Mia! debut on a [East Coast] regional stage, the orchestra and cast deliver an uplifting performance that lives up to the Engeman motto. “Where Broadway meets Main Street.” 

Ms. Slabaugh’s Sophie is solid, starting off softly with her “I Have a Dream” solo pining to learn the identity of her dad, then she picks up the tempo with “Honey, Honey,” accompanied by Jennifer Seifter as Ali and Lydia Dawson as Lisa, an Act I highlight. Slabaugh is captivating with her version of “Thank You For the Music,” performed with the three dads.

While Slabaugh emerges as a lovable Sophie, like any great musical this score lends itself to the star, and that’s where Michelle Dawson’s Donna takes over. With a powerful supporting cast of voices at her side, Ms. Dawson’s delivery of the Mamma Mia! classics wows the audience.

The show’s namesake song, “Mamma Mia!,” performed with her three husbands and the ensemble, is wonderfully entertaining, and the other Act I classic, “Dancing Queen,” with Donna and her two friends, Tanya, played by Heather Patterson King, and Rosie, played by Robin Lounsbury, drew rousing opening-night applause. These are two songs that leave you singing them long after the show is over, if you can sing, or humming them if you can’t.

In Act II it just keeps getting better, song after song that you have heard over and over – a lot of Dawson, some Slabaugh alternating in, and a chorus of wonderful supporting voices. “S.O.S.,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “The Winner Takes it All,” “Take a Chance on Me” … Theatergoer or not, these are songs that will be familiar to Engeman audiences and they are a ton of fun to listen to.

The end of Act II also offers a special treat that is worth waiting for, “Our Last Summer,” featuring Mr. Vlastnik’s Harry with Donna. Mr. Vlastnik is a professional with Broadway credits on his resume and when he starts into “Our Last Summer,” his star shines. He has an enchanting voice that alone is worth the price of admission.

By the time this musical medley is over, this night at the Engeman is like a stroll down Memory Lane, romantic comedy sharing the spotlight with musical theater to provide a great night out. Again, whether you’ve seen it on Broadway or not, this is one of those not-to-be-missed runs at the Engeman.

Mamma Mia! runs now through September 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evenings and $71 for all other performances and can be purchased at engemantheater.com, by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting the theater box office at 250 Main Street in Northport Village. There are performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with additional shows on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

 

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